09/30/2010 12:39PM

Quarter Horse racing makes debut

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FORT ERIE, Ontario – A new wrinkle for the final month of the Fort Erie meet is Quarter Horse racing on Saturdays.

Saturday’s eight-race Quarter Horse card is highlighted by a 250-yard stakes which offers a purse of $35,000.

The final weekend in October will match Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds against each other in two stakes races with purses of $50,000.

Eric Johnston, the Fort’s racing secretary for the Quarter Horse session, says that there are a number of differences in the way races are conducted for the two breeds.

“Quarter Horses are timed from pole to wire, but there is no run-up as there is with the Thoroughbred,” said Johnston. “The gate is right at the pole.

“Thoroughbreds sometimes have a head start of some 60 feet or so before they hit the pole and set off the timer; with Quarter Horses the time begins at the break.”

If you thought the accuracy of race times had improved when Thoroughbred racing changed from a fifth of a second to hundreths of a second, that precision is amplified for the Quarter Horse where the time is taken to thousandths of a second.

Gonzalez bullish about the Fort’s future

In the past, this time of the season has found many racetrackers holding their breath, awaiting word on Fort Erie’s future.

However, the recent announcement by the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium that the track will hold a 2011 season similar to this year’s has horsemen enthused and gratified.

“You would not believe how much this means to owners and trainers here at the Fort,” said Nick Gonzalez, the leading trainer at the meeting.

“For years, it was next to impossible to plan ahead when fall arrived, so many interested horsemen did eventually pack up and go elsewhere. You have to have been here to understand the pressure of waiting for the guillotine axe to drop.”

Gonzalez, a mainstay on the local backstretch, has seen the good times and the bad moments but he was all smiles when noting the atmosphere around the barn area following the 2011 announcement.

“Horsemen were naturally sceptical on their future at the Fort and you can hardly blame them,” said Gonzalez. “Now it is in the past, the future is bright, and we are going to work with track management to make the Fort the place to be.”

◗ There will be an Oktoberfest celebration here Sunday. The promotion includes Grammy Award winner Walter Ostanek banging out the best in polka music following the final race of the afternoon.

Oktoberfest sausage and other related treats will be the order of the day and the draft beer is expected to flow freely.

◗ Friends and colleagues will gather here Monday to honor Bob Summers, the late Buffalo News writer and handicapper. A race will be named in Bob’s memory and a special presentation will be made to the winner.