By Bill Finley
With the two-week experiment to continue racing at Fonner Park having resulted in record handle numbers for the Grand Island, Nebraska track, management has agreed to keep racing going through the month of April. The 2020 meet is scheduled to close May 2.
Three weeks ago, horsemen were told that Fonner was shutting down because of the coronavirus. They went to management and reached an agreement to stay open for a trial period. A track that normally ran Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, Fonner went to a Monday-through-Wednesday schedule where it would be among the only tracks available to simulcast bettors. The hope was that the shift in the schedule would result in added handle.
The experiment has been a rousing success, with Fonner handling a record $2.8 million Tuesday and eclipsing the $2-million mark on two other occasions. Before changing its racing schedule, Fonner handled $500,000 to $600,000 on a good day and had never had a handle above $1.3 million in its 57-year history.
“The answer is yes, we are going to continue,” Fonner CEO Chris Kotulak said. “We were very pragmatic about this and knew what we needed to accomplish to stay open. We have exceeded our expectations. Having other tracks shut down has certainly helped us. We’ve been in the limelight and the lights have been cranked up. It’s not just the U.S. and Canada. They are betting on us in Australia, in South America.”
The signature race of the meet is the Bosselman Pump and Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes, which is scheduled to be run Apr. 25 with a purse of $75,000. The race is sponsored by Bosselman Energy, which, Kotulak said, has been putting up $40,000 of the purse but told management that it cannot afford to do so this year because of a decline in business during the coronavirus scare. However, the race will be run, likely with a smaller purse. Kotulak expects it will attract one of the best fields in its history.
“We will confirm the date and the purse soon,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there with good horses that have no place to run, so this race is getting a lot of attention. I think we’re going to see one heck of a race. We might have to make it the Bosselman Invitational. Who knows?”