LIve thoroughbred horse racing will return to Fonner Park on Monday.
But it won’t be the racing atmosphere we’ve known through the first four weekends of the live season this year.
It will be different.
No concession stands. No beer. No popcorn No fans. No roar of the crowd as the horses come down the stretch.
It will be nothing except racing.
The coronavirus has the entire nation, even the world, on hold. But Fonner returns Monday and will race, like several other tracks around the nation, with basically just horsemen in attendance.
The racing industry is just doing what every other business is doing in this time of lock downs and quarantines and toilet paper hoarding. It’s just trying to find a way to survive.
“All we want to do is make a living,” Nebraska Hall of Fame trainer David C. Anderson said. “Nobody is trying to get rich in this game. We just want to make a living, and we can’t make a living if we don’t run.”
So run they will, at least for a while.
It’s a two-week trial to start. If the simulcast betting makes enough to pay the horsemen, they will keep going as long as they can on a Monday through Wednesday schedule.
That schedule is important. It at least gives them a chance to make it work.
“They could not have done it without any fans on a Friday-Saturday, Sunday,” Anderson said. “Now we have to rely on the simulcast dollars to help subsidize the purses and keep the purse structure where it needs to be.”
A week ago, it was announced that live racing at Fonner with fans in attendance was closing down for an indefinite period of time because of the coronavirus. Later in the week, the Fonner Park administration, HBPA and other racing officials got the deal worked out to allow races without fans.
“When they made the announcement to discontinue racing here, you can bet, Including myself, there were a lot of horsemen with their jaw dragging,” Anderson said. “You know, what are we going to do now? I applaud the Fonner Park administration, the racing office, the HBPA for getting a plan in action and doing what they did to continue racing here, hopefully for the duration of the meet.”
There is no telling where this thing is headed. A positive test for the coronavirus from a jockey, or anyone on the Fonner backside involved with racing, and it will be shut down.
“That would be devastating,” Anderson said. “If anybody on the backside comes down with it, it would be devastating. So we hope and pray that we keep that at bay and racing continues on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.”
It won’t be the racing that we’ve known, but it will still be racing. There are a couple of nice stake races on the card for Tuesday.
The $20,000 Orphan Kist Stakes, which was postponed when racing was canceled because of the track condition on March 14, will feature Nebraska-bred fillies and mares, including Love at Night who dominated the racing scene in the state in 2019.
The $20,000 Budweiser-Tondi Stakes will also be Tuesday. That race features a tough field that includes Anderson’s Ourbestfriend D L, the winner of the Baxter Stakes a year ago.
“Everybody thinks it’s easy to win races here at Fonner Park,” Anderson said. “And I’ve been here long enough to know that this is probably just as difficult to win races here as any place in the country.”
You can still watch the races on Fonner Park’s live stream at fonnerpark.com. It won’t be the same as being there, but it’s the only option for the next few weeks at least.
One thing is for sure. The horsemen are grateful for the opportunity to run some more races.
“A big thank you to the Fonner administration, the racing office and the HBPA for hopefully allowing this to happen for the rest of the meet,” Anderson said.
Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Independent.