04/02/2008 12:00AM

Fonner Park: Hunt on for new fair venue

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The landscape of racing in Nebraska is facing a major change in the coming years, as the land at State Fair Park in Lincoln moved closer to being turned over to the University of Nebraska for development as an innovation and technology park.

State legislators were set to begin debate Thursday on a bill moving the Nebraska State Fair to Grand Island. On Monday, the state agricultural committee forwarded its amended version of the bill to the floor of the legislature, a version that would move the State Fair to Grand Island's Fonner Park by 2010. The bill must face three rounds of debate before the end of the session on April 17. A Lincoln Journal-Star poll of legislators on Tuesday found a39-10 margin in favor of the move.

That would leave racing in limbo for Nebraska's capital city. Jerry Fudge, president of the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said racing would be able to continue at the site in Lincoln for two to four more years.

"We have talked about two or three options that would be available, including building a facility like Omaha's," said Fudge, referring to Horsemen's Park. "We will be at State Fair Park for two more years under the state fair board's license and hopefully for two more years of racing there, whether it will be under that license or another."

Fudge said he could not foresee any roadblocks to passage of the bill, which also has the full support of Gov. Dave Heineman.

"Unless there would be a filibuster on the floor and time in the session would run out, I think it will pass," Fudge said.

* Action at Fonner Park heated up last weekend, as leading rider Yuri Yaranga had a six-win day Saturday to take a 33-24 lead over Beth Butler in the rider standings. Yaranga swept the early and late daily doubles on Saturday, including a strong two-length win aboard Bevys Best in the Budweiser-Tondi Stakes.