Fonner Park Running Strong Despite Racing's Uncertain Future


Diamond Joe might be Fonner Park's biggest star, and winner of Nebraska's biggest race.

"He was first Nebraska bred to win the Bosselman last year," trainer Chuck Turco is quick to point out.

But the past trainer of the year says horse racing in the state isn't what it once was.

"We're in a downswing, because we haven't got good legislation, things haven't rolled our way. Hopefully we get a couple more like him, we get some people out," he said, brushing his money winner.

There will be lots of fans in the stands at Fonner Park for the track's 61st year. Group sales are up and the barns are filling up too.

CEO Hugh Miner said, "We have more riders this year, have over 800 horses on the grounds, a good sign we're going to have a good meet again."

Track conditions look good, as horsemen get some good workouts on 50 and 60 degree days.

Weather's always a gamble this time of year in Nebraska, but the biggest concern is that there's nowhere for horsemen to go after this.

Miner said, "We're in hopes that changes where it gives them a circuit again to keep our horsemen in the state of Nebraska."

Lincoln and Omaha combined will have only four days of live racing. Columbus will have about a dozen days of live racing.

The spotlight is once again on Fonner Park, where the season runs from mid-February to the first week of May.

Miner said, "We don't take any pride in being one of only about two race tracks that run more than a few races."

Horsemen say plans for a new track in Lincoln are slow to develop. Miner said they have a nice simulcast facility, but said it could be years to build grandstands and everything to sustain more than a day of racing.

But trainers say they can at least count on starting their season in Grand Island.

Chuck Tuco said, "We're making a little comeback I think, crowds are coming back, getting tired of the casinos hopefully."

Turco says horses like Diamond Joe offer something no slot machine could. Despite the industry's woes, Fonner Park is still a good bet.

"As long as Fonner Park's running, we'll be here," Turco said.

The legislature came close a few years back to allowing electronic wagering on historic horse racing, but that failed.

Post time for Fonner's first race of the season is 2 p.m. Friday.