It’s no secret that there aren’t that many Nebraska-bred thoroughbreds left in the state.
The numbers have decreased greatly in the past few years. It’s been hard for the breeders to make enough money to keep going because of the low purses in the state.
Many are better off going with Iowa-bred, Kentucky-bred, Minnesota-bred or horses bred in just about any other state with thoroughbred horse racing.
But there are still some Nebraska breds hanging around, including a few pretty good ones. Owner Monte Hehnke, who is part of Seven Arms Stable, has one of those trained by Marvin Johnson.
Hehnke went out and claimed Be My Shadow at Turf Paradise with the intent of bringing the Nebraska-bred gelding back to the state to run in breed races. That plan has worked out well, even though he ended up paying more for him.
“We brought him here for this race a year ago,” Hehnke said of the Ogataul Stakes earlier this year. “I looked at claiming him for $6,250 and I didn’t. The next time out, I told Marv we were stupid not to claim him. So we came back and claimed him for $10,000 and he was awfully good for us last year.”
Be My Shadow won the Ogataul Stakes, a four-furlong race for Nebraska breds, in his first race back in the state a year ago. He also won the Budweiser-Tondi Stakes, a race open to all horses, at Fonner and later won another breed race, the Who Doctor Who Stakes, at Horsemen’s Park in Omaha.
He’ll be back on the track for this year’s Budweiser-Tondi on Saturday.
“There just aren’t many breeds left, especially good ones,” Hehnke said. “That horse was kind of on an upswing. We thought this horse is probably going to fit in the Nebraska-bred races and it worked out really well for us.”
The same thing happened with Chub’s Charmer. Owners Brad and Jodi Schliefert claimed the mare at Keeneland in October of 2017 and sent her to Fonner with trainer David Anderson.
Last year, Chub’s Charmer won the Orphan Kist Stakes, a race for Nebraska-bred fillies and mares, and the Runza Stakes, a race open to all competition.
Chub’s Charmer finished third in a field of seven last weekend in the 2019 Orphan Kist. Seven isn’t a bad number. Fonner is required to run at least one Nebraska-bred race each day of it’s live racing season, and many of those races end up as five-horse fields.
“Our Nebraska breds are getting thinner, the fields are getting shorter and shorter and shorter,” Anderson said. “We’re kind of running out of them.”
It’s a definite problem for the industry. Trainer Terrell Hemmer, though, has a good one in Love at Night.
The 6-year-old mare won the four-furlong Bold Accent Stakes March 9 at Fonner, then came back seven days later to dominate the Orphan Kist last weekend.
The final 2 3-4ths length win didn’t really indicate how easily she won the race.
The daughter of Mr. Nightlinger and Lovesablumin, who won the Orphan Kist twice during her career, looks like the class of the Nebraska-bred fillies and mares this year.
But she may have a challenge in the future from her younger sister. Hemmer has a 2-year-old Lovesaflying at home on his farm now.
If Lovesaflying takes after her older sister and mother, Hemmer could have another winner on his hands.
But still, the industry needs an influx of cash to keep things going. That’s not news. Everyone knows that already.
Just last year, the Ogataul and the Orphan Kist Stakes were both $20,000 races. This year they were running for a share of a $10,000 pot.
Last year the Fonner Park Special Stakes — one race for 3-year-old fillies and one for 3-year-old colts and geldings — were worth $25,000 each.
This year, those races will be worth $10,000.
It’s pretty easy to see the problem the Nebraska horsemen are facing.
“Someday in Nebraska, we’ll have some money to run for,” Hemmer said.
That could be taken as either a prediction or just wishful thinking.
You make the call.
Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Independent.