07/17/2006 11:00PM

Four-day festival begins run

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OMAHA, Neb. - It's festival time in Omaha once again, as Horsemen's Park opens Thursday for a four-day stand that has come to be known as the Summer Festival of Racing.

The now-familiar county fair atmosphere radiates throughout the facility this time of year, and one of the biggest changes fans are hoping to see this year is extremely nice weather. The temperature during festival week usually exceeds 100 degrees, but the weatherman is singing a different tune this weekend, with forecasts calling for highs in the low 90's on Thursday and highs in the low to mid-80's for the remainder of the weekend.

Terry Wallace, the Oaklawn Park track announcer, will make his annual return for festival weekend. Wallace is an Omaha legend who served as the voice of Ak-Sar-Ben for many years up to the track's closing in 1995.

Following Ak-Sar-Ben's demise, Horsemen's Park, which is owned and operated by the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, was built and hosted its first festival in 1998. As a simulcast facility it pumps a significant amount into the purse accounts of the state's three other racetracks, and it also operates Horsemen's Atokad Downs in South Sioux City. This year's supplements to purses at Fonner Park, Lincoln State Fair, and Columbus will total around $1.9 million.

"Omaha remains such a strong racing town, and the fans continue to look forward to these four days each year," said Dick Moore, vice president of racing for Horsemen's Park. "It's also a chance to bring out the entire family and see the horses up close."

Moore also said Horsemen's Park recently acquired a corporate sponsor, with Budweiser Select sponsoring Saturday's $40,000 Queen's Handicap. The featured race of the weekend comes Sunday in the $100,000 Omaha Stakes for 3-year-olds and upward. A $27,500-added stakes for Nebraska-breds will be run each day.

Thursday's feature is the Fantango Lady Stakes, which drew a field of seven 3-year-old fillies, including Scat's Princess and Real Battleaxe, who finished second and third in the Breeders' Special at Lincoln on July 8. A neck separated the two in that six-furlong race, and the stretch out to a mile looks well within their range.