07/18/2005 11:00PM

Four days of live action hit Omaha

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OMAHA, Neb. - Summer racing in Nebraska heats up several degrees this weekend as Horsemen's Park begins its four-day Summer Festival of Racing on Thursday. The festival is the only live racing of the year in Omaha, former home of Ak-Sar-Ben, Nebraska's largest racetrack before it went out of business in 1996.

"Our fans start looking forward to this weekend three months in advance," said Dick Moore, Horsemen's Park general manager and vice president of racing. "I tell people there's three major events in Omaha every summer: the College World Series, Horsemen's Park, and the Cox Classic Golf Tournament. We'll draw over 40,000 fans this weekend."

The festival offers four races each day, with a minimum purse of $25,000. Highlighting the meet are the $40,000 Queens Handicap for older fillies and mares on Saturday and the $100,000 Omaha Stakes on Sunday.

A county-fair atmosphere is the hallmark of Horsemen's Park, with food tents, a beer garden, and live bands playing during and after the races. This year the Beulah Park Twins, Katie and Jenna, will be on hand Friday and Saturday for picture opportunities with the fans for $5 each. The proceeds will benefit children's cancer research in the Omaha area and will be tied in with Alex's Lemonade Stand, the charity fund-raiser that will also be operating all weekend here.

The five-eighth-mile oval has been renovated again this year, with noticeably increased banking on the turns and a newly conditioned surface. The racing surface "generated interest in recruiting horses," said the track's stakes coordinator, Warren Whisenand. "The track surface was a big plus."

Whisenand has been busy lining up horses for the Queens Handicap and Omaha Stakes. Each race drew more than 40 nominations.

"We expect a great field with a lot of quality," said Whisenand of the Omaha Stakes. "I think we'll have an awesome race."

Among those considered definite starters are the defending champion, Stormy Impact, and previous Omaha Stakes winner Dusty Spike. Also expected are Zee Oh Six, Big Glori, Missme, and at least one starter for trainer Joe Woodard, Sterling Gold or Quote Me Later.

The track will offer the popular 10-cent superfectas on races that qualify, and there will also be 50-cent pick fours each day.

"Our superfecta handle went up 50 percent," said Moore of the facility's simulcast handle on the new wagering denomination. "We expect full fields and full crowds for the weekend. It will be hot - this is July in Nebraska - but the beer will be cold."

The opening-day feature is the $27,500 Fantango Lady Stakes for 3-year-old Nebraska-bred fillies. My Hobby and Dress Right will renew a budding rivalry going one mile.

My Hobby rates the edge in the field of nine off her strong win in the Breeders' Special at Lincoln on July 9. Trainer Larry Staroscik has named Armando Martinez to ride from post 3, while Perry Compton will be aboard Dress Right in post 2 for trainer Marv Johnson.

At a glance

RACING SCHEDULE: 4 days; July 21, 22, 23, 24.

POST TIME: 6 p.m. Central Thursday and Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

ADMISSIONS: Free.

PARKING: Free.

LOCATION: 6303 Q Street; Omaha, Nebraska; 68117; I-80 east or west, south on 72nd Street exit to Q Street; east 1/2 mile on Q Street.

SIMULCASTING: Daily

PHONE: (402) 731-2900

INTERNET: http://www.horsemenspark.com

HIGHLIGHTS: $40,000 Queens Handicap, Saturday, July 23; $100,000 Omaha Stakes, Sunday, July 24.