A fresh start: New manager breaks out of the gate at North Dakota Horse Park
Horse Race North Dakota has hired an outside general manager to operate horse racing at the Fargo facility.
FARGO — A new general manager from outside the state, but with inside the industry experience, is taking the reins of North Dakota Horse Park, the Fargo-based horse racing track.
Hugh Alan Drexler began work as the general manager earlier this year after Horse Race North Dakota, the nonprofit organization that manages the horse park and live racing, opened a nationwide search for a new general manager.
Horse Race North Dakota secured a matching grant of up to $80,000 over two years from the North Dakota Racing Commission in late 2021 as an effort to attract qualified candidates. The North Dakota Racing Commission is the state regulatory body of racing across the state and is responsible for licensing racing officials and staff, but it does not directly manage the state's two individual tracks, North Dakota Horse Park and Chippewa Downs, in Belcourt, N.D.
“Hugh has an excellent reputation and is well respected in the industry," said Jack Schulz, Executive Director of the North Dakota Racing Commission. "The NDRC looks forward to a successful and exciting future for horse racing in Fargo under Hugh’s leadership.”
Live racing is planned to return to the North Dakota Horse Park around July 2022. The state commission has granted the Fargo track the ability to run up to eight days, potentially four weekends. The meet dates are expected to be announced in the near future.
Until then, the challenge and opportunity of what the North Dakota Horse Park offers is what Drexler said drew him to apply for the position.
"It allows me to put all my experience and everything I’ve learned into one," Drexler said. "I see opportunity and the potential to really build something real here. Especially in this day and age, where race tracks are looking for somebody to help them improve racing, those opportunities to do that are few and far between in this industry."
Drexler has grown up in the world of horse racing. While his father was a longtime jockey who retired in 2004, his mother's family planted racing roots by owning and training thoroughbred race horses. Drexler's family moved often following the race circuits, but eventually settled in the Phoenix area.
"So I come from a line of jockeys and trainers, but neither of those [professions] worked out for me," Drexler said.
Neither did owning or investing in racehorses.
Drexler said he dabbled in owning racehorses. The last time was about 10 years ago, when a mare he and a partner raced briefly would go on to make a name for herself as a high stakes winner under different ownership. Drexler took it as a sign ownership was perhaps not his calling.
"Yeah, I don’t feel the need to own a horse ever again," Drexler said, confirming he would avoid the potential conflict of interest in Fargo.
Although the Drexler family traveled often while growing up, the Phoenix area would become home base. There, Drexler attended the University of Arizona’s Racetrack Industry Program, the only horse racing industry degree of study offered in the U.S.
He began his career on the front side of racetracks at Turf Paradise in Phoenix. There, he worked in nearly all facets of the track operation from betting to simulcasting and promotions and networking.
Drexler later did a number of paddock hosting gigs, where he offered tips to potential bettors on race days. He served as an intern at the highly regarded Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., and as a Breeder's Cup intern at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Ky. Churchill Downs is home to the Kentucky Derby.
Drexler most recently served as the racing secretary for Jack Thistledown Racino in North Randall, Ohio. There, he helped build what he called "arguably one of the strongest fields in the history of the Grade Three Ohio Derby."
Although Drexler has experience with high-profile thoroughbred racing, he is also familiar with American quarter horse racing. The two breeds both compete at North Dakota horse tracks. Thoroughbreds are known as distance runners, with races sometimes a mile or more long. Quarter horses are the sprinters, running about 350 to 400 yards in less than 21 seconds.
Drexler said his experience doesn't dictate a preference when it comes to providing race opportunities for either breed.
"When it comes to [the breeds] I am an equal opportunity employer," Drexler said. "I show zero preferential treatment as to what horses are running as long as it’s producing a good product and races with fuller fields."
While Drexler will be working to implement new plans and fair management as soon as possible, he acknowledges more than one season may be needed to reach the finish line he strives for.
"I’m hoping that after being here for a season, folks will see where we are headed and want to go, so we may not be able to become a premiere track, but we can be something people look forward to every summer."