Horse racing season is back at Fonner Park
GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (Nebraska) – Saturday racing usually means a big crowd at Fonner Park and it was exactly that. Spectators from several states in the region came to Fonner Park for one of the first days of racing.
The season also allows Fonner Park to bring back over 100 seasonal employees. Officials said this racing season looks different with the temporary casino in place, and that was quickly apparent.
“We had a larger crowd than normal opening day on our first day,” said Chris Kotulak, CEO of Fonner Park. “I just think it’s all the momentum we’ve built here at Fonner Park. I call it Fonner Vibe, and this showed up on Friday. There will be at least twice as many people here on Saturday, the clubhouse will be sold out, the grass club will be sold out.
Kotulak said virtually every area of the venue sold out for opening Saturday, proving that Fonner Park is the premier track for thoroughbred racing in Nebraska. He is also focusing on paying Fonner Park to winners, to help get the track back to where it once was.
“Money talks and right now, we don’t have much to attract riders here to Fonner Park,” Kotulak said. “That’s a good reason we have so few stabled horses here right now. But next year, when we raise the purses and down the road when we double our purse money, we’ll have horses here in Fonner Park. We will find the knights we had who are returning, perhaps some new knights.
Restoring Fonner Park to its former glory is more than money; it’s the bonds it creates.
“The first date I took my wife on was at Fonner Park,” said Bob Charlson. “I’m from Sioux City, Iowa. It’s a little journey 180 miles long. But the very first date I took my wife on was to Fonner Park, and we’ve been married for 50 years.”
Charlson grew up a horse racing enthusiast, going to races with his father as a child. He made visiting Fonner Park on opening day a tradition in the 1970s, and has been at every opening day ever since.
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