It was a hot start to the Budweiser-Tondi Stakes at Fonner Park on Tuesday, one of three days of racing offered this week without fans in attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The first week of the new Fonner Park live racing experiment came to an end on Wednesday.

In those three days of racing, the mutuel handle was a whopping $5.1 million, but Fonner and the horsemen here in Nebraska get only a small percentage of that.

“I was very pleased administratively, and with normal racing protocol, we were able to succeed,” Fonner Park CEO Chris Kotulak said. “Have we succeeded in a pari mutuel sense? I think we survived. We certainly haven’t flourished, but we did succeed in pulling off a three-day race week with scratching out enough to fight another week.”

The original agreement was for a two-week trial period with Monday through Wednesday racing after live racing was closed down to fans because of the coronavirus. Monday’s mutuel handle was $1.3 million before Tuesday’s handle jumped all the way to $2.2 million.

“If all the money were bet on track, you’d certainly see me doing a little jig,” Kotulak said.

Those figures at least gave Kotulak hope for next week.

“It paints a good picture to know that we will very likely get through this trial period assuming nothing unforeseen happens and we’re still able to race Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week,” Kotulak said.

Fonner Park did add a number of new clients this week who spread the signal around the globe.

“We signed a number of contracts in the last 72 hours with racetracks or betting groups that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” Kotulak said. “And some of those do have service in the United Kingdom and Australia.”

Although the total handle looks great, Kotulak compared the situation to a car. You can’t just put fuel in it, you also have to keep it going with regular maintenance and repairs.

So there’s more to consider than just that purse money was brought in that you otherwise wouldn’t have had.

“I appreciate that, but there’s much more that needs to be done before I can call this a success,” Kotulak said. “But we have shown that with teamwork, we can make it happen. And now, fingers crossed that we can get in three more days next week.”

Now the Fonner Park administration and the horsemen will turn their attention to those next three days of racing. Monday’s nine-race card has already been drawn with a 3:30 p.m. first-race post time.

Kotulak said no decision would be made beyond next week’s three days of racing until they’re all done.

“I don’t want to venture any guess what will happen at the conclusion of our two-week trial until we have all the numbers in,” Kotulak said.

Wild Drive wins feature

Wild Drive, a 4-year-old gelding owned and trained by Michael Bollinger, won the feature race Wednesday at Fonner Park.

The Florida-bred son of Corfu and Wild Plum Circle was ridden to the win by jockey Dakota Wood. He held on to win the $7,500 claiming race by a head and covered the 6 ½ furlongs in 1:16.20.

Outrun the Roses was second and Hunters Appeal third.

It was the first win of the meet for Bollinger.


% Wood also won the fifth race on Chase Be A Lady for trainer Marissa Black.

% Jockey Jake Olesiak won the second race on Creeds Revenge for trainer Schuyler Condon and the eighth race on Panic Button for trainer Stetson Mitchell.

% The Dinsdale Pick 5 Jackpot lives on. There were multiple five-of-five tickets that paid $10,601.50 each. The jackpot will carry over $167,743 to Monday’s card.

% After five weekends of racing, Armando Martinez leads the jockey standings with 25 wins. Olesiak has 21, Wood 16 and Freddy Manrrique 15.

% Kelli Maritnez and Isai Gonzalez are tied for the lead in the trainers’ standings with 16 wins each. David Anderson has 10 and Stetson Mitchell eight.

Nominations in for Pepsi Stakes

Twenty fillies have been nominated for the Pepsi Stakes Tuesday at Fonner Park.

The Pepsi Stakes is a $15,000 six-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies. Nominees include Lovesaflyin, trained by Terrell Hemmer, who is a sister to Love at Night who has won six straight stakes races at Fonner dating back to last year.

Pepsi Stakes nominations

Behold the Sky, Stetson Mitchell; Better and Better, Marvin Johnson; Cline Time, David Anderson; D L’s Girl, Anderson; English Toffee, Monty Luark; Fashion Fact, Schuyler Condon; Goodness Cat, Anderson; Goveness Sheila, Condon; Holiday Chimes, Mark Lemburg; Holiday Romance, Condon; Kittens Embrace, Anderson; Lovesaflyin, Terrell Hemmer; Mean Erika, Kelli Martinez; Moro Love, Mark Hibdon; Saygoodnightgracie, Steve Hall; Shes the Best, Marissa Black; Swanky LIsa, Condon; Ticker, Mike Sorensen; Wacca Wacca Wacca, Lemburg; Zibby Too, Anderson.

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