The best weekend of the year so far could be on the menu at Fonner Park.
The weather should be considerably improved over what we’ve seen so far, and chief operating officer Chris Kotulak expects another fast track as well.
At least after Friday.
“Despite all of the poor weather we’ve had, or the threat of poor weather we’ve had, the race track has been fast through it all,” Kotulak said. “I expect when we get to Saturday we’ll have another fast race track, particularly with the sun and a little wind blowing.”
Saturday is expected to be another big day with the $10,000 Orphan Kist Stakes, a race for Nebraska-bred fillies and mares, on tap. The field includes last year’s Orphan Kist winner Chub’s Charmer, Ubetcha Ima Bumper, who won the race in 2016 and 2017, and Love at Night, who won the Bold Accent Stakes just a week ago.
Despite the weather that went through Wednesday and Thursday, Kotulak expects everything to go on as scheduled. Friday may be a bit muddy, but the show will (hopefully) go on.
And the show has been going on despite the struggles with the weather. Kotulak said the new features to make Fonner more fan friendly have gone over well.
That includes the new Skyline Pub which, after two false starts due to the weather, kicked off Saturday with Luke Mills performing. This Saturday, Dustin Prinz will be on hand to entertain race fans.
Kotulak said the tables and stools were all filled last weekend for Mills’ performance.
“I thought the Skyline Pub went perfectly with just the right size crowd and just the right size vibe,” Kotulak said. “Everyone I spoke to was just delighted to what has happened to that space and the option that it provided them after the live racing was over for the day.”
“Friday’s at Five, Nebraska’s most ridiculous happy hour,” has gone over well too. That’s where fans can get a $5 betting voucher, two beers and five wings for $10.
“That continues to go gang busters, particularly because the first two Fridays we were finished shortly after five and I think people decided to just make a meal of the special,” Kotulak said. “Now that we have a later post time, I think it will certainly attract the people who want a little something to do.”
Sundays feature the petting zoo down on the bottom floor along with $1 pop, popcorn and hotdogs from 1-3 p.m. at the concession stand near the paddock. This weekend the petting zoo will feature a miniature horse.
“It’s been particularly pleasing to see all the children and family members stop by and see what ever we have offered for a petting zoo animal, whether a goat or a rabbit or a hen,” Kotulak said.
The crowds have been good for the most part so far. The first Saturday was down because of the adverse weather conditions that weekend, and the second Saturday was cancelled after the first race.
But there was a large crowd on hand this past Saturday, and the Friday and Sunday crowds have been good as well.
Kotulak noticed the crowd the first day of the meet on Feb. 22.
“It was very pleasing for me to see every venue at the race track seemed to be at capacity,” Kotulak said. “I was going crazy taking pictures to post on social media. That’s been pleasing to me.
“When I first got here in July, I think we had 224 followers on Twitter. My goal was to get to 1,000 by the first weekend and we got there and we’re at 1,100 now.”
So somehow, despite all the problems facing the racing industry and the bad weather, Fonner is off to a nice start for the 2019 season.
Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Independent.