07/17/2002 12:00AM

Barbecue and sausage washed down by races

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OMAHA, Neb. - Summer in the Midwest means county fairs and street festivals, which is exactly the atmosphere Horsemen's Park will provide on Friday night when it begins its annual three-day festival of racing.

"That's the way we've always promoted it, as a fun race meet," said Dick Moore the track's general manager and vice president of racing.

Citing the food and beverage tents, live bands playing during and after the races, the Clancy's BBQ and Sons of Italy sausages stands, Moore added, "I think we've been successful, we've always been able to get that 8,000 to 10,000 people out here."

The highlight of the festival is Sunday's $100,000 Omaha Handicap at one mile. The co-richest race in the state along with the Bosselman-Gus Fonner handicap at Fonner Park, the Omaha is expected to lure top regional 3-year-olds Cowboy Stuff and Vito Corleone, along with Bosselman winner Miner's Prize. This is the fifth year that Horsemen's Park, which has a five-eighths-mile track, will conduct a live race meet. It also offers year-round simulcasting.

Owned and operated by the Nebraska HBPA, Horsemen's Park has kept horse racing alive in Nebraska's largest population center since the close of AKsarben in 1995.

"People see [this meet] as a way to get their kids out to see live racing," Moore said. "Omaha has always been a horse racing town."

Horsemen's Park, which has more than 675 television monitors, opened in 1998. With an average simulcast handle of more than $1 million a week, the track has funneled more than $8 million into the state's four other tracks through purse enhancements, breeders awards, and capital improvements. This year Horsemen's Park, in conjunction with the Nebraska HBPA, is budgeting approximately $500,000 for an owners' incentive program to encourage horsemen to remain in the state during Nebraska's approximately 100 days of live racing.

Last year the Nebraska HBPA completed its purchase of Atokad Park in South Sioux City, a track that had shut down after its 1997 season. Horsemen's Atokad Downs now has a one-day meet with average purses of $15,000 per race.

Friday's four-race card at Horsemen's Park is highlighted by the $27,500 Huskerette Purse for older Nebraska-bred fillies and mares. The race is a substitute written because the Huskerette Stakes for 3-year-old statebred fillies was scrapped after drawing only seven entries. Oglala Sue, a romping 14-length winner of the Huskerette Stakes last year, seeks to rebound after being upset as the 1-2 favorite in the Falls Amiss Handicap two weeks ago at Lincoln.