07/14/2009 12:00AM

Four-day festival brings racing back to Omaha


OMAHA, Neb. Nebraska racing shifts into high gear Thursday as Horsemen s Park begins its 12th annual festival, a four-day meet that brings live racing back to Omaha, the state s largest city and the former home of Ak-Sar-Ben race course. The festival typically draws crowds of well over 10,000 fans a day.

Horsemen s Park, operated by Omaha Exposition and Racing, was built in 1997 and opened as a simulcast facility to keep Omaha s betting market alive following the close of Ak-Sar-Ben in 1995. The first Horsemen s meet in 1998 consisted of two Wednesday cards, which were run during the Lincoln State Fair season. The four-day format has been in place since 2003 when an additional barn was added to the limited space available on the property.

The festival atmosphere that prevails through the weekend has become a trademark of Horsemen s Park. The grounds are dotted with food and beverage tents, and live bands play during and after the races. There will be T-shirt tosses following each race and drawings for several trips to South Point Casino in Las Vegas on Friday and Saturday. Sunday will feature a trip giveaway to Cancun, sponsored by Corona.

The meet highlight is Sunday s $50,000 Omaha Stakes, for older horses going one mile. The action gets under way Thursday with a four-race card highlighted by the $27,500-added Fantango Lady Stakes for 3-year-old Nebraska-bred fillies. Racing will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. There will be five races daily beginning Friday.

Apple Crumble should rule a strong favorite in the one-mile Fantango Lady as she goes after her fourth stakes win this year. Trained by Jason Wise, Apple Crumble has dominated Nebraska-bred company while winning the Fonner Park Special and then the Princess and Breeders Special stakes, both at Lincoln. She has won each of her races by more than four lengths with her only poor effort being a badly beaten fourth at Prairie Meadows on June 6 in the Panthers Stakes going one mile, her only try at the distance.

Jordan Olesiak has a return mount on Apple Crumble, who will face five rivals, all of whom who will be making their first start beyond six furlongs.

Baby Clam is the likely second choice. Trained by Bob Rising, she was second to Apple Crumble in a maiden race at Fonner Park this spring and most recently was fifth in the Breeders Special.