02/19/2014 3:06PM

Fonner Park: Pick five jackpot added to exotic wagering menu


GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – Racing in February in Nebraska can be dicey at times, but the forecast for Friday’s season opener at Fonner Park is rosy this year as the track launches its 61st season of racing.

Some snow was forecast for Thursday morning, but Friday’s forecast is for the mid 40s with sunny skies as the 31-day meet gets under way. The weather has cooperated for the trainers leading up the meet, with several days of work tabs numbering more than 80 head. Last year’s opening day was lost as a snowstorm hit the area.

The wagering menu will be spiced up this year as the track rolls out a pick five jackpot. The 50-cent wager will offer a guaranteed gross pool of $5,000 to start the year and can only be taken down with a single perfect ticket. In the case of multiple perfect tickets, 50 percent of the pool will be paid out and the remainder carries over to the next day. The pick five jackpot will be offered on the final five races daily throughout the meet with a mandatory payout on closing day, May 3.

The jockey colony could consist of more than 20 riders this year, including the return of past champion Greg Schaefer, who returns to riding for the first time since 2007. Schaefer won the title here in 1995 and was leading rider in Columbus and Lincoln for three consecutive years from 1994-96. A winner of more than 1,600 career races, Schaefer was sidelined by a leg injury and subsequent infection, causing him to hang up his tack for several years.

Several new riders are expected, including Shane Collins, Travis Donlin, Braxton Carmouche, and Dalton Brown. Brothers Jake and Jordan Olesiak, 1-2 in the standings last year, return as do regulars Luis Ranilla, Mike Ziegler, Don Frazier, Armando Martinez, and Nathan Haar.

The first of 13 stakes will be contested Saturday with the Grasmick Stakes for 3-year-olds and up going four furlongs.

The showcase event of the season gets a name makeover and will be re-branded as the Bosselman Pump & Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes. The 1 1/16-mile race for older horses maintains its $75,000 purse. Defending champion Diamond Joe became the first Nebraska-bred to win the race since it gained the Bosselman Corp. sponsorship 25 years ago. Diamond Joe is back in training to defend his title.