02/18/2015 5:45PM

Fonner launches 62nd season with eight-race card Friday


Mother Nature must be a fan of Thoroughbred racing in Nebraska. Although the real-feel temperature in Grand Island on Wednesday afternoon was 2 degrees, the forecast calls for a high of 49 degrees when Fonner Park launches its 62nd year of racing Friday afternoon.

Fonner will race Friday through Sunday during a 31-day meet that runs through Kentucky Derby Day on May 2. Post time for Friday’s opening-day eight-race card is 2 p.m. Central.

The first of 13 stakes is scheduled for Saturday with the running of the $10,000 Grasmick at four furlongs. As usual, the meet’s highlight will be the $75,000 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on April 22. Seven of the other stakes are worth $25,000 apiece.

Jake Olesiak, who won his third riding title in the last four years by bringing home 71 winners – the most since Perry Compton’s 91 wins in 2003, figures to be a major factor again.

Last season, Olesiak rode 23 of the 24 winners saddled by leading trainer Marvin Johnson. Although Johnson has six horses entered in five races Friday, Olesiak is named on only one – morning-line favorite Yes in race 3, an allowance for fillies and mares who have never won two races.

One newcomer to keep an eye on is trainer Ardell Sayler. A perennial leader at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, where he topped the standings each of the last two years, Sayler has spent the winter at Turf Paradise. His stock has been ice-cold in Phoenix, winning just 3 of 92 starts, but those same horses with recent races under their belts may do much better competing against runners who have been idle since Nebraska’s 2014 season ended more than five months ago.

Sayler has two horses entered on opening day, including Racyrae, a 3-year-old filly who won her debut going four furlongs at Assiniboia last summer. She’s in a half-mile allowance in race 3.

Aside from the first race at six furlongs, all the other races on Friday’s program will be contested at four furlongs.