GRAND ISLAND — Thoroughbred horse racing at Agricultural Park in Columbus will continue this year.
The Nebraska State Racing Commission approved a license at its meeting at the offices of the Nebraska Thoroughbred Breeder’s Association at Fonner Park on Friday for the newly-formed Columbus Exposition and Racing Inc. to run 16 days of racing this summer.
The group from Columbus now has until May 15 to post a required bond and come to agreement with the NTBA and the Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association.
If the CER meets those requirements, then the 16-day meet will be held in August this year.
Racing commission chairman Dennis Lee said Friday was a big day for Columbus and for horse racing in the state. It’s important, he said, because after the last commission meeting Feb. 13, the state was still 14 days short of the required 49 days of live racing needed in order for simulcasting to continue.
“Before today, we continued to be 14 days short of the statutory minimum of days for live racing,” Lee said. “With the Columbus Exposition and Racing people stepping up to the plate like they did, that takes that worry off our plate as to whether we were going to be able to simulcast on Jan. 1.
“If they had not done what they did today and what they have done before today forming a corporation, it’s very possible we could have gotten to Dec. 31 and the video monitors at Fonner Park and Horsemen’s and everywhere else in the state would have to be unplugged.”
Everyone in the racing community had been concerned about what was going to happen at Ag Park. The original idea submitted in November was for the Omaha Exposition and Racing Inc. to run the meet in Columbus, but things have been up in the air since them.
On Monday, the Platte County Agricultural Society voted to allow the CER to take control and run the meet at Ag Park.
Lee said it was a relief to get a group approved to run the meet.
“I always have a concern when we do our dates meeting in terms of calculating what our minimum number of race days are for the next year because simulcast has proven to be such an important commodity for Nebraska racing,” Lee said. “When we left the meeting in Lincoln and we didn’t have our minimum number and were 14 days short, the mandate to the industry was we need to get this figured out by May 1. Fortunately we did.”
Fonner Park’s meet will end May 4. Horsemen’s Park will run a three-day meet May 17 through 19, then there will be no live racing in the state until Ag Park in August.
Lee said each race track in Nebraska is valuable to the racing community.
“The Grand Island market is critical,” Lee said. “I’ve always said Fonner Park has taken the worst days of the year that you could possibly imagine, and this year has been one of the top three or four of those worst years, and really turned it into a bonanza, not only for the industry but for the community.”