07/14/2008 11:00PM

Filly stakes opens four-day festival

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OMAHA, Neb. - It's festival time in Omaha once again as Horsemen's Park roars to life on Thursday with a four-day weekend of live racing that has become the state's biggest racing event of the year.

This year will be no different, with live bands following the races each night and the All-Star Buglers performing the call to post for races each day. Crowds ranging from 10,000 to 17,000 are the norm for this special weekend of racing in Nebraska's largest population center.

Thursday night's card begins at 6 p.m. and consists of four races, including the $27,500 Fantango Lady Stakes for 3-year-old Nebraska-bred fillies. The highlight of the meet is Sunday's $50,000 Omaha Stakes for older horses.

The Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association built Horsemen's Park primarily as a simulcast facility following the closing of Ak-Sar-Ben in 1995. Horsemen's Park opened in 1998 and hosted a pair of weekday two-race cards that year to satisfy a state law for the facility to offer simulcasting. The four-day format has been in place for several years now, and the meet has become a destination weekend for race fans in the region, as well as a reunion of former Ak-Sar-Ben regulars.

The highly successful simulcast business took a hit this year as Horsemen's Park and keno parlors in the city lost an exemption they had received on Omaha's public smoking ban.

"It's had an effect," said general manager Greg Hosch. "But it hasn't been too bad for us. It could have been much worse."

Hosch took over the reins at Horsemen's last fall following the retirement of Dick Moore, who had managed the track since its inception.

Thursday's Fantango Lady drew a field of seven headed by Deputy's Whirl, who will be gunning for her fourth consecutive stakes win of the year. Deputy's Whirl is coming off a 3 3/4-length victory in the Breeders' Special going six furlongs at Lincoln on July 5 and will stretch out to a mile for the first time in her career for trainer Bob Rising. Apprentice Chris Fackler will once again be aboard from post 4.

Herb Riecken will send out Senorita Conchita off a most impressive maiden win at Lincoln in her second career start. On July 6, Senorita Conchita drew off in hand to win her maiden by a widening 17 lengths, and there's no telling what sort this filly could be. Yuri Yaranga will ride from post 3.