02/07/2007 12:00AM

Perennial champs back at Fonner

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Fonner Park in Grand Island, Neb., opens its 54th season of racing Friday as the live racing season in Nebraska gets off to a chilly start with a 38-day day meet that runs through May 5.

The opening weekend forecast was calling for temperatures in the low to mid-20's. That was reflected in opening day entries that saw 53 horses entered for the eight-race card.

Racing will be conducted on its traditional Friday-to-Sunday schedule as horsemen return for a purse structure identical to last year's. The season is highlighted by the $100,000 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes, which is set for April 28 this year. Post time for weekdays will be 2 p.m. through March 9, shifting to 3 p.m. for the remainder of the meet. Weekend post time will be 1:30 p.m.

On the track, David Anderson will seek to extend his streak of training titles in the state as he attempts to repeat at Fonner and earn his seventh title at the track. Anderson swept the titles at Fonner, Lincoln, and Columbus last year, earning 108 victories. He will be joined by Marv Johnson, Jason Wise, Jim Compton, Brian Roberts, and Milton Gaede from last year's leaders. Greg Jensen is bringing a modest-sized stable this year and will be among the new faces in the training ranks.

Defending riding champ R.D. Williams, who earned his 4,000th career victory here last year, is set to pursue his 11th title at Fonner. The jockeys' room will also see the return of Jerry Carkeek, Dennis Collins, Larren Delorme, Tanner Riggs, Beth Butler, Armando Martinez, and Don Frazier. Curtis Kimes, leading rider here in 2005, will be here early in the meet while awaiting the opening of Blue Ribbon Downs in Oklahoma. Roberto Villafan, a regular in Indiana and Florida in past seasons, is a new arrival this year.

The most anticipated rider to arrive celebrated his 16th birthday Thursday, as R.D. Williams' son, Dylan, will begin his riding career on opening day. Dylan Williams was named on five mounts for Friday's opener.

Bobby Hall is the track's new starter this year and he will be in charge of a new Tru-Center Starting Gate, which the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Agency purchased over the winter and which will be in use at all the state's tracks.

Fonner Park and its horsemen approved a change in the entry procedure at the track that will become effective with entries taken next week. The track will move to a 48-hour entry schedule with no scratch time, a change from the scheduled 72- and 144-hour entry schedule printed in the first condition book.

The change will become effective with entries taken Feb. 14 for racing on Feb. 16. The previous schedule had entries taken on a Saturday for the following Friday's card. Entries are now taken Wednesday for Friday, Thursday for Saturday, and Friday for Sunday, with horsemen allowed to withdraw from a race after the draw provided it does not reduce the field below eight.