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Large crowds come out for start of racing in Fargo

Thoroughbred horses break free from the starting gate to start a race at the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo on Saturday. Nick Wagner / The Forum

Fargo - A false start marked Saturday’s opening day at the North Dakota Horse Park when a gate malfunction allowed three rider-less American quarter horses to cross the finish line in the first race of a three weekend meet.

Officials were forced to rule off the race and disappointed betters were given refunds for all tickets. A half hour later, the meet was off and running after thoroughbreds successfully made it down the lane in front of a crowd of about 2,378.

Sixty-one horses were entered on the day’s card of eight races. In her first career race, Ms Jess N Alibi, owned and trained by Craig Stein, won the largest race of the day, the $15,000 open quarter horse futurity.

Later, Boozeinablender, a thoroughbred owned and trained by Devron Leingang, was welcomed to a victory in the North Dakota Bred Thoroughbred Derby by the loudest cheers from the crowd all day.

North Dakota hosts a mixed meet, which means each race day draws races for both thoroughbred and American quarter horses.

Thoroughbreds earned their fame in racing history and run longer distances around the track turns. Quarter horses are the sprinters, reaching speeds of up to 50 miles per hour in average races of 350 yards that last less than 20 seconds.

“We’re hoping to have races pretty evenly split between the two breeds,” said track general manager Mike Schmitz. 

While thoroughbreds are often bred almost exclusively for racing, quarter horses are commonly used in rodeo, ranching and show work.

“They can go on to have successful barrel racing careers after life at the track,” said Leon Glasser, president of North Dakota Quarter Horse Racing Association.

Glasser said there are more North Dakota born quarter horses than the sum of all other breeds in North Dakota.

His association is hosting a number of large purse stakes races in Fargo this year, including the Northern Plains Futurity, a high money race that will make its return to Fargo today, after running at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn., since 2009.

Rusty Wilson, a Dunseith, N.D., native will be shooting for a Northern Plains win with the horse, Dontthrotlemystyle.

Wilson had two horses in Saturday’s first race. Despite the faulty start to the meet, he is happy to see Fargo’s only race park bouncing back to life after dormancy in 2010 and 2011.

The trainer with more than 25 years of experience said he doesn’t have a breed preference in racing but admits to a kinship with the quarters, which he has long ridden.

“Quarter Horses are a part of North Dakota history,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s Paint horse, Chance, will escort his stable of 14 horses – comprised of both thoroughbred and quarter horses – to races on each day of Fargo’s meet.

Wilson said the 20-year-old pony earned his moniker because he took a chance when buying the skinny black and white 10 years ago.

“Best thing I ever did,” Wilson said while spraying Chance off after the hot day of racing on Saturday. “He’s my partner.”

Wilson and Chance can be seen on the track today when racing begins at 1 p.m.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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