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Live horse racing returns to Fargo this weekend

FARGO -- The return of Friday night horse racing at the North Dakota Horse Park appears to be a sign that local racing is on the right course after the state granted Fargo's track two extra days of competition this year after running a successful...

Jockeys glance over at each other as they near the finish line during the 350-yard race Saturday, July 23, 2016, at the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo. Curious James, left, won the NDHP Open Quarter Horse Futurity race.Dave Wallis / Forum News Service
Jockeys glance over at each other as they near the finish line during the 350-yard race Saturday, July 23, 2016, at the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo. Curious James, left, won the NDHP Open Quarter Horse Futurity race. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service
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FARGO - The return of Friday night horse racing at the North Dakota Horse Park appears to be a sign that local racing is on the right course after the state granted Fargo's track two extra days of competition this year after running a successful six-day meet in 2016.

The Fargo track was granted eight race days for 2017. Saturday, July 15, and Sunday, July 16, will be the first weekend of racing, followed by the first Friday night race card in four years on Friday, July 21. Racing will then be Saturday and Sunday, July 22-23, and the following weekend, Friday through Sunday, July 28-30.

"I always said there was the next natural step to add Friday nights," said General Manager Mike Schmitz, who's run the park since 2014. "There was additional money and dates, so we went for it. It is definitely a sign that things are on the right path."

Last year, the two groups that run the live horse races at the North Dakota Horse Park, Horse Race North Dakota and the North Dakota Horse Park Foundation, underwent a reorganization after Fargo racing was put on a one-year hiatus in 2015 by the North Dakota Racing Commission with the demand for a new business plan.

The Fargo track then crossed the 2016 finish line with record attendance numbers and high betting totals, prompting the commission to grant extra dates in 2017. On July 31, 2016, an estimated $69,163 was wagered in one day, which was just shy of the record set in 2014. Attendance in 2016 was up by about 300 people per day, with an average of about 2,565 each day.

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"We've got good proof that the park is on the grow, and our ability to bring continuity with both organizations is there," Schmitz said.

State Racing Director Gunner laCour said Fargo's 2016 business model was clearly successful and that he advocated for the commission to grant additional dates earlier this year.

In February, the Racing Commission approved giving the Fargo track $125,000 in purse funds and $225,000 for promotional funds, which is about $30,000 more than Schmitz initially requested for six days of racing.

The Racing Commission sets race dates, and it funds purses and promotions for the North Dakota Horse Park and Chippewa Downs in Belcourt. Funding comes from online betting companies that pay taxes to be licensed in the state.

Horse owners and trainers began arriving at the Fargo track on Sunday, July 9, bringing in nearly 200 horses that will remain on the grounds throughout the meet, although Schmitz hopes to draw even more competitors from area tracks who will ship their horses in for the races.

Along with Friday night racing, the Budweiser Clydesdales will return to the track on Saturday, July 22. The massive horses visited for the first time in 2014 and drew a crowd of over 6,000. "They are unreal when you see them up close," Schmitz said.

If you go:

Horse racing at the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo runs three weekends in July: Saturday and Sunday, July 15-16; Friday through Sunday, July 21-23; and Friday through Sunday, July 28-30. The first post time is 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and 6 p.m. on Fridays. Live betting will be available each day. Admission is $5. Kids ages 12 and under are free.

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