By T. D. Thornton
In the aftermath of Hurricane Laura that devastated structures at Delta Downs last week, the Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (LHBPA) made a written plea to the Louisiana State Racing Commission (LSRC) Sept. 2 asking for an emergency order to be handed down that would mandate “immediate access to stalls to stable at both Louisiana Downs and Fair Grounds.”
The request for stabling involves both Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses, and is complicated by meets for both breeds ending and starting within the same rough time frame at Louisiana's four tracks. Additionally, the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic is making movement of people and horses difficult.
According to a letter written by LHBPA president Benard Chatters, a refusal by management at the Fair Grounds to open up stabling as a precaution before the hurricane hit Delta Downs is allegedly also playing a role in racehorses being caught with nowhere to go. TDN could not immediately reach Fair Grounds officials for comment prior to deadline for this story.
“Two days prior to the storm making landfall, attempts were made by the LAHBPA to relocate approximately 700 Quarter Horses and their caretakers that were located at Delta Downs to Fair Grounds,” Chatters wrote. “This attempt was unsuccessful. As a result, these horses and their caretakers endured the storm at Delta Downs, which fortunately did not result in loss of life to horses or people.
“At first opportunity following landfall, Delta Downs management advised the LAHBPA that its barn area and facility sustained significant damage which required the immediate removal of all horses and personal from the backside for their safety and so that repairs could begin. Delta Downs advised the LAHBPA that they had contacted representatives of the Fair Grounds requesting their assistance to accept the horses and personal that needed to be evacuated. This request was denied.”
Chatters continued: “Immediately, the LAHBPA worked with its horsemen in attempting to relocate these Quarter Horses throughout the state of Louisiana. Simultaneously, benevolent funding was set up to assist for the payment of stall rental and bedding for all these horses as well as to assist its members in need.”
The sales stables in Opelousas took in 227 horses (the capacity for that facility), and the receiving barn at Evangeline Downs took in 53 Quarter Horses, Chatters wrote. A Louisiana farm took in an additional 50 horses; Sam Houston race track opened up stall space for over 120 Quarter Horse evacuees, and approximately 200 other Quarter Horses that were stabled at Delta Downs have been removed from the backside to various small stables throughout the state.
“Currently, approximately 120 quarter horses remain at Delta Downs with no place to go,” Chatters wrote. “Except for the 50 horses at the Evangeline Downs receiving barn, none of the Quarter Horses are at a location where they can train. To compound the problem further, the stalls at the sales barn are only 10′ by 10′ which is significantly smaller than LSRC guidelines.”
Chatters wrote that 800 Thoroughbreds remain at Evangeline Downs, which just finished its Thoroughbred meet Aug. 29. Ordinarily, those Thoroughbreds would mostly move on to Delta Downs for the Oct. 6-Feb. 27 meet, but the track and its racino are currently closed to assess and fix damage. Quarter Horse racing is scheduled for Evangeline Downs Sep. 17-Dec. 19.
“Accordingly, the relocation of these Thoroughbreds is critical and immediate relief is needed,” Chatters wrote. “As of this date, it is unknown exactly when Delta Downs' backside will be repaired for Thoroughbred horses to be stabled there for the hopeful resumption of the 2020-2021 Delta Downs Thoroughbred meet.
“Attempts have been made to relocate the Thoroughbreds at Evangeline to various locations which also allow for training,” Chatters wrote. “Sam Houston race track is unable to assist [any further]. Louisiana Downs has advised that they have approximately 350 stalls available spread throughout the barn area without continuous stalls and with no room for personnel. Louisiana Downs is currently conducting its 2020 Thoroughbred meet which concludes on Sep. 23. Louisiana Downs has advised that after that date, stalls will be made available for rental which includes training on the race track.”
In addition to asking for a mandate of emergency stabling to be opened at Fair Grounds and Louisiana Downs, the LHBPA is asking for “customary living quarters” at those tracks to house stable personnel. The LHBPA also wants access to Monday-through-Saturday training hours.
Chatters proposed that “Horses stabled at the Fair Grounds will be allowed to remain until Oct. 15, at which time they will depart the Fair Grounds and return to Delta Downs or in the alternative, Louisiana Downs.