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Chris Murphy, Published July 18 2013

Racing returns to North Dakota Horse Park today

Fargo - The North Dakota Horse Park track was silent Thursday. Outside of the American flag blowing in the breeze and a bird chirping, the track was calm with no hint of excitement.

That will change today, as the park opens for three straight days of horse racing.

“There’s a lot of tradition in this sport,” said Ryan Roshau, who oversees media relations for the track. “I’ve never heard anybody come out and say, ‘You know what? That was a lousy time.’”

From 2003-09, the track had its annual summer races, but in 2010 and 2011, there was silence. The last back-to-back the track had was back-to-back forgotten years.

That changes today, when the ND Horse Park will have races return in back-to-back seasons after last year’s two-weekend event. Even though this year will have just one weekend of racing, it’s good to be back.

“Last year, there was a group of folks working to try and get racing back,” said Mike Schmitz, who is the marketing director for the ND Horse Park. “I think there was some money issues before. They resolved that and got it back to being self-sufficient, whether it be through charitable gaming or being more efficient with money. We’re on that final home stretch. We’re rounding home to bring this thing back for three to four weekends from now on.”

Last year, the park drew 6,791 fans over four days of racing. They set a daily wagering record in the first weekend and broke that record on the second Saturday last year.

“It was amazing to see the turnout last year, especially with the things that were going on,” Schmitz said. Last year, the Horse Park went up against the Red River Valley Fair, the Fargo downtown street fair and the USA Wrestling Cadet and Junior national tournament.

Now, Schmitz has his eyes on expansion.

“Something has been gone two years, people are going to question whether or not it is what it used to be,” Schmitz said. “I think that was a good thing to say last year, ‘We can do this, and we can do this just as good as it’s been done before.’ The peak would be to get back to running like four weekends next summer. I think that’s about perfect. You get six, seven or eight, and that gets to be too much. Four weekends is probably ideal. That and continue to be self-sufficient and be profitable and growing this brand of horse racing in North Dakota.”

More than $100,000 will be won over the three days of racing. There will be eight races today, 10 races Saturday – highlighted by the North Dakota Derby and North Dakota Futurity, each worth $10,000 – and Sunday’s races, which will deliver nearly $50,000 to the winners. Racing begins Friday at 5 p.m. and at 1 p.m. for both Saturday and Sunday. Gates open two hours prior to the races.

“All these folks we’ve drug in here, this is their life,” Schmitz said. “From the owners to the trainers to the volunteers. It’s good to be able to provide that avenue for them to do what their passion is.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548