Located in Bossier City, Louisiana Downs is a sprawling 350-acre racing and gaming venue that conducts a yearly race meet in the spring and summer. Now owned by Caesar’s Entertainment, Louisiana Downs also offers OTB (off-track betting) wagering for every racetrack in North America as well as slot machines. In the winter months a short Quarterhorse racing meet is held but the thoroughbreds remain the prime attraction with many top trainers and horses making appearances.
The history of Louisiana Downs
Edward DeBartolo, Sr., a famous Midwest shopping center developer, who had previously built racetracks in Ohio decided to build one in Louisiana and opened Louisiana Downs on October 30, 1974. There were approximately 15,000 fans in attendance on opening day as Louisiana residents and also residents from nearby Texas came out to watch and wager on the horses. The venture was enormously successful to begin; Louisiana Downs broke national records for wagering handle and attendance well into the 1980’s.
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As the 80’s gave way to the 90’s, however, the track began to notice some decline. This continued not only at Louisiana Downs but at the other racetracks in the state until live racing appeared to be on its deathbed. A bold move by the state legislature to offer slot machine gaming on racetrack property with revenues from slots being used to bolster purse money attracted the interest of gaming giant Caesar’s Entertainment which purchased Louisiana Downs in 2002.
In the immediate aftermath of allowing slot machines at the racetrack the revenues did increase and racing began to thrive once again. This proved to be a short-lived period of prosperity. A track that once drew 15,000 spectators on a mid-week day of racing now struggles to fill the grandstand on a beautiful weekend. It appears that the involvement of gaming companies was not the salvation local horsemen had hoped for.
The Super Derby
The marquee event of the Louisiana Downs racing meet is the Grade II Super Derby. With a purse today of $500,000 the race features many talented three-year-old runners from Louisiana and other parts of the country. While the race still has appeal, there was a time in the track’s heyday when the race featured the likes of Alysheba, Sunday Silence, and Tiznow. At that time the race was worth $1 million dollars and was a Grade I.
On Super Derby day there are other stakes races named after famous horses that competed at the track. One of these was Shiskabob. A local favorite, Shiskabob won many races at Louisiana Downs before breaking down on the track. The horse is buried on the backstretch of the track and a horseshoe monument detailing his accomplishments is located at one of the entrances. Visitors to the track often leave coins on the horseshoe as a plea for good luck.
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