05/11/2010 11:00PM

New operator tries to polish image


LINCOLN, Neb. - It may the same building, the same location, and the same LNN identifying the track in DRF past performances, but a new era dawns Friday evening when Lincoln Race Course opens for its first full season of Thoroughbred racing under the operation of Omaha Exposition and Racing.

The track has rebranded itself since Omaha Exposition and Racing took over operations on Jan. 1 through a lease agreement with the University of Nebraska, which now owns the property. The Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, under Omaha Exposition and Racing, has taken over from the Nebraska Board of Agriculture, which operated both horse racing and the state fair. The state fair has been moved to Grand Island while the University of Nebraska is in the process of developing the property in Lincoln as an innovation and technology campus.

Lincoln Race Course unveiled its new image with a new logo and some pleasant changes to the general admission area, including many new televisions for simulcasting and a "best seat in the house" section in the grandstand. A gift shop has been added to the second level, a new announcer will be in the booth, and several new promotions have been added this year as the track seeks to carry on the momentum it has been building over the past few years of growth. The new website will feature streaming video of the live races plus an archive of this year's races.

Michael Chamberlain, the voice of Sam Houston Race Park from 1997 to 2009, most recently completed his first season as the announcer at Turf Paradise. He joins the crew as the new track announcer.

Judd Bietz assumed the new role of director of operations at the track on Jan. 1 and has been busy with the many last-minute details to open the track.

The jockey colony will add some new faces this year with Rodney Trader, Karlo Lopez, and Jose Ranilla continuing on the circuit after their late arrival at Fonner Park. Bernie Santos is a new addition and is joined by regulars Armando Martinez, Luis Ranilla, Damon Leeds, Jordan and Jake Olesiak, and apprentice Ashley Dill.

Dudley Graham will be a new face in the training ranks this year following a successful meet at Fonner Park, where he was second to Chuck Turco. Turco picked up the training duties for many of banned trainer David Anderson's owners.