First the good news... Horsemen’s Park set an all-time attendance record this year.

The track lured 67,800 fans for its nine-day live meet. That easily surpassed the 46,500 fans who attended the weather-plagued meet of a year ago.

The facility has tweaked its number of race days over the years so the comparison to 2018 is probably the most accurate. But of the nine racing days last year, eight were either damp and chilly (60 degrees and lower) or brutally hot (100 degrees and higher).

This year’s numbers were boosted by two big promotions — an appearance by a team of Budweiser Clydesdales that drew 12,000 and a Family Fun Day featuring ostrich and camel races that drew 16,000.

I was there for those crazy races, and it was the largest crowd I’ve ever seen in the facility’s 22 years of live racing. It made for a tremendous atmosphere, though many fans complained of the long concession lines and parking problems.

“We learned a lot from that big day,’’ Horsemen’s Park General Manager Mike Newlin said. “I think maybe in the future we’re going to try to spread out something like that over two days.’’

Those busy days boosted the overall daily attendance to 7,533, just short of the 7,700 average for the five-day meet in 2016.

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Now, for what Newlin knows will be the bad news. Sports books are in the works at the Iowa casinos and those could seriously affect Horsemen’s Park in every negative way possible.

“Instead of having one hand tied behind our back, we’re going to have two,’’ Newlin said. “There’s not another racetrack in America that has four casinos within 10 minutes the way we do.’’

He added that those sports books probably will be adding simulcasting, which will take more revenue from the Nebraska racing industry.

“It could get pretty bad,’’ he said. “I hope we can run nine days of racing next year, but we’ll have to see how much we’re going to be impacted by what’s happening in Iowa.’’

It’s a frustrating time for Newlin, who is working hard to keep live racing going in Omaha. Past attempts to add casino gambling on the ballot have failed, and the GM says time is running out.

“We’re going to try again in 2020,’’ he said. “I really feel as though our mutuel handle numbers could decline by 30 to 50% if we don’t do something.’’

That’s a dire prediction when the other state racetracks are also counting on shared revenues from Horsemen’s Park.

The mutuel handle was trending upward over the nine-day meet, with an on-track total of almost $1.2 million — $100,000 more than last year. Still, it’s hard to ignore those gambling storm clouds brewing just across the river.

“This was a challenging meet for us but I thought our people did a great job,’’ Newlin said. “But those sports books have me worried, so we’ll just have to see what the future holds.’’

Now let’s do some racetrack housekeeping as we close out this year’s meet:

  • Alberto Pusac won the jockey title with 17 wins, finishing ahead of runner-up Chris Fackler (13). Pusac, riding for the first time at Horsemen’s Park, had three wins on the final weekend.
  • Marissa Black held on to win the training title with six wins, one more than runners-up David Anderson and Mark Hibdon. Black usually trains in Oklahoma and did not have horses running on the final two days at Horsemen’s Park.
  • The last race of the meet was one of the best as Go Gold rallied to win the $20,000 Who Doctor Who Stakes by a nose. It was the kind of heart-pounding finish that reinforced the excitement of live racing.
  • One of the meet’s best stories was longtime trainer Terry Hemmer winning a stakes race with his one-horse stable. Hemmer, who has been training since 1966, had his stable cut in half when his other horse was claimed during the meet.
  • Newlin still insists that his mount in the camel race got up in the final stride to post the victory. The Horsemen’s Park stewards ruled otherwise in the non-gambling race.
  • In Grand Island, Bruce Swihart is retiring as the CEO at Fonner Park and will be replaced by Omaha native Chris Kotulak. Those are two good men who have devoted much of their lives to horse racing and we wish them both the best in the future.
  • Some recent milestones also deserve mention. Trainers Marvin Johnson and David Anderson each picked up career wins No. 2,000, Jim Compton saddled career winner No. 1,000 and jockey Jake Olesiak rode his 1,000th winner.