Ready or not, the live race meet at Horsemen's Park is here.
The Omaha track, which traditionally holds its live meet in mid-summer, will race Friday through Sunday. Those dates were moved up to follow the recently competed meet at Grand Island's Fonner Park.
“I think we've gotten the word out pretty well,” Horsemen's Park General Manager Greg Hosch said. “We've got a lot of entries for our races and everything is coming together.”
In the past, the Omaha track had followed the Lincoln Race Course meet. But that track is no longer running, so it was imperative that Horsemen's Park follow Fonner.
“After we're finished racing, these horses are going to scatter to a lot of different tracks,” Hosch said. “It would have been a lot tougher to try and get those horses back here in Omaha if we raced in the summer.”
There will be four races Friday, five races Saturday and six races Sunday. First post time is 6 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. on the weekend.
Because stall space at the track is limited, there had been talk that Horsemen's Park would limit fields to eight horses. But Hosch said several trainers told him they would work hard to get their horses off the premises as soon as possible, which opened the door to fields of nine and 10.
“Everyone likes to see those bigger fields, but we've only got 90 stalls,” Hosch said. “The horsemen have been very cooperative about this and I'm confident we can make it work.”
In addition to the earlier race dates, there are a few new wrinkles this year. There will be camel and ostrich races and an appearance by Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg on Saturday and several Mother's Day packages and fundraisers tied in to the Susan G. Komen foundation on Sunday.
There will be four $30,000 stakes races run over the three days — the Falls Amiss Handicap on Friday, the Fantango Lady and the Skunktail Stakes on Saturday and the Who Doctor Who Handicap on Sunday.
Veteran track announcer Terry Wallace also will be back, along with many familiar names from the training and jockey ranks. Popular Nebraska-bred Diamond Joe, which won nine straight races last year and is coming off a victory in the Bosselman/Gus Fonner Handicap on April 27, will run in the fifth race Sunday.
Hosch said the biggest obstacle track officials have had to overcome with the new race dates is the weather. Recent rain and snow gave track superintendent Tim Hurd limited opportunities to work on the racing surface but improved weather this week has helped.
“The track is in great shape,” the general manager said. “And the forecast is sounding pretty promising for the meet.”
Fans often have had to endure oppressive heat in mid-July, but that won't be a problem this year. The forecast looks ideal, with temperatures expected around 70 degrees.
“We hope that doesn't change,” Hosch said. “It will be a lot different than last summer.”
This will be the 16th consecutive year that a live meet has been held at the facility, located at 63rd & Q. The races were first held there in 1998, three years after Ak-Sar-Ben held its final live meet.
“We're ready to get going,” Hosch said. “Hopefully the fans come out to see us.”
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