The live race dates for the 2014 season were set Tuesday at a meeting of the Nebraska Racing Commission.
The four tracks that will hold thoroughbred racing — Grand Island’s Fonner Park, Omaha’s Horsemen’s Park, Columbus’ Agricultural Park and Lincoln’s Race Course — combined to submit a 51-day schedule. That’s two more than the 49-day minimum the tracks must race live according to state statute.
“The commission is grateful that the industry put in a lot of effort to make sure we had the minimum number of dates,” Chairman Dennis Lee said. “We need to race at least 49 days to make sure that simulcasting will be available in 2015.”
The live race dates meeting went smoother than the one last year. Columbus officials wanted to cut back on its live meet in 2013 and there was concern among the commissioners that the tracks wouldn’t reach their minimum number of live dates.
But a non-profit organization took over the Columbus meet and eventually got the dates squared away. The organization will again be in charge of the meet in 2014.
Fonner will once again be the first Nebraska track to hold live racing. It will run 31 days, from Feb. 21 to May 3.
Horsemen’s Park will race three days, May 9 to 11. The Omaha track raced similar dates this year, moving its meet ahead two months from its traditional mid-summer slot.
Columbus will race 16 days, from Aug. 1 to Sept. 1.
The Lincoln racetrack, which has yet to be constructed, will race one day at a date to be determined. Lincoln fulfilled its one-day minimum in 2013 by holding a live race in January at the former site of State Fair Park, which has given way to University of Nebraska construction.
Lee said the Lincoln track, scheduled to be built adjacent to the recently opened simulcast facility in the southwest part of the city, will be available to fulfill its one-race minimum late in 2014.
“The track should be ready for some kind of racing by then,” he said. “And Lincoln is still hoping to have its track completed by 2015.”
Fairplay Park in Hastings also will run one day of quarter horse racing at a date to be determined.
“This meeting went much better than the dates meeting last year,” Lee said. “Now we can head into 2014 and be confident that our dates are set and that we won’t have to scramble.”
In other business, Lee and Ann Shea were each recognized for 25 years of service with the commission. Lee, an Omaha attorney, has been the longtime chairman, while Shea is the commission’s administrative assistant who takes care of on-track matters such as licensing.
The meeting was held at the commission office in Lincoln.