09/18/2002 11:00PM

Big purses, full fields for 1-day meet

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SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. - Horsemen's Atokad Downs roars back to life Saturday with more than $125,000 in purse money on the line for its one-day, eight-race meet. More than 145 horses were entered on Tuesday, but only 80 (10 per race) will start on one of Nebraska's richest days of racing.

Owned by the Nebraska division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and operated by the HBPA's executive board, Atokad Downs was resurrected a year ago with a similar one-day meet that brought out more than 4,000 fans to the track, located in the northeast corner of the state. It was the first time live racing had been conducted in the area since 1997. Financial problems in 1998 prompted the Nebraska State Racing Commission to shut down the facility.

The HBPA repurchased about a third of the 97-acre property from the tractor-trailer auction firm Taylor-Martin in 2000, and Horsemen's Atokad Downs opened for simulcasting in early 2001. The HBPA now owns the land occupied by the racing surface, a steel 80-stall barn located behind the paddock, and the grandstand and some smaller outbuildings.

The track functions much the same as Horsemen's Park in Omaha, also owned by the HBPA. Its main function is as a simulcast facility. After a slow start to the year caused by winter cancellations at Fonner Park and Oaklawn this spring, handle is up about 3 1/2 percent over last year and has been averaging about $14,000 daily.

After substantial remodeling in 2001, the track has added a beer garden on the north end of the grandstand and renovated the horsemen's quarters, which houses the racing commission and bookkeeper's offices.

The first seven races on the card offer purses of $15,000 and the final race, the Robert E. Lee Classic, a starter allowance, has a purse of $20,000. The early races range from the opener, a 2-year-old maiden special weight at a half-mile, to conditioned $2,500 claimers to a statebred allowance race.

The seventh race on the card is the $15,000 Nebraska Thoroughbred Breeders' Special at one mile for statebred fillies and mares. One Mile Limit comes off strong showings over Canterbury Park's turf course and heads the field.

In the $20,000 Robert E. Lee Classic, at a mile and 70 yards, highweight Whats Gonna carries 131 pounds. Valid Sunrise, who gets in at 127 pounds, was a $10,000 claim at Horsemen's Park this summer and also merits a strong look.

The day of racing will begin this year, weather permitting, with skydivers from the Lincoln Sport Parachute Club floating in about 1:15 p.m. They will be followed by an Army color guard for the presentation of colors. First post is 2 p.m. Central.

Bugler Mark O'Keefe from Philadelphia Park will be on hand to perform the national anthem and call to post.

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