07/13/2004 12:00AM

Four-day festival offers up six stakes


OMAHA, Neb. - Horsemen's Park fires up its summer Festival of Racing Thursday with four days of live racing that will attract nearly 40,000 fans over the weekend for horses, barbecue, and fun.

Horsemen's Park opened for its first festival in 1998, racing on a pair of Wednesdays in July that drew thousands of fans from all over the state. Built and owned by the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, Horsemen's Park serves as a simulcast outlet year-round, keeping a horse racing presence in the state's largest market. Ak-Sar-Ben, the state's only major track, closed in 1995 and is in the process of demolition.

"This is a great chance to bring the family out and see live horse racing," said Dick Moore, Horsemen's Park's general manager.

John Lively, a leading rider at Ak-Sar-Ben, along with his wife, Pat, and Virginia Inman, the widow of trainer Hoss Inman, will be special guests this year. Terry Wallace, the voice of Ak-Sar-Ben and a fixture at Oaklawn Park for decades, will call the races here for the second straight year. Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey will present the trophy for this year's Omaha Handicap.

The four-day festival offers four races each day with a minimum purse of $25,000. The majority of the races are geared to reward Nebraska's horsemen for supporting the industry in the state, offering lower-level runners a chance at a big payday.

Highlighting the meet is the $100,000 Omaha Handicap for older horses, which once again has drawn a strong list of nominees from across the Midwest. The Queen's Handicap purse has been boosted to $40,000 this year and becomes the state's only black-type race for females in open company.

There will be an hour break between races on the weekend and 45 minutes on the weekdays, and local bands will perform on all four days. On the Fritz will be under the tent on Thursday and Friday evening; Blue House comes in for the Saturday and Sunday afternoon cards. Food tents will be provided by Sons of Italy and Clancys Bar-B-Que.

Three-year-old Nebraska-bred fillies open a schedule of six stakes races over the weekend in the $27,500 Fantango Lady Stakes. Sheso, trained by David Anderson, heads a prospective field of nine as she tries a mile for the first time.

A daughter of Blumin Affair, Sheso captured the Breeders' Special Fillies at Lincoln in her last start. The one-mile distance will be her stiffest test to date. R.D. Williams has the ride from post 9.

Jitterbug Joy, trained by Herb Riecken, was a close second to Sheso in her last start but owns a win at the distance against allowance company. She has Dan Beck aboard from post 6.