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Horse racing dates set in Nebraska for 2021, but pandemic's impact still uncertain

Horse racing dates set in Nebraska for 2021, but pandemic's impact still uncertain

The Nebraska Racing Commission approved 61 days of live racing in 2021 at a meeting held Tuesday in Lincoln.

That’s nine more than the minimum needed to maintain 2022 simulcast licenses, as per state law.

Commission chairman Dennis Lee said it remains to be seen how the pandemic will affect racing. Last year, only Fonner Park held its scheduled live meet because of COVID-19 concerns.

“We went through this last year with a great amount of anticipation and you saw what happened," Lee said. “We honestly don’t know what the environment will be when we plan to start racing in February."

Fonner once again asked for the most dates. The Grand Island facility will run 31 days, from Feb. 19-May 1.

The track ran its meet last year without fans while setting records in simulcast handle, primarily because it was one of the few racetracks in America running at the time.

Omaha’s Horsemen’s Park will run two days in early May. The track was granted the dates of May 8-9, but General Manager Mike Newlin said that probably will change to May 7-8 to avoid racing on Mother’s Day.

Newlin said his facility requested two days because of planned construction that will convert the simulcast facility into a casino. Voters approved casino gambling at the state racetracks earlier this month.

“We wanted to run as close to the Kentucky Derby as we could," he said. “After that, there will be some major construction going on out here."

Newlin, who also is general manager of the Lincoln racetrack, said construction of a casino also will be ongoing at that facility. The track requested 12 live race days in 2021 with the dates to be determined.

A hotel also is in the plans for the Lincoln property.

“We have a lot more room in Lincoln," he said. “We’re pretty landlocked in Omaha."

Newlin said he hopes at future commission meetings that the state tracks will be requesting many more live dates, thanks to casino revenues.

“I can see a time when we run 70 days in Lincoln and 30 in Omaha," he said. “It’s finally starting to look like we have a bright future for Nebraska racing."

Other dates set Tuesday: South Sioux City, one day (July 17); Columbus, 15 days (Aug.16-Sept. 6); Hastings, one day of quarter horse racing (date to be determined).

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Mike covers high school sports, primarily volleyball in the fall, girls basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer. He also reports on horse racing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @MPattersonOWH. Phone: 402-444-1350.

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