07/18/2001 12:00AM

It's live racing for just three days


OMAHA, Neb. - It must be summer time in Omaha again . . .

The weather has turned decidedly hot; construction crews are putting the finishing touches on improvements at Horsemen's Park, and a few horses are out for morning gallops over the five-eighths-mile oval.

The track, owned and operated by the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, launches its fourth year of live racing Friday, keeping alive the tradition of racing in Omaha that dates back to the 1930's. The old standard of Nebraska racing, Ak-Sar-Ben, has been shuttered since 1995.

Horsemen's Park picked up the baton in 1998, offering two days of racing with two races each day that year. By running those live days, the track satisfies a state law which stipulates that simulcast wagering be offered in a licensed race track enclosure. The meet has slowly but surely expanded each year. This year Horsemen's Park will run four races daily over a three-day meet, offering over $380,000 in purses for the 12 races.

While not your typical race meet, Horsemen's Park has played an important role in helping to support the state's other race tracks by being able to offer full-card simulcasting in Nebraska's largest population center.

"This is our fourth year and we've been able to expand our meet each year. We've been able to make moves to benefit our fans and the horsemen," explained Dick Moore, the track's general manager and vice president of racing.

Last year, the state-of-the-art facility handled over $65 million, roughly $180,000 per seven-day week. "It's not New York OTB, but we hold our own pretty good," Moore said.

With over 650 televisions and seating that has been expanded to handle around 3,000 patrons, Horsemen's Park ranks as one of the nation's most accommodating simulcast parlors. Moore said the track has poured over $2.5 million into improvements this year.

New bleacher seating for 1,000 is located along the stretch near the finish line. Construction crews were busy this week finishing up a new glass-enclosed seating area with table seating for 180 patrons overlooking the track. The new addition offers full bar and food service in air conditioned comfort.

"We couldn't have done this without the great support we get from our race fans," Moore said. "We've always put our emphasis on customer service."

A new arrival, Tom Harris, serves as racing secretary this year. He started out as track announcer at Mesa Park in the 1980's, which led him into positions in the racing office and beyond through the years. He has also served as general manager at Great Falls, operations manager for Emerald Racing at Yakima Downs, and racing secretary at Yellowstone Downs in his varied positions through the years. He also was the voice of the Chicago Cubs spring training games in Mesa, Ariz. as the stadium announcer from 1981-89.

Friday's $25,000-guaranteed Huskerette Stakes opens a schedule of five stakes races over the weekend, capped off with Sunday's $100,000 Omaha Handicap at one mile.

Oglala Sue invades from Arlington Park to face three others in the Huskerette, a one-mile race for state-bred 3-year-old fillies. Local heroine Clamato Rose, owned by Shady Bend Thoroughbreds, has won her last three starts and posted three stakes wins this year.

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