Live horse racing returns to Grand Island’s Fonner Park on Saturday | local

A mild winter has Fonner Park officials excited about Saturday’s start to the live racing meet.

“Mother Nature is going to give us an edge,” Fonner CEO Chris Kotulak said. “The weather has been tremendous and that’s allowed the horses to get ready.”

Kotulak said about 80% of those horses have arrived and the other 20% will get to Fonner in a few weeks.

The track will begin its 69th year of racing and hold a 37-day meet that runs through May 21.

Trainer David Anderson and jockey Jake Olesiak will return to defend their titles. Anderson has been Fonner’s top trainer 15 times. Olesiak is a seven-time riding champion.

Announcer Steve Anderson also will be back, calling the races for the 19th year. Only Dean Williams, the track announcer for 32 years, served longer in that capacity.

Kotulak said the popular camel and ostrich races will return March 27 following a two-year absence because of COVID.

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“The last time we had them it was one of our biggest crowds ever,” he said. “We drew more than 10,000 people and we expect another great crowd this year.”

The richest race will be the $75,000 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Handicap on April 30.

Something new at Fonner this year will be the Omnibet, a quiniela wager that challenges bettors to pick two of the first three finishers of a race in any order. The wager is popular at foreign tracks, and Fonner is the only North American track to offer it.

Races hero at two tracks

Omaha’s Horsemen’s Park and the Lincoln Race Course recently held one-furlong, four-horse races that will satisfy the state statute requirement to attain a simulcasting license for 2023.

Lincoln ran its race Feb. 1 and Horsemen’s Park’s was Feb. 3. As per the statute, the races were for Nebraska-breds and parimutuel wagering was allowed.

Neither track is holding a live meet this year because of possible casino construction that would interfere with racing.

Commission meeting set

The next meeting of the Nebraska Racing & Gaming Commission will be Feb. 24 at 1:30 pm at the Fonner Park Café in Grand Island.

Items on the agenda include approval of staff for 2022 and the approval of simulcast applications.

The commission will not take any action on new racetrack applications that have been submitted.

Movie horse dies

Popcorn Deelites, one of several Thoroughbreds that portrayed Depression-era hero Seabiscuit in the 2003 Oscar-nominated film, has died.

The 24-year-old gelding, who had a moderate racing career in mostly claiming races, had been retired in Kentucky since 2005.

The horse was a Seabiscuit look-alike and appeared in numerous scenes throughout the film, including the match race against Triple Crown winner War Admiral.

During his racing career, Popcorn Deelites won 11 of 58 starts and earned almost $57,000.

Flightline sidelined

The impressive horse Flightline has been sidelined by a strain in his right hind leg.

The unbeaten 4-year-old son of Tapit had been scheduled to run in a stakes race March 5 at California’s Santa Anita racetrack.

Flightline has won its three races by a combined 37½ lengths.

well-bred colt

Kentucky’s Hill’n’Dale Farm recently announced that Eclipse champion Midnight Bisou — a mare with earnings in excess of $7.4 million — had delivered a colt by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.

Midnight Bisou was never out of the money in her 22 starts while competing at 10 tracks. She won the Eclipse Award in 2019 as champion older dirt female.

Derby trainer suspended

Trainer Bennie L. “Chip” Woolley Jr. was recently suspended by the Arizona Racing Commission.

The commission scheduled a hearing “to answer charges of actions that call into question the best interest of racing.”

Woolley rose to prominence in 2009 when he saddled Mine That Bird to a 50-1 upset in the Kentucky Derby.

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