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Live horse racing may come to Fargo in June next year

Chippewa Downs and the North Dakota Horse Park will consider swapping season months after officials from both parks agreed the timing would be better for them.

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Ron Beverly riding Hidden Charms, left, battles Zack Ziegler riding Special Dipper during a 350-yard Quarter Horse race at the North Dakota Horse Park on Friday, July 15, 2022.
David Samson/The Forum
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FARGO — Officials at the two North Dakota racetracks are open to switching their individual seasons so that live horse racing would come to Fargo in June and would be held in Belcourt in July.

Historically, the two tracks, Chippewa Downs in Belcourt and the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo, have worked together to host racing at Chippewa Downs in June followed by the Fargo race meet in mid-July.

However, when it comes to Fargo, horse racing has to compete with many events happening at the same time. For instance, the Fargo track opened its three-weekend season on July 15 when the Fargo Street Fair, Red River Valley Fair and other events across the metro area were ongoing.

At the North Dakota Racing Commission meeting in Fargo on Friday, July 29, the two tracks suggested swapping their dates. The state commission regulates horse racing in North Dakota and declares race dates and funding for the two tracks.

"We think if we were to swap our dates, it would be beneficial to both tracks," North Dakota Horse Park General Manager Hugh Alan Drexler said. "In Fargo, there is a lot of competition with the track. Also, it gets a little hotter here in July."

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Chippewa Downs Track Superintendent Jamie Herman said the Belcourt track faces similar hurdles to attendance in June.

"We also have a lot of stuff going on in June in Belcourt," Herman said. "In July, it would be a lot better for us, because we also have our Turtle Mountain Days in July, and I think that could actually help bring in a lot more people to the horse races."

Racing Commissioner Richard LaFromboise, who is from Belcourt, noted family members who live around the country tend to return home in July, as well.

Read more on North Dakota horse racing
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After a string of victories with her thoroughbreds, Debi Hanson, 69, of Crosby, is racing horses again on the final weekend of racing at the North Dakota Horse Park. She was recently given a special handmade buckle for her accomplishments.

Herman said that when the track held races in August 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance was notably higher than normal.

The change could also be safer for the horses and jockeys running. June is historically a rainy month in the Belcourt area, and the track often has to work around the weather.

Unlike the track at the North Dakota Horse Park, Herman said, the track at Chippewa Downs has clay mixed into the surface. After heavy rain, it can become very muddy and has more potential to cause injuries.

North Dakota Racing Director Jack Schulz said the exact dates racing will be held in North Dakota would be voted on at a later meeting of the state commission, but he wanted the conversation to begin among the tracks and horsemen.

"I'm not asking for any decisions to be made today, but I wanted to hear from the horsemen and the two managers from each track," he said.

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The commission earns funding through taxes paid by Advance Deposit Wagering companies. Advance Deposit Wagering is a form of gambling on horse races in which bettors must fund their accounts before being allowed to place bets. Such companies operating in the state are licensed by the commission and then taxed through the state.

The commission generally decides the number of race days and the timing of seasons for the following year during its fall meeting.

Funding for live racing is awarded in the spring.

Readers can reach West Fargo editor Wendy Reuer at wreuer@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5530 . Follow her on Twitter @ForumWendy .

As the West Fargo editor, Wendy Reuer covers all things West Fargo for The Forum and oversees the production of the weekly Pioneer.
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