04/07/2004 12:00AM

Fonner Park track report

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Grand Island, Neb. - The memory of Ak-Sar-Ben still burns brightly in the minds and hearts of many racing fans across the country. Friday's fifth race sponsor is one such group, and will present a blanket emblazoned with "Friends of Ak-Sar-Ben, San Diego, CA" to the winning connections.

Rod Wentworth of San Diego is making the drive back to Nebraska to sponsor the race, and reunite with old friends from their days as regulars at Nebraska's former showcase track, which closed in 1995.

Blanket sponsorships are available at Nebraska tracks. The group's name is printed in the program and group members have the opportunity to watch the race from the winner's circle and have their picture taken with the winning horse and its connections, plus present a blanket to the winners.

"We did one [blanket sponsorship] in Lincoln four or five years ago," Wentworth said. "We've done blankets for reunions and birthdays, also."

"I don't know if you can even sponsor a blanket in California. But I figure it's a bargain to come back here, get a picture, and just have a good time."

Wentworth was originally from Omaha and moved to San Diego several years ago and has become a regular at Del Mar. "When I was in Omaha we used to go out to Del Mar sometimes," he said. "After Ak-Sar-Ben closed I thought, jeez, no racetrack anymore. What's with that? Eventually, I ended up with a job in San Diego, so now I have Del Mar."

"Especially now, the guys are getting older, and I got hold of three or four buddies from Omaha and we figure to have a group of 15 to 20 for the blanket Friday."

One of Wentworth's old buddies is Darrell Rahe, whose horse Southern Alert won last Friday's feature race here.

Wentworth also ran an Ak-Sar-Ben tribute site known as Radio Free Ak-Sar-Ben. Another website, unrelated to Wentworth's, is still up and running at www.ak-sar-ben.com