A diamond long removed from the rough shined brightest during the final day of live racing at Horsemen's Park.
Diamond Joe — the 4-year-old who had a nine-race winning streak in 2012 — galloped to another victory in the Who Doctor Who Handicap feature, the highest-stakes race of Sunday's six-race program.
With a crowd estimated at 7,000, the Nebraska-bred chestnut gelding took the lead at the three-quarter pole and pulled away to finish the one-mile race in 1:40.20.
Jockey Jake Olesiak helped guide Diamond Joe through a rough start before settling in off early leader Zooha the King.
“He actually didn't break the best, but that doesn't matter with that horse,” Olesiak said. “He settled in good, and for the most part I just had to hang on. He's a pretty nice horse, he does it all on his own.”
By the three-quarter pole Diamond Joe had bolted to the front of the pack and gradually pulled away. He began to move up and force the issue through the second turn and eventually drew clear while staying out from the rail up the backstretch.
Diamond Joe was coming off a win in the richest race of the recently completed Fonner Park session in Grand Island, the Bosselman/Gus Fonner Handicap.
That Diamond Joe pulled away from the other four horses with relative ease came as no surprise to Olesiak, who also credited trainer Chuck Turco with having the horse he now has raced 13 times prepared for battle.
“He runs hard for me every time,” Olesiak said. “He ran really good and he didn't have to put too much effort in it today. He knew what he was doing. He knew it was race day. I just hang on, he does the rest.”
Having the final day of the meet on Mother's Day proved to be a successful move for Horsemen's Park General Manager Greg Hosch and his staff. The meet was moved up to May from its traditional mid-summer run to follow the Fonner Park meet because the Lincoln Race Course no longer is running.
“Today exceeded my expectations,” Hosch said. “Everybody said it would be hard to compete with Mother's Day, but we put together a Mother's Day theme and everyone seemed to enjoy it.”
Hosch said not only were the crowds large and enthusiastic, wagering also was up. The three-day handle was up six percent on track and 12 percent systemwide over both 2012 meets.
Those numbers are even impressive considering there were 15 races in this meet, three fewer than both of the 2012 meets Horsemen's Park hosted.
There was a Gallop for the Cure race in which Hosch said about $2,500 was raised for the Susan B. Komen Foundation when the towels the horses wore during the race were auctioned. Area sports celebrities, including Bo Pelini, Eric Crouch, Tim Miles, Greg and Doug McDermott, and Connie Yori, autographed the towels.
“These last two days were a lot of fun because we had a lot of stuff placed in between and after the races,” Hosch said. “Everything came off without a hitch, and we kept hearing how much people were enjoying everything.”
The improved weather not only helped the size and mood of the crowd, but the condition of the track got a boost, as well. Track superintendent Tim Hurd said after rain Wednesday and Saturday, the Horsemen's Park crew squeezed the water beneath the track to the surface.
“We had to wait for some sunshine and wind, but everything came together for us little by little,” Hurd said. “We kept just enough moisture on it today so the dirt wouldn't get too loose.”
As for what dates the meet will be held next year, Hosch said those decisions won't be made at least until the meet in Columbus that begins in August has been completed. He doesn't believe a meet in May 2014 would be met with much resistance.
“A lot of things are up in the air with racing in Nebraska,” Hosch said. “It would be fine if we load it up and do it again this week next year. I don't think anybody really missed the 110-degree weather that we have in July.”
Contact the writer:
402-618-4113, email@example.com, twitter.com/stevebeideck