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Eric Peterson, Published July 24 2009

North Dakota Horse Park enters seventh season of racing today

The North Dakota Horse Park will have a new look this season. A completed Cover-All Pavilion, a new betting system and a track record number of horses.

“This is the year where we hope we really see what we’ve got,” Horse Park general manager Heather Benson said. “We’ve got our full building, we’ve got a great betting system, we’ve got a great group of horses. It’s the year that should show our true colors and hopefully they are flying colors.”

The North Dakota Horse Park opens its seventh season at 5 p.m. today with the gate opening at 4 p.m.

Races will start on 5 p.m. on both Fridays and Saturdays this season. Sunday races have been eliminated with the exception of Labor Day weekend.

In previous years, races were in the afternoons on Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s kind of to match what you see at other sporting venues,” Benson said. “Our crowds on an average Friday night are about double what you’d see say on a Sunday afternoon.”

Benson is hoping the new times, along with the track upgrades, will translate into more fans. Last season, the track averaged 3,300 fans per night. That was up from 2,700 from the season before.

“If we can go up again, I would be really happy,” Benson said. “I think we can.”

Benson said the track has received 450 stall applications. That number is up from 319 last season. The track record was 405 in 2007. Benson attributes part of the increase to drawing horses from new areas like Iowa, Utah and Idaho. But part of that increase is more horses are coming from in state.

“It seems like a lot of our local horsemen are bringing more horses,” Benson said. “A lot of people from North Dakota, instead of having five horses in the barn, they have 15.”

The track has a new betting system in place for this season that will allow fans to place 10-cent superfectas, picking the top four horses in a race in order, and Daily Pick 4s, picking the winner in four races in a row. If no one wins the Pick 4, it carries over and the payout grows.

“It’s just like the lottery. If no one keeps winning it until we go all the way to the end of the race meet, there could be $100,000 in there and that’s what we are excited about creating,” Benson said. “We may get to Day 16 of racing and have a $100,000 pool for people to throw their $1 after and hopefully someone will get it.”

On Saturdays, the track will have behind-the-scenes tours for fans in limited numbers between races.

The track will also be open to the public from 7-11 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday for morning workouts.

“I’m most excited to see all the new competition,” Benson said. “Not just the new people that are here, but the people who have gone out and bought new horses.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blogs can be found

at www.areavoices.com