Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak heard from numerous fans from around the country during the Fonner Park meet. Many fans who had never heard of Fonner or Grand Island got their first exposure to the facility that Kotulak began calling, “The little track that could.”
“For the last two months we have received calls from people across the world complimenting us and thanking us for presenting racing,” Kotulak said. “(Wednesday) alone we received six calls from cities such as Toledo, Vegas, Toronto, Australia and beyond. It’s nice for my staff to take those calls because they deserve credit for their hard work too.”
On Thursday, Kotulak received this email from Tony Markowsky, a racing a fan in Park Ridge, New Jersey. With his permission, we are sharing this letter.
My name is Tony Markowsky and my 16-year-old son Trevor and I live in Northern New Jersey. I just spoke to a very nice lady at your track named Corinne (Ketterling) and told her what I’m about to tell you.She also kindly provided me with your e-mail address so I could send it to you.
We are horse racing fans and huge sports fans in general. We attend the races in Saratoga every year and make it to Belmont Park, Aqueduct and the Meadowlands quite a few times each year. Like the rest of America I started working from home full time on March 23rd and my son started “virtual” school a week earlier.
With sports wiped out we still had horse racing so that Monday we tuned into Fonner Park on TVG. We had never seen a race from Fonner but were familiar with the “bullring” as TVG shows Charles Town at night.
We watched every single card from March 23rd through this past Wednesday (except Memorial Day which was not on TVG) and THOROUGHLY enjoyed ourselves. We are close to begin with, but our bond strengthened even further as Monday through Wednesday at 5 p.m. we were in front of the TV. There were many days when I asked Trevor when he wanted to eat dinner and two answers were the norm “Before Fonner starts” or “Let’s wait till after Fonner I’m not hungry yet.”
We are not big players, a few dollars across the board and Trevor likes to try the pick 5 (with Dad’s money of course). There was a mandatory payout day in mid-April where he had the first four winners and was alive for $4,500.
He was so excited that he called my mother and had her tune in to watch the last leg. “Where is this?” she said. “Fonner Park, Grand Island Nebraska grandma” He didn’t win but it was very memorable. We would talk about some of the people and horses we saw during that past week and when he looked up the pedigree on a horse named Junkers, he discovered her mother won a stakes race at Aqueduct during her career. “Small world Dad” he said.
On closing day we watched the whole card as usual and before the last race he asked me to pull up the track feed so he could hear if Steve Anderson had anything special to say. He did and it was quite touching. In that last race midway down the stretch we turned to each other and we each had tears in our eyes. I said to him “What this little track did for American sports fans and racing fans should never be forgotten.”
He asked me to bring up the track feed again to hear Steve Anderson and he was very touched by the words he said about the year of the pandemic and stop by and see us. What he saw next was the most important thing, (trainer) Mark Hibdon walked Ebony Nights into the winners circle and my son turned to me and said “Dad, look at Hibdon and (jockey Armando) Martinez, look at how happy they are. They know what all of this meant to everybody. You don’t see people at Saratoga that happy sometimes.”
I told him that is what grass roots horse racing really is all about. He did add “I don’t like Hibdon’s Dallas Cowboys t-shirt” (We are NY Giants season ticket holders!!).
On behalf of myself and my son THANK YOU for adjusting your racing schedule, extending it and for providing all racing fans with entertainment during these difficult times. What a tremendous three months it was.
Park Ridge, NJ