09/15/2004 12:00AM

Atokad concludes Nebraska season


SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. - Nebraska's Thoroughbred season concludes this weekend when Horsemen's Atokad Downs holds a three-day meet that will offer about $68,000 in daily purse distribution and a host of full fields.

There will be one more day of racing in Nebraska this year when Fairplay Park in Hastings offers a card of five Quarter Horse races and a mule race in its inaugural meet on Sept. 25.

Atokad is a smaller version of Horsemen's Park in Omaha, the highly successful simulcast outlet that offers a festival meeting in mid-summer. Formerly known as Atokad Park, the track ran a live meet in 1997, then was closed the following year because of financial difficulties.

The track was sold to Taylor-Martin, a firm that conducts large truck sales, and then purchased by the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association in 2000. Atokad reopened in 2001 for a one-day meet.

Since being purchased by the HBPA, the track has had many of the outdated barns removed and horses now are stabled in the arena south of the grandstand. A portion of the 6 1/2-furlong chute was not included in the sale and a new distance of "about 6 1/2 furlongs" is now used, with the actual distance being somewhere near 6 1/4 furlongs.

Under the ownership of the HBPA, wagering has steadily improved.

"Business has been really good. It's kind of exceeded our expectations in the last year," said Greg Hosch, the general manager and racing director of Atokad. "Our handle is up over $1 million from the previous year. When you're talking about a facility that went from $3 1/2 to $4 1/2 million in one year, it's pretty significant."

Races this meet will have a minimum purse of $10,000, and all starters receive at least $300 for their participation. The races are geared to offer a good payday for horsemen that have supported the state's industry throughout the year. Most of the races were written with preference to horses that have started at the Fonner Park, Lincoln State Fair, and Columbus race meets.

Post time is 4 p.m. Friday and shifts to 2 p.m. for the Saturday and Sunday cards. Jockey Dave Shepherd, who is recuperating from a leg injury suffered earlier this year, will assemble his band, Even Money, to play between races and following the cards on both Saturday and Sunday.