02/08/2006 1:00AM

Mild winter bodes well for meet

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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. - Fonner Park ushers in Nebraska's live racing season beginning Friday with a 38-day meet that runs through Kentucky Derby Day, May 6.

This January has been the warmest on record in Nebraska and has resulted in the track being busier than usual for morning workouts. The entry box should reap the benefits of the interruption-free training that has existed leading up to Friday's opener.

Racing will be conducted on a Friday-through-Sunday schedule throughout the meet, with the exception of Easter weekend, when racing will be offered Thursday through Saturday.

The $100,000 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes is the marquee event of the season and will be offered on April 29. The only major shift in the racing schedule is the demise of the $25,000 Nebraska Derby. The Baxter Stakes, for 3-year-olds, has been shifted to mid-April.

Purses this year are buoyed by more than $800,000 contributed by the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association through Horsemen's Park in Omaha. Horsemen's Park is a highly successful simulcast facility owned by the Nebraska horsemen's association, and it has been able to supplement purses at the other Nebraska tracks in recent years. The purse schedule ranges from a bottom of $4,300 for $2,500 claimers up to $9,500 for nonwinners-of-four-lifetime allowance company. Higher-end claiming company ($15,000 and up) will now run for $10,000 or more in purse money.

Curtis Kimes, who won his first Fonner Park riding title a year ago, heads a solid list of riders in the colony to open the meet.

R.D. Williams, a nine-time leading rider here who is closing in on 4,000 career wins, returns as the one to beat. Larren Delorme, second in the standings to Rohan Singh last year at Assiniboia Downs, and veteran Midwest rider Carl Kutz are among the new faces in the room. Perry Compton will be conspicuously absent from this year's meet after shifting his tack to Chicago last fall.

Marv Johnson and David Anderson return as the one-two finishers in last year's trainer standings and are joined by longtime regulars Milton Gaede, Jim Cranwell, Jim Compton, Brian Roberts, and Larry Donlin. Eric Ramaekers, active as an owner and at the claiming box in recent years, has taken out his trainer's license and should have several runners to keep an eye on this year.

At a glance: Fonner Park

RACING SCHEDULE: 38 days; Friday through May 6; Racing Friday, Saturday, and Sundays. No racing Sunday, April 16 (Easter); Special racing card Thursday, April 13.

POST TIME: 2 p.m. Central weekdays through March 31; 3 p.m. weekdays beginning April 7; 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

HIGHLIGHTS: $100,000 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes, April 29.

ADMISSIONS: General, free; box seats, $2; skyline, $4; clubhouse $5; turf club $7.50.

PARKING: Free

LOCATION: 700 East Stolley Park; Grand Island, Neb. 68801; use Locust Street exit off I-80 and go north 8 miles.

SIMULCASTING: Daily

PHONE: (308) 382-4515

INTERNET: www.fonnerpark.com