The Legendary Carencro Raceways

From Dirt to the Derby

On Friday nights we would make a supper—a free supper—and people would enter their horses. After Cajuns have a few beers, their horses are faster and the women are prettier.” The celebrated Don Stemman, owner of Carencro Raceways, 1968-1973.  

The site where Carencro Raceways once stood is now a place of quiet reflection. The soft, green lawn with its neatly kept graves serves as a place of remembrance. It's hard to imagine that a famed bush track existed where Evangeline Memorial Gardens currently stands. Evidence of the serene landscape’s history surfaces from time to time; a groundskeeper on the property proclaims that they still find remnants of the races when digging a new grave. Old beer bottles and bottle tops emerge in the freshly dug dirt.

Acadiana’s unsanctioned race tracks were famous throughout North America. So much so that in 1977, Walter Matthau filmed "Casey’s Shadow", a film about a “down-and-out Cajun trainer with a big dream,” in honor of the tracks' legacies. A match race in Matthau's 1977 movie, heralded as “one of the best racing movies of all time,” was filmed at Carencro Raceways.

Races at unsanctioned tracks were the highlight of the week and a major social event. Entire families would turn out on Sundays throughout the year, as there was no specific racing season. “It was a standard thing every Sunday. You came to the bush track and that was your pastime,” said Harris Desormeaux, world-renowned jockey, Kent Desormeaux’s father. Fred Girouard, the longtime maître d at Evangeline Downs, confirms the social component of bush track racing in an interview, stating “On Sunday, boy, people would come from all over. Nobody had much, and sometimes you’d see five families coming in one car.”

Racing in Acadiana was exciting and unique. Cajuns raced quarter horses instead of thoroughbreds. But what truly made racing in Acadiana different from the rest of the country were the jockeys. The riders were primarily boys, most as young as 6 or 7 years old. The smaller and lighter, the better. It is because riders started racing at such an early age that Louisiana has produced more winning jockeys than any other state in North America. Racing legends such as Calvin Borel, Robby Albarado, Shane Sellers, Kent Desormeaux, Eddie Delahoussaye, and Joe Talamo cut their teeth on the unsanctioned tracks and credit sites like Carencro Raceways to their meteoric rise in the racing world.