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Glenn Pursley, Published July 14 2012

Racing makes its return to North Dakota Horse Park

Fargo

Director of the North Dakota Horse Racing Commission Winston Santran was blown away on Saturday as nearly 2,000 fans gathered at the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo to welcome racing back to the community.

“It absolutely beats my expectations,” Santran said. “It hasn’t been an easy journey at all, but it’s a tribute to the Fargo people.”

While many people were searching for shade to avoid the 91-degree heat that accompanied the first day of the four-day meet, many had already found what they’ve been looking for – a hometown racing event.

The North Dakota Horse Park was opened back in 2005. After accumulating around $150,000 of debt, the last race was held in the summer of 2009 and the park officially closed in April of 2010.

Matt Frisk didn’t want to see such a good facility go to waste.

Frisk – the president of Integrated Betting Network – committed $36,000 to pay for operational costs of the races on Saturday with hopes to revive the up-and-coming park. The crowd of 1,870 fans took Frisk by surprise.

“As of today, it looks great,” Frisk said. “It’s surpassed our expectations so far. Going into this, I didn’t know how it was going to play out, but the people in charge assured me that things were going to be fine and they were correct. The turnout is a heck of a lot better than I expected.”

It shocked even park staff when all the programs were sold out before the first race had even started.

Playing another pivotal part in the revival of the park was Mike Weiss.

Weiss is a staff member at Avatar Ventures, LLC out of Columbus, Ohio, and shares the same passion for horse racing that he sees in the Fargo community. He decided to volunteer his time and take on the role of North Dakota Horse Park manager. Avatar Ventures, LLC pledged about $75,000 to covers costs of the four-day, two-weekend event.

“They are a great crew of people here,” Wiess said. “There is so much passion, that I found in this community for horse racing. People find out I’m from Ohio they ask what I’m doing here. And when I tell them I’m here for horse racing, they get so excited. It’s not only a sport, but it’s entertainment too.”

Julie Olson of Fargo is just glad to be back at the track. Olson stumbled upon her first race after getting a free ticket. After meeting friends who had horses in the race, she liked what she saw and would go back to the track frequently until it closed in 2010. Two years later, Olson finds herself back at the track.

“I was let down a little,” Olson said of the park closing. “It was just something fun to do for those of us that don’t have lake cabins or are in town for the weekends. I knew we would be out here as much as we could. A lot of people don’t know about it so I was hoping it would come back and be successful. I love coming out here.”

And from the looks of things on Saturday, they achieved that success. But without the generous contributions of time and money from Weiss and Frisk and all the volunteers who pitched in, the North Dakota Horse Park would not be where it’s at today.

“What really pushed it over the edge was when three account deposit wagering firms made large contributions. We knew it would become reality,” Santran said. “One of the things that we really thought was important is that we can prove to the Fargo people that racing is a popular event. Fargo has a lot to offer, but horse racing is something different for the eastern part of the state. These races bring horse culture to Fargo and obviously, it’s very popular.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Glenn Pursley at (701) 241-5549