Lincoln Race Course ends its run with 13-second race

Jockey Jose Ranilla, in blue, wins on Sonic Bloom as jockey Jake Olesiak rides The Straw Man on Tuesday at the Lincoln Race Course.

LINCOLN -- Clearly, this wasn't your typical horse race Tuesday at Lincoln Race Course.

Clue No. 1: The race had just three horses.

Clue No. 2: The race was being run in early January.

Clue No. 3: The race lasted a little more than 13 seconds.

But those offbeat circumstances served an important purpose to the state's horse racing industry. The running of that one-eighth-mile race will allow for simulcasting — the televising of races from other tracks — in Lincoln in 2014.

Under Nebraska law, racetracks must run at least one day of live racing each year to keep their simulcast licenses for the following year. The Lincoln racetrack, which held its final live meet last summer, is being torn down by the University of Nebraska to make room for a planned research park.

Since the statute is vague about exactly what constitutes a race, Tuesday's quick event filled the bill. About 200 fans watched what will be the final race at Lincoln Race Course from the heated indoor clubhouse.

One of those fans was John Vannoy of Lincoln, who took the afternoon off from work to see the race.

“I had to be here for the last day,'' he said. “It's going to be strange but it's something they've got to do.''

It also was probably strange for the three jockeys enlisted to ride. Jake Olesiak was aboard The Straw Man, Bryan Houghton rode Bluff Center Road and Jose Ranilla was on Sonic Bloom.

“It feels good to be back in the saddle,'' Olesiak said. “I've ridden in a lot of quarterhorse races in South Dakota, so this (short distance) isn't anything new for me.''

Riding in the winter also is something the jockeys know about. Grand Island's Fonner Park is the traditional first stop on the Nebraska racing circuit, and that meet always begins in February.

“I've galloped horses in 10-degree weather at Fonner,'' Olesiak said. “It's actually pretty nice out there today.''

Judd Bietz, director of operations for Lincoln Race Course, said a lot of work went into the preparation of the track for just that one race.

“We poured six tons of salt on it to get it loosened up,'' he said. “I think our guys did a great job to get the track ready.''

Still, the racetrack didn't exactly look its summertime best. Officials walked the 220-yard distance before the race and removed whatever large ice chunks they could find.

Since the demolition of the backstretch already has begun, the race was confined to the homestretch in front of the clubhouse. That seemed to be all right with the three riders, who left the comfort of the jockeys room to head outside about 10 minutes before the 1 p.m. post time.

As it turned out, selecting the winner of the three-horse race was not as easy as 1-2-3. The order of finish was 3-1-2, with Ranilla bringing Sonic Bloom home first.

The winning time was 13 2/5 seconds, and Sonic Bloom paid $3.20 to win. There was no place or show betting.

After the race, Ranilla posed for a quick photo aboard his horse in the makeshift winner's circle. A nearby racing official declared Ranilla “the leading rider of the meet” and the jockeys went back inside, having finished their day's work.

“We wanted to ride today to help the track and everyone here in Lincoln,'' Ranilla said. “I'm happy everything turned out OK.''

Simulcast racing will remain at its current Lincoln Race Course location through August, when a new facility is scheduled to open in the southwest part of the city. That's also where the Nebraska horsemen hope to eventually build a one-mile track.

“We were lucky enough that nature allowed us to do this,'' Bietz said. “And we had just enough racetrack to pull it off.''

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>> Video: Sonic Bloom wins a three-horse race in the Lincoln Race Course's final race:

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