01/05/2013 3:19PM

Nebraska racing dates down markedly this year


Live racing in Nebraska will have a different look this year. The season begins Tuesday with an unusual opener as Lincoln Race Course will run a single Nebraska-bred race down the stretch of the five-eighths-mile oval.

Nebraska tracks are scheduled to run a bare minimum of 49 Thoroughbred dates, down from approximately 90 in recent years, which will meet the requirements each facility needs in order to continue offering full-card simulcasting.

Fonner Park and Columbus Races are now the only tracks in the state that remain from the early 1990s when full-card simulcasting began. Fonner in Grand Island will offer its traditional 31-day season starting Feb.  22, while Columbus declined to apply for live race dates at the Nebraska Racing Commission meeting in November. Horsemen’s Park, in Omaha, replaced the old Ak-Sar-Ben race track and has run a festival meet each year since then. Horsemen’s Atokad Downs in South Sioux City was sold in 2012 and ceased simulcasting operations last August.

Lincoln Race Course, formerly known as Lincoln State Fair, was taken over by the Omaha Exposition and Racing after the state legislature approved moving the Nebraska state fairgrounds to Grand Island in 2009. Omaha Exposition and Racing, which is the management arm of the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association – which also operates Horsemen’s Park – leased the property in Lincoln from the University of Nebraska but the university is developing a research and technology campus on the land. A simulcast facility located in the southwest part of Lincoln is under consctruction and expected to open later this summer as the lease at the old facility runs out. Simulcasts will then be allowed to continue into 2014 at the new facility due to the running of Tuesday’s race.

A portion of the track at Lincoln currently remains untouched by excavators and the race Tuesday will feature three statebred Thoroughbreds in a $3,500 claiming race going one furlong from the chute at the top of the stretch to the wire.

Fonner Park will then take up the banner of live racing with its meet that runs Feb. 22 through May 4. Horsemen’s Park in Omaha will shift from its normal July dates to run a three-day meet May 12-14. After that, Omaha Exposition and Racing will host an additional 15 days of live racing at Columbus, with those dates still to be determined.