Saturday, December 9, 2023

Horse racing notes: Fonner Park no longer sends simulcast signal out-of-state due to new laws

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It wasn’t that long ago that Grand Island’s Fonner Park was sending its simulcast signal as far away as Australia.

Because of complications with the federal implementation of the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA), the track now can’t send its signal any farther than Nebraska.

Until further notice, Fonner has canceled its interstate wagering feed. Betting on the track’s races outside of the state won’t be provided via a parimutuel tote feed.

Fonner CEO Chris Kotulak said the racetrack chose this drastic measure because of the many uncertainties associated with HISA.

“The unreasonable and overreaching HISA rules and regulations have presented demands and obstacles that a racetrack our size cannot achieve or endure,” he said.

Kotulak said the biggest HISA obstacle is the shifting of responsibility for all drug testing and related staffing from state racing commissions to the racetracks, which adds major expense.

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Fonner is the third track to have its simulcasting signal restricted due to the implementation of HISA safety rules last summer. The other two are in Texas.

In 2020, Fonner reaped the benefits of racing during the pandemic at a time when almost every other track was shut down. The track’s simulcast signal was sent around the world and eager horseplayers wagered an average of more than $400,000 per race, compared to an average of about $30,000.

Fonner now is a plaintiff in a national lawsuit against HISA.

“It’s a shame it’s come to this,” Kotulak said.

Arlington auction

The ongoing auctions at the now-closed Arlington Racecourse in suburban Chicago was the subject of a story in the racing publication The Paulick Report.

Former jockey and Nebraska native Randy Meier, who won his first race at Fonner Park in 1972, was shown carrying a sign that marked his 4,000th career victory that happened at Arlington.

Meier picked up that historic win in 2007 and at the time also was presented with a bronze horse statue in a special winner’s circle ceremony. He rode more than 600 winners at that racetrack.

Meier, who was inducted into the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame in 2008, rode for several years at Omaha’s Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack. His stakes winners included Sunday Sonnet, Culebra’s Comet and S’lekcin (nickels spelled backwards).

Amadevil is honored

Amadevil, a filly named after the Nebraska Hall of Famer, recently was honored as the Ohio-bred Horse of the Year in that state.

The horse, owned by Blue Snow Racing and trainer David Wolochuk, also was named the champion female sprinter. She won several stakes races while competing primarily at Thistledown in suburban Cleveland.

Gaffalione nets 2,000th

Jockey Tyler Gaffalione recently scored career victory No. 2,000 at Gulfstream.

The 28-year-old won that milestone race aboard a horse called Megacity.

Gaffalione, who won seven Grade I stakes races in 2022, comes from a racing family. His father and grandfather rode for several years, including stints at Ak-Sar-Ben.

Moment of silence

In an effort to bring attention to mental health awareness, several racetracks held a moment of silence Saturday in memory of jockey Avery Whisman.

He died in January at age 23 with what his family called “a prolonged struggle with the physical and mental demands placed on riders.”

Whisman began his career in California and forged a friendship with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith. He rode in 810 races and won 90.

Looking ahead

With the Kentucky Derby less than three months away, here’s a rundown of the top 3-year-old contenders (in order of potential odds):

Forte (8-1); Hoosier Philly (11-1); Tapit Trice (15-1); Instant Coffee (22-1); Victory Formation (23-1); Geaux Rocket Ride (25-1), Blazing Sevens (27-1); Banishing (27-1); Litigate (28-1); Hit Show (28-1); Verifying (34-1); Rocket Can (35-1); Kingsbarns (35-1).

The Derby, as always, will be contested at Kentucky’s Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Blanket statement

Racing fans will have an opportunity to bid on blankets worn by three top Thoroughbreds, including two that won the Triple Crown.

Blankets worn by American Pharoah (2015 Triple Crown), Justify (2018 Triple Crown) and Epicenter (2022 champion male 3-year-old) are among the racing items up for auction online.

All money raised at the auction goes to benefit the Kentucky area branch of CASA, which provides advocacy for abused and neglected children.

The auction can be accessed at

Bacharach and racing

The recent death of songwriter Burt Bacharach is something that also was felt in the racing world.

He was a significant participant in the sport dating to the 1960s. He was a longtime owner and was friends with jockeys Bill Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay Jr.

Bacharach, who bought his first horse through Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham, owned the Richard Mandella-trained Soul of the Matter. That horse was a stakes winner at Santa Anita and ran fifth in the 1994 Kentucky Derby.

Ortiz ties mark

Jockey Irad Ortiz recently tied a record at Florida’s Gulfstream Park, riding seven consecutive winners on the nine-race card.

He now shares that Gulfstream distinction with Jerry Bailey, Tyler Gaffalione, Luis Saez and Paco Lopez.

Ortiz became the only jockey in the track’s history to win seven races in a row.

Harr sets record

After becoming the first female jockey in Oaklawn history to surpass $1 million in purse earnings at a meet last year, Kelsi Harr recently broke another record at the Arkansas racetrack.

She moved past the $2.8 million mark in career earnings at Oaklawn. Cindy Murphy held the previous record at the track for a female jockey at $2.7 million.

The 30-year-old began riding at Oaklawn in 2019 and has increased her mounts and purse earnings each season.

Murphy, riding mostly as Cindy Noll, still holds the track record for career victories for a female jockey with 183 — including 47 in 1999.

Charlie is retired

Hot Rod Charlie, a winner of more than $5.6 million at the racetrack, has been retired to stud in Japan.

The 5-year-old had been residing at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky since finishing sixth in the Breeders Cup Classsic on Nov. 5.

Hot Rod Charlie finished third in the 2021 Kentucky Derby but was moved up to second following the eventual disqualification of Medina Spirit, who failed a drug test.

Trainer wins 3,000th

Robertino Diodoro recently became the 37th trainer in North America to reach the 3,000-win mark.

He picked up that historic victory when he saddled Arthurian to victory at Oaklawn.

A native of Canada, Diodoro scored his first career victory in 1995.

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