Terrific weather and four close races gave all the railbirds who flocked to Horsemen's Park on Friday plenty of reasons to chirp on the opening day of Omaha's live meet.
Whether they were there for the races, the beverages, the postrace music or just to be seen and heard, the estimated 6,000 who flocked to the dirt track had no trouble finding ways to have fun.
“Everything went off without a hitch,” General Manager Greg Hosch said. “That might have been one of the biggest Friday crowds we've ever had.
“The track dried out. It's incredible what a day of sunshine and a little bit of wind will do.”
The track was a muddy quagmire Thursday night, and rain early Friday didn't help matters. But track superintendent Tim Hurd and his staff had the track ready for racing long before parking spaces began filling up almost as fast as the horses were running.
“We lost a little bit of our parking in the west lot but there was enough of it that was usable,” Hosch said. “You worry about that stuff. There's nothing you can do about it, but still, you worry.”
There were no reasons to worry about the action on the track. It was an especially good day for jockey Jose Ranilla, who had the winning mount for the first two six-furlong races.
Aboard Claim the Throne, Ranilla forced the pace from the outside and made a late charge. Claim the Throne moved clear in midstretch and was able to keep runner-up Nic a Jack behind him down the stretch after moving to the front coming off the final turn.
Ranilla, who won the last-ever race at Lincoln Race Course in January aboard Sonic Bloom, then led New Number past a rocky start to a last-second victory ahead of Schwartzbewithyou in 1:15.20. New Number hit the gate coming out and was behind Schwartzbewithyou until the final few gallops.
Joey's Song led almost the entire six-furlong third race. Jockey Larren Delorme got Joey's Song to make the pace on a short lead, and shook off a bid from Silver Meeting before kicking clear and turning for home for the widest margin of victory on the day.
Spice Swirl won the featured Falls Amiss Handicap, finishing the one-mile race in 1:42.20. Jockey Jake Olesiak settled his mount outside and stayed back of the leaders. Spice Swirl rallied four wide up the backstretch to bid and quickly moved clear into the far turn to pull ahead.
Hosch said it was a great ending to one of the best opening days Horsemen's Park has had in 16 seasons.
“This might have been one of the biggest Friday crowds we've ever had,” Hosch said. “This was a great evening, everybody's having a great time. You can see people from all ages, and that's what kind of warms the heart.”
In addition to the five-race card that begins at 2 p.m. Saturday, there will be camel and ostrich races and several give-always, including trips to Las Vegas. Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg also will be on hand to sign copies of his book.
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