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Horse racing panel turns new leaf

State Capitol Bureau BISMARCK - The North Dakota Racing Commission signaled a new era of cooperation and new urgency for its support of horse racing in the state Friday. It was the first meeting with former Fargo attorney H. Patrick Weir, now of ...

State Capitol Bureau

BISMARCK - The North Dakota Racing Commission signaled a new era of cooperation and new urgency for its support of horse racing in the state Friday.

It was the first meeting with former Fargo attorney H. Patrick Weir, now of Medora, at the helm as chairman.

Commissioners reversed themselves in a legal fight it had been waging for more than a year against horse owners Randy Schwartz and Melissa Peach, whose horse they had disqualified from commission Breeders' Fund awards.

Friday's vote settled the case in the horse owners' favor.

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Commissioners also voted Friday to undo a February decision giving the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo $102,500 from the Breeders' Fund to supplement purses at this year's racing season, saying they want to comply with a new law barring such action.

And they expressed faith in the new direction and management at the Fargo track by granting an additional $120,000 from the commission's promotion fund for the racing season that begins Aug. 1.

The first two actions should go a long way in healing a rift with some legislators who have become so dissatisfied with the commission that they've drafted a bill to abolish the office.

"It's kind of a new day for North Dakota racing," Weir said.

Commissioners were impressed with a report from North Dakota Horse Park General Manager Heather Benson, who took the job in March, and voted to give the track an additional $120,000 for this year's season.

She outlined the park's aggressive fundraising plans, including a campaign to get sponsorships to help pay for the races, much like baseball teams and rodeos rely heavily on sponsorships.

She also told them North Dakota has a new opportunity to draw major off-track betting business from Oregon, which has the most business in that industry. She said bettors will be looking for a change because of new regulations in Oregon.

"I think Heather Benson is going to help us make racing successful," Commissioner Tom Secrest of Hettinger said Friday. "It's our last best hope if we're going to be successful in North Dakota. We're betting on the right horse, OK?"

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Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. She can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net

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