For several years, Horsemen's Park officials have dealt with the summer heat during their live race meet.
But with this year's meet moving to mid-May, it was Thursday's snow that was on the mind of general manager Greg Hosch.
“We might have to trade in our (cooling) misters for heaters this year,” Hosch said. “We're hoping the rain and snow come to an end here soon so the fans can enjoy our racing.”
Horsemen's Park will hold its live meet May 10 to 12, a big change from the previous mid-July meets. That change was made so the Horsemen's meet would immediately follow the live meet at Grand Island's Fonner Park.
In recent years, many of those Fonner horsemen would race in Lincoln before moving on to Omaha. But Lincoln is not holding a live meet this year, and Hosch said it was imperative to maintain that continuity.
“We have to get our horses from somewhere,” he said. “To try and draw enough horses from other (out-of-state) tracks in the middle of summer would be really tough.”
Hosch added that he has spoken with many fans and that they're ready to give the new race dates a try.
“They say they'd still prefer the summer, but they're not going to miss the heat,” he said. “Those were really tough conditions last year.”
Horsemen's Park held a six-day, two-weekend meet last year in mid-summer. The temperature each racing day was near 100 degrees, which made conditions difficult for the fans and the horses.
The track will hold 14 live races this year — four on Friday and five on Saturday and Sunday. Hosch said the Horsemen's Park racing festival will start May 4 with the simulcast of the Kentucky Derby.
“We're going to have our tent up and have a big Derby party,” he said. “That's always one of our busiest days, and that tent will help ease the crowd in our main building.”
The live meet will begin six days after the Derby and will feature trip giveaways and other special events. That includes camel and ostrich races on May 11 and Mother's Day prizes May 12.
“We're excited to be trying some new things,” Hosch said. “I think the fans will enjoy them.”
One event that will be missing this year is the Omaha Stakes, the richest race of the meet. Instead, four Nebraska-bred stakes races will be contested over the course of the three-day meet.
“We're going to scrap it for a year,” Hosch said. “Racing two months earlier than usual, we haven't generated as much purse revenue as we have in past years.”
Hosch said he is still confident the purse structure will be strong enough to lure horsemen to Omaha. He added that the return of veteran race-caller Terry Wallace and an appearance by Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg will please longtime racing fans.
“We've got a lot of things planned and we're confident that fans are going to have a great time,” he said. “We just want to make sure they know that we'll be racing a little earlier this year.”
Horsemen's to host ex-rider Sutherland
Former jockey Chantal Sutherland will make an all-day appearance Saturday at Horsemen's Park.
Sutherland won more than 900 races and $47 million in purse money before announcing her retirement last fall. She also has worked as a model and actress, appearing in the reality show “Jockeys” on the Animal Planet network and “Luck” on HBO.
Sutherland, who will discuss racing and handicapping, will be available for autographs and photos. Horsemen's Park will open at 9 a.m., and Sutherland will start speaking at 10.
Admission and parking are free at the facility, located at 63rd and Q Streets.
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