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At the races - Help is on the way for Gulf Coast

September 04, 2005|By Larry Yanos

Thoughts and prayers go to the folks in Louisiana and Mississippi as they try to recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Over the years, Charles Town has had a "Cajun Connection" with jockeys such as Larry Dupuy, Kenny Voss, Tammy Johnson, Vincent Graffagnini, Todd Dupuis and Troy Roberts once calling either Louisiana or Mississippi home.

The most famous "Cajun" riding today is California-based jockey Kent Desormeaux. He was the leading apprentice in the country when he first started in Maryland.

In the aftermath of Katrina, a variety of groups are mobilizing to provide assistance to humans, horses and livestock impacted by the devastating storm.

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The National HBPA is seeking donations of money, materials and housing accommodations for horsemen in the Louisiana area who have been left homeless by the hurricane.

Meanwhile, the National Horse Protection Coalition, Texas-based Habitat for Horses and the Louisiana Equine Council have joined forces to assemble and deliver much needed relief for the animal victims of hurricane Katrina.

The NHPC has secured a donated tractor-trailer that organizers hope will be filled with hay, feed and veterinary supplies for horses and other livestock that have been displaced by the hurricane.

"We are hopeful that our efforts will not only reduce animal suffering, but will also help to reduce any further financial and emotional loss to those affected," said Gail Vacca, the Illinois coordinator for the NHPC.

The NHPC is currently seeking donations of hay, straw, horse feed, livestock feed and veterinary medical supplies which are being gathered in DeKalb, Ill., to be transported to animal welfare organizations which are already set up in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The United States Equestrian Federation is also working diligently to secure facilities or pastures that can house refugee horses and ponies. The USEF is posting a listing by state of these facilities on its Web site, www.usef.org.

Thoroughbred owners George Steinbrenner and Robert McNair have each pledged up to $1 million for hurricane relief through their respective sports franchises, the New York Yankees and the Houston Texans.

Evangeline Downs, an Opelousas, La., racetrack located 150 miles northeast of New Orleans, will donate 100 percent of the revenue from today's racing program to the Acadiana Chapter of the Red Cross Relief Fund.

Evangeline Downs was largely unaffected by the wrath of Hurricane Katrina.




Purses stabilize


With $1.5 million in the horsemen's account, Charles Town Director of Racing Richard Moore expects the purse structure to remain on course for the remainder of the year at Charles Town Races & Slots.

"We should be giving away $150-160 thousand per night," Moore said. "We'll offer live racing five days a week through October and will likely maintain that same five-day schedule in November and December, pending the okay from the HBPA (Charles Town Division, Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association) and the State Racing Commission."




Moore addressed a few other matters:


"Management was disappointed last week when the jockeys refused to ride the full card on Saturday and Sunday," Moore said. "We ran three races on Saturday and one on Sunday and the riders complained of an 'uneven' track both days. I still say the racetrack is very safe. You can't have a perfect racetrack when you race the year around, it just won't happen. I've never seen an 'even' racetrack when the conditions are muddy. It's very frustrating for the patrons. Most of them travel a good distance and they want to see racing."




They also want to see fewer trips to the gas pump.


"We are making great progress with the new barns. One should be completed in three weeks, the second barn is half completed and the third barn should be ready by mid-November. They will hold an additional 240 horses," Moore said.

The Frank Gall Stakes, cancelled when the Aug. 28 racing card was halted, will be made up Nov. 5.

Laurel Park meet


Live thoroughbred racing shifts to Laurel Park on Wed-nesday for the fall meeting.

According to Maryland Jockey Club spokesman Mike Gathagan, the highlights of the 78-day stand will be the 20th running of the Maryland Million on Oct. 8, and the Fall Festival Of Racing on Nov. 19.

The meet will feature 39 stakes races with purses exceeding $4 million.

Opening day attractions include free admission, a complimentary live racing program and half-priced hot dogs, popcorn, Pepsi products and coffee. First post is 1:10 p.m. with the $75,000 Twixt Stakes topping the program.

The new turf course, which has been widened from 75 feet to 142 feet, was completed this summer.

Maryland Jockey Club Chief Operating Officer Lou Raffetto expects to card four turf races a day through November.

In September, live racing will be conducted Wednesday through Saturday. Sunday racing will be added beginning in the first week of October.

To showcase the new grass surface, Laurel Park will institute an all-turf Pick 3 during the first four weeks of the meet - offering the wager on races six, seven and eight.

The meet will also feature the return of Ryan Fogelsonger, who has been out since late July with an injured back. The 2002 Eclipse Award winner as outstanding apprentice suffered two serious spills this year, including one where he spent an afternoon at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Unit. Because of the injuries, he missed 40 of the first 118 days of racing in Maryland this year and half of the Colonial Downs summer stand.




Larry Yanos is sports editor of The Daily Mail. He covers horse racing for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2311, or by e-mail at larryy@herald-mail.com

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