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Live Racing Kicks Off 60th Season at Fonner Park

By: Rowena Li Email
By: Rowena Li Email

After an one-day snow delay, live racing season kicked off at Fonner Park on Saturday.

"You're excited for opening weekend but it doesn't change a lot except for waiting. The last couple of days we haven't gotten to train horses as much so it's just a lot of sitting around and waiting," said jockey Jordan Olesiak.

It's the 60th season of thoroughbred racing at Fonner Park. There are about 1000 horses on the grounds, ready to race on a brand new track.

"It's a little inconsistent through it, but once it's got a few days of racing on it I think it will even out," Olesiak said of the track. "It's got a lot more cushion, I think it's a little more tiring, and I think it'll be better on the horses in the long run."

Live racing is facing an uncertain future though, as the number of live racing days decline across the state. Lincoln lost its racing grounds, Omaha only has 3 days of racing, Hastings only has one, and Columbus is still figuring out when to hold its 15 days of racing.

"Obviously there's a definite impact on Fonner Park and racing in total in Nebraska. And that's why it's important that we get Lincoln back to speed, get their new race track built, get more race dates added there so we can have a semblance of a circuit to Nebraska racing," said Bruce Swihart, Chief Operations Officer for Fonner Park.

Advocates say historic racing machines would also help boost the industry, but the bill that would have allowed them was vetoed by Governor Dave Heineman in 2012.

"It's really up to our legislature. If they don't want the money to leave the state, they'll have to change their business model and figure out how to move us forward," said Kevin Hulse, who owns dozens of race horses.

For now, they say they will do what they can to make sure live racing stays in Nebraska for the years to come.

"Here in Fonner Park, we've been in the business for 66 years, we don't intend to get out of it. We're going to do all that we can and keep the situation improving," Swihart said.


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