I know what you are thinking: What in Delahoussaye’s name would inspire you to write about Louisiana horse racing? Well, if you were to look at a map of the continental United States, you would note that Louisiana conveniently lies between Texas and Walt Disney World. And it was when we were driving on I-49, 400 miles away from home, that I looked out the car window and blurted out the seldom-used cliché, "Oh look. It’s Evangeline Downs!"
Evangeline Downs is famous for its association with the celebrated racehorse No End in Sight, who last year finished eighth in a claiming race and was discovered to have a gallon of mepivacaine in her system which ultimately led the trainer-of-record, Steve Asmussen, to a 6-month suspension, a $2500 fine, and 800 hours community service preparing Boudain Balls at a truckstop outside of Baton Rouge.
Since I experienced Evangeline Downs first hand (read: I drove by it) I feel compelled to share with you a few facts:
1. It is located in scenic Opelousa, which has such attractions as Le Vieux Village, the Opelousas Historical District, and Vidrine's Sewer Service.
2. It is south of Natchitoches.
3. I do not know how to pronounce either "Opelousa" or "Natchitoches", therefore the next time I have the opportunity to interview Calvin Borel, I will be sure to inquire about the correct pronunciation of each Louisiana town.
4. Just seeing the name "Natchitoches" makes me hungry and has me pondering as to whether or not we have any Tostitos or Doritos in the kitchen pantry.
5. "Natchitoches" would make a good name for a racehorse. Just look at Jambalaya’s success.
According to Evangeline Down’s very musical website, many recognizable jockeys began their careers there. Also, the legendary John Henry captured his first stakes race, the Lafayette Futurity, at the racetrack back in 1977. And of recent note, Calvin Borel beat Robby Albarado in the 2007 Inaugural Cajun Jockey Challenge where he was the recipient of $5000 prize money and 246 pounds of andouille.
Evangeline Down’s touts itself as the first "racino" built. According to Horse racing coast to coast: the traveler’s guide to the sport of kings, by Michael Walmsley and Marlene Smith-Baranzini, the original Evangeline Downs was located in the town of Carencro for forty years. But then ...(insert theme to Dragnet here) dum-dum-dum-dum ... St. Landry parish voters said no to casino gambling, Lafayette parish voters said yes to casino gambling, and voila! – Evangeline Downs Racetrack and Casino moved 15 miles up the road and opened in April 2005, although it should be noted that the casino actually opened a year earlier.
The 2007 Thoroughbred Meet concludes September 3rd, which by the way, coincides with the Original Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Festival in nearby Plaisance.
Make your vacation plans now.