Fonner Park, the first stop on the Nebraska Thoroughbred racing circuit, will begin its 31-day meet Friday.
First post will be 2 p.m. at the Grand Island track, which will launch its 61st season of racing. Despite snow on Thursday, the forecast for opening day calls for sunny conditions and temperatures in the mid-40s.
New to the track this season will be a 50-cent, Pick 5 wager. There will be a guaranteed pool of $5,000 to begin the season, and the entire pot can only be won with one perfect ticket.
If there’s more than one winning ticket, half of the pool will be paid out and the rest will carry over to the next day.
Brothers Jake and Jordan Olesiak, who finished 1-2 in the jockey standings last year, will be back. Jake had 48 winners in 2013 while Jordan finished with 46.
Other returning riders include Mike Ziegler, Don Frazier, Armando Martinez and Luis Ranilla.
Also back in training at Fonner is Diamond Joe, the first Nebraska-bred to capture the track’s featured event — the $75,000 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes. The defending champion is expected to compete in the 1 1⁄16-mile race April 26.
The Nebraska Racing Commission took time at its meeting last week to recognize the accomplishments of longtime owner Don Everett, who died Feb. 11 at age 70.
The successful Runza restaurateur founded Bluestem Farm near Lincoln, where he bred several stakes winners. That list included Irish Villon, Bach’s Homebrew, Thundering Verzy and Faultless Edna.
He also was the owner of Tonzarun, who finished sixth behind Royal Heroine in the 1984 Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Everett perhaps will be best remembered among fans as the man who tried to save horse racing at Omaha’s Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack. He submitted several proposals in 1996 — one reportedly worth $40 million — to purchase the track but the deal never happened.
Everett sponsored a Runza family day on Easter weekend at Fonner for several years. The track also has held a Runza Stakes for fillies and mares.
An Iowa-bred horse with Nebraska ownership ties recently was honored for its 2013 performance by the Iowa Breeders and Owners Association.
Named the top Iowa-bred 3-year-old filly was Sumting Wong, who won the Iowa Breeders’ Oaks race at Prairie Meadows in suburban Des Moines. The horse is owned and was bred by Shady Bend Thoroughbreds of Grand Island.
Based on winnings at Prairie Meadows, the Iowa group also honored William Hobbs of Ewing, Neb., as the champion breeder. His horses earned more than $436,000, led by Ice Hockey ($94,232), Launch Light ($89,977) and Oh My Gravy ($89,129).
Thompson fourth at Oaklawn
Terry Thompson, a graduate of Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln High School, is tied for fourth in the jockey standings after six weeks of racing at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.
Thompson, who has won the riding title twice at Oaklawn, has 11 winners this season. That trails leader Ricardo Santana Jr., who has 18.
Grand Island native Channing Hill has 10 wins.
Lee re-elected chairman
Omaha attorney Dennis Lee was re-elected as the Nebraska Racing Commission chairman in a vote at last week’s commission meeting.
The graduate of Omaha Creighton Prep, Creighton University and the Creighton School of Law became the general counsel for the racing commission in 1983. He was appointed to the commission in 1988 by then-Governor Kay Orr and has been reappointed for consecutive terms by Governors Orr, Ben Nelson, Mike Johanns and Dave Heineman.
Commissioner Janell Beveridge of Paxton was re-elected vice-chairman for 2014.