05/08/2013 12:35PM

Horsemen's Park: Earlier dates, same festival atmosphere

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OMAHA, Neb. – Festival time at Horsemen’s Park in Omaha comes early this year as the track begins its three-day stand Friday evening with all the usual celebratory offerings.

A large summer gap in the Nebraska racing calendar this year resulted in Horsemen’s Park moving from its traditional late July dates to the weekend following the end of the Fonner Park season. A good deal of Fonner’s horsemen and riders have already dispersed to surrounding states, as Prairie Meadows is currently running and Canterbury Park will open May 17. Just 10 riders stayed behind for this weekend’s races and they will soon also move on to other venues because Nebraska racing will be idle from May 13 to Aug. 2, when Columbus offers a 16-day meet over five weekends.

Horsemen’s Park has a festival atmosphere and traditionally draws large crowds. There will be T-shirt tosses following each race and live bands will perform each day. On Saturday there will also be camel and ostrich races, which has been a big draw in past years at Lincoln Race Course.

The weekend’s racing will be competitive, with a Nebraska-bred stakes race each day. The Omaha Stakes, the only open-company stakes offered at Horsemen’s Park in past years, will not be run this year.

T Jays Affair returns as the defending champion in Friday’s featured $30,000-added Falls Amiss Handicap for older statebred fillies and mares going a mile.

T Jays Affair was trained by Larry Donlin at Fonner Park and now returns to the care of Iowa-based trainer Doug Anderson. She is still seeking her first win of the year but comes into the race off a good third-place finish in the Al Swihart at Fonner on April 27. The one-mile distance of the Falls Amiss suits her well and she owns a perfect 2-for-2 mark over this five-eighths of a mile oval. Luis Ranilla will ride from post  5.

Spice Swirl, winner of this race in 2011 for trainer Brian Roberts, drew outside and enters off a second in the Swihart. She took the Orphan Kist Stakes going six furlongs earlier this year at Fonner and will have Jake Olesiak in the irons. Spice Swirl and her stablemate Sookie’s Kookies will be uncoupled in the wagering for owner Shady Bend Thoroughbreds. Sookie’s Kookies will have Jordan Olesiak aboard.