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Horse racing to return to Fargo

BISMARCK - Live horse racing is headed back to Fargo. The state Racing Commission voted unanimously Thursday to schedule three race weekends next summer at the North Dakota Horse Park, which is saddled with debt and was denied hosting races this ...

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Jeremy Herman (7) rides East Lucky Charm in the quarter horse maiden race Friday, July 19, 2013, at the Fargo Horse Park. (David Samson / The Forum)
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BISMARCK – Live horse racing is headed back to Fargo.

The state Racing Commission voted unanimously Thursday to schedule three race weekends next summer at the North Dakota Horse Park, which is saddled with debt and was denied hosting races this year.

The five-member panel approved 14 race days in all: four Saturday-Sunday weekends at Chippewa Downs in Belcourt followed by three weekends at the Fargo track, with July 9-10 as a weekend off between the meets.

The two entities that own the Fargo track, Horse Race North Dakota and the North Dakota Horse Park Foundation, owe roughly $1.9 million in special assessments for infrastructure the city of Fargo installed for the park.

Commissioners cited concerns about the unpaid debt when they canceled racing at the track this year – one of three years they’ve done so since racing began there in 2003.

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But the parties have since submitted a proposal that “is more than sufficient to provide stability and growth for the track in Fargo,” Commission Director Gunner laCour said Thursday.

“It doesn’t keep them on life support so that any little stumble could be a major disaster for us. It really does put them in a very strong position,” he said.

Mike Schmitz, who manages the track for Horse Racing North Dakota, said HRND is able to make the payments on its share of the debt, which is about 38 percent of the total.

Under the proposal, both entities will still own the track, but the foundation’s existing board will be replaced with a five-member board consisting of three members from HRND and two members who Schmitz said will be “like-minded individuals” committed to seeing the horse park succeed.

“With this new foundation board, nobody’s involved who’s been around since the beginning,” he said.

Horse Race North Dakota, which operates 20 pull-tab charitable gaming sites, also plans to partner with Lien Games Racing LLC of Fargo to expand off-track betting to locations across the state, providing a source of revenue to pay off current and future taxes and to stabilize and grow the horse park.

“We have the vision to see it utilized to a much greater extent than it has been,” company president Kevin Hall said.

The HRND board still must approve the agreement after a legal review, but members showed no reservations about it at first glance last week, Schmitz said.

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Racing Commission member Dave Piepkorn, who also is a Fargo city commissioner, said he sees the race dates in Fargo as contingent on the finished product.

“To me, that’s critical that we know that there is a final agreement,” he said.

LaCour said it should be resolved by the time the board meets in February to approve funding for the races.

“We’re moving forward with them in good faith,” he said after the meeting.

Commission chairman Jim Ozbun said that while it “was not a fun day” when the panel closed down race dates for last summer, part of the rationale “was to push us to come to where we’re at today.”

“I’m happy with that progress,” he said.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com .

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Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA HORSE PARK
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