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Wendy Reuer, Published July 12 2012

North Dakota Horse Park to host two weekends of racing after two-year hiatus

FARGO – For a millisecond, a hush settles on the crowd. The horses are in the gate, jockeys silent and poised just before they rocket forward.

The bell rings, and the quiet explodes.

A roaring crowd cheers on the horses whose hooves are thundering down the lane toward the finish line. Someone strikes it big, and someone else strikes out.

That’s live horse racing, and it’s returning to Fargo this weekend as the North Dakota Horse Park is up and running after a two-year hiatus.

Horses, owners, trainers and jockeys have come from around the region to compete in the four-day meet that begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and continues next weekend, July 21-22.

“It may be a short meet, but we’re going to have a lot of excitement over four days. Hopefully this is just the start of something amazing,” said NDHP manager Mike Weiss.

Becky McDowell, an administrative assistant for the park, said about 400 horses are expected to run, a mix of both thoroughbreds and American quarter horses.

A number of races planned for the meet will be for horses raised in North Dakota, including the $10,000 North Dakota Derby on July 22.

Races have not been held at the park since the summer of 2009. It closed in April 2010 after racking up about $150,000 in debt since opening in 2005.

The North Dakota Horse Park Foundation owns the horse track. Earlier this year, Fargo Finance Director Kent Costin told The Forum that Horse Race North Dakota owed $1.8 million to the city of Fargo.

The city extended sewer, water and other infrastructure in 2003 prior to building the horse park. The special assessments on the properties were deferred through 2012 under a contract extension approved by the City Commission.

The groups will now be billed in 2013.

The state Racing Commission agreed to two weekends of racing earlier this year, after groups across the country pitched in with donations.

Integrated Betting Network committed $36,000 for operational costs while Ohio-based Avatar Ventures, LLC pledged about $75,000.

“We want to support live racing in any way we can,” Weiss said.

Weiss, a staff member of Avatar, said he worked his way up from the backside to managing tracks. He said many of the volunteers at the horse park, who have stepped in to do everything from administrative work to helping clean up the grounds, are passionate about racing in Fargo.

“It’s totally a new board from what was there in 2009,” Weiss said. “The hope is we show the community how strong horse racing is here in Fargo, and next year, we can run maybe 20 days instead of four days. The long-term goal is to have a nice race meet here.”

Throughout the four days of racing, nearly $100,000 in purses will be up for grabs.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530

If you go

What: North Dakota Horse Park Live Racing Meet

When: 1 p.m. post time Saturday and Sunday, as well as July 21-22

Where: North Dakota Horse Park, 5180 19th Ave. N., Fargo

Info: $3 admission; free for kids 12 and younger

For more information: Go online to www.hrnd.org