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Wendy Reuer, Published July 23 2013

ND Horse Park sets record for attendance, betting

FARGO – North Dakota Horse Park officials say the record-making three-day race meet here last weekend is a sign the area can support at least a three-week racing season in 2014.

More than 5,500 people bet $150,000 on the race cards Friday through Sunday.

Wes Heinert, vice president of Horse Race North Dakota – which operates the track – estimated the track made an overall $187,500.

The meet started out slow with 1,295 in attendance on Friday night, betting about $35,000. The numbers doubled on Saturday, with 2,108 in attendance wagering a track record $61,409.

Sunday, the estimated crowd of 2,128 set another record with $63,841 in wagers.

The numbers exceed similar sized tracks in the region. Chippewa Downs in Belcourt, N.D., averages $5,000 to $10,000 of wagering per day. A track in Aberdeen, S.D., averages up to $35,000 per day of wagering at the Brown County Fair.

Heinert estimated the cost of racing in Fargo is about $17,000 per day. Earlier this year, the North Dakota Racing Commission gave the Fargo track $80,000 in promotional funds that can be used for track operations and $88,500 in purse money in hopes a two-weekend meet would be run.

Heinert said Horse Race North Dakota decided to keep the 2013 meet condensed to remain fiscally responsible.

“We only had three days, which isn’t the best for anybody but it turned out,” he said.

Ideally, he would like to have a three-week meet in 2014.

“For all the horsemen, it was a real struggle to pull this off and get here,” Heinert said. “It was a struggle to fill the races with one weekend.”

Heinert also hopes to work out a better contract with North Dakota State University next year for use of the Equine Center where horsemen house their horses during the meet.

The Equine Center was built in 2003 for the equine program and to “serve Horse Race North Dakota during racing season,” according to the NDSU equine studies website.

Although Horse Race North Dakota owns stalls inside the Equine Center owned by NDSU, it rents the facility during the race meet. In 2012, Horse Race North Dakota paid $14,000 to rent the barn for two weeks, Heinert said.

Stalls were opened to horsemen for the meet on Wednesday.

“We have to have that barn open to train. We are going to start (negotiations) on that immediately,” Heinert said. “We’d love to get that barn open a few weeks ahead of time.”

More horsemen could be willing to come to the Fargo track if they had more time to train. The more horses in a race, the higher wager amounts, Heinert said.

This year, each race averaged about six horses, which is comparable to many racetracks across the nation according to Equibase, a national race reporting company.

The average purse over the weekend was about $4,000.

“The proof is there that racing belongs in Fargo and we are going to do everything we can to continue to enhance the experience and get more race dates,” HRND Marketing Director Mike Schmitz said in a news release.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530