02/20/2013 3:12PM

Fonner Park purses up as meet opens, but state race days decline

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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – Fonner Park is scheduled to begin its traditional 31-day session Friday, weather permitting. The rest of the Nebraska racing calendar will have a much different look this year.

The opening-day card is being threatened by a strong winter storm forecast to move into the area Wednesday afternoon that could dump more than a foot of snow on Grand Island through Thursday evening.

Purses for the Fonner meet have been raised 14 percent this year due to a supplement from Omaha Exposition and Racing, the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association entity that runs racing at Horsemen’s Park in Omaha and at Lincoln Race Course. The supplement is funded by simulcast revenues from Horsemen’s Park.

The highlight of the Fonner meet will be the $75,000 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes on April 27.

Trainer David Anderson will reclaim the majority of his horses and clients this meet after being reinstated following a three-year medication suspension. Chuck Turco took over the string in Anderson’s absence and claimed the training title here each of those years. As the meet begins, the Fonner horse population is on par with previous years, and while the weather has been typically unpredictable here, the track has been open for training the past several weeks without interruption.

Fonner Park is the only meet in the state that remains relatively unchanged in the wake of Lincoln Race Course having run its final live race.

Lincoln Race Course put on a single race Jan. 8 to satisfy a state law that will allow the facility to simulcast into 2014. The current facility at the former state fair grounds will stay in operation through summer. A new facility that will eventually include a one-mile track is under construction in southwest Lincoln.

Columbus Races did not apply for live race dates for 2013, but is in discussions under which Omaha Exposition and Racing would operate a meet at the Columbus track. Under state law, the Nebraska tracks are required to offer a total of 49 live race dates this year to continue simulcasting at any of the facilities, so the meet would need to be at least 15 days long.

Following the conclusion of the Fonner meet, Horsemen’s Park will put on its three-day festival May 10-12 instead of its usual mid-July season. If terms are agreed upon, racing could then move to Columbus.