07/07/2003 11:00PM

Four-day meet is short but sweet


OMAHA, Neb. - Horsemen's Park will come alive Thursday when its four-day summer festival of racing begins.

This year's meet comes about a month after a public auction was held to sell the final remaining fixtures and racing memorabilia at Ak-Sar-Ben.

R.J. Brown, a staunch supporter of racing in the state, purchased a 60-inch painting on velvet of Triple Crown winner Omaha and the original grave marker from Omaha's burial site at Ak-Sar-Ben. Brown has since donated these items to Horsemen's Park for permanent display.

A highly successful simulcast facility throughout the year, Horsemen's Park is owned by the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. Following the close of Ak-Sar-Ben in 1995, former HBPA president Bob Lee engineered the purchase of land and construction of a state-of-the-art simulcast facility, which opened in 1998.

"Mainly, we're a simulcast center, with the exception of our live race days," said general manager Dick Moore. "Our goal when we opened was to make a major contribution to racing in the state. That has been achieved every year."

As a simulcast facility, Horsemen's Park handles around $65 million annually. Since it opened, the facility has contributed more than $10 million to the state's racing industry in the form of purse money and breeders funds. Moore said the track also has distributed nearly $3 million in purses on its own live races.

"There's a lot of support for racing in Omaha," said Moore. "It's something they all look forward to. We get 8,000 - 10,000 fans a day."

The live racing festival has grown little by little since 1998, expanding to 16 races over four days this year with nearly $500,000 in purses offered. The meet offers a county fair feel, including a live band playing between races outside the beer garden. Food and refreshment tents dot the white-rock area behind the grandstand, where the large crowds mingle between races, which are spaced 45 to 60 minutes apart.

Terry Wallace, the longtime announcer at Ak-Sar-Ben and Oaklawn Park, will call the Horsemen's Park races for the first time first year.

Another favorite from the days of Ak-Sar-Ben, Herb Riecken's Who Doctor Who, one of the top Nebraska-breds ever to run, will parade in front of the crowd before a Saturday stakes race that is named in his honor.

Thursday's feature is the $27,500-added Fantango Lady Stakes for 3-year-old Nebraska-bred fillies at one mile.

The purses for the undercard races are all $25,000, and offer horsemen who race in the state throughout the year a chance at a big payday. Thursday's three undercard races, which are restricted to horses that have helped to support the Fonner Park and State Fair Park meets, are a maiden for fillies, a starter allowance, and an $8,000 claimer for nonwinners of three lifetime.

The Fantango Lady has drawn a field of eight fillies trying one mile for the first time in their careers. Dave Anderson, leading trainer this year at both Fonner and State Fair Park in Lincoln, Neb., saddles the uncoupled entry of Sundayblummer and Slewsydneyslew as the probable favorites.

Hugh Robertson will ship in the maiden Verzene from Canterbury Park in Minnesota for her second career start. Verzene made her debut on June 20, when she was a pace factor before settling for third in a 7 1/2-furlong turf race in Minnesota. Ken Shino will travel from Prairie Meadows to ride.