North Dakota Horse Park launches its Fargo Festival of Racing season
The North Dakota Quarter Horse Racing Association is doing its best to keep the sport healthy in the region as participation numbers dwindle.
FARGO — The North Dakota Horse Park opened the Fargo Festival of Racing season on Friday.
The festival has races scheduled Saturday, July 16, Saturday, July 23, Sunday, July 24, Saturday, July 30, and Sunday, July 31. Each race day will feature eight races with five to six horses competing.
Horse racing goes beyond just running around the track. It’s demanding, time consuming, the constant training can be costly for owners, and tracks are often many states away.
The Horse Park is one of only two horse tracks in North Dakota, with the other, Chippewa Downs, in Belcourt.
The constant pursuit of the sport might seem overwhelming, but for those involved it’s a rewarding lifestyle.
Leon Glasser, president of the North Dakota Quarter Horse Racing Association, has been around the sport for over a half century, and he said he’s been around horses all of his life.
“My dad had a lot of horses and it just kind of passed on,” Glasser said. “In my era, there wasn’t cell-phones and all kinds of games, so it was horses.”
Three of the races on Friday featured the futurity quarter horses, which are two-year-old sprinters. All of the horses are certified North Dakota bred. Of the 49 horses competing in the races, 35 are from North Dakota.
“I’m glad to see anybody that raises a North Dakota bred horse” Glasser said.
It’s hard to tell if the futurity horses are going to be good runners, Glasser said.
“The gamble is in the two-year-olds, because you don’t know what you have,” Glasser said. “So if they can’t run, you pretty much have to get rid of them and sell them.”
Glasser said numbers in horse racing have been dwindling around the area with fewer younger people being agriculture-focused.
“Racing has kind of gotten to be kind of a tough game,” Glasser said. “It seems as the generations go by there’s less 'ag'- or country-related people.”
Glasser breeds and sells his own horses. He has two horses competing in races this weekend that he sold. He also has a horse racing at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.
One commonly misunderstood aspect of the sport is how much time and effort it takes to raise a racehorse, Glasser said.
“I think a lot of fans aren’t aware of all of the work that actually goes in, all of the expenses the owner has,” said Glasser. “There’s a lot of time and a considerable amount of money that you have to invest in.”
To add to the already expensive sport, prices of necessities, such as feed and hay, have also seen increases in prices in recent years. Glasser said his season usually lasts from November to September.
“You don’t get much of a break,” Glasser said.
Hugh Drexler began his first year as general manager of the Horse Park at the start of 2022. He said a lot of the horses that race at the Horse Park are from around the region.
“We don’t get too many horses from the surrounding areas,” Drexler said. “Although, we try to recruit them. But it kind of seems between the low purses being a little bit lower and not racing enough during the year, it kind of restricts it to local horses running here.”
Drexler is no stranger to the sport.
“My father was a jockey and my grandparents were trainers,” Drexler said. “So, I grew up in it. It’s a passion, it’s one of those things for me that you know, it’s in my blood.
"I grew up on the backside of a race track," he said. I’ve breeded horses. I’ve owned horses. I’ve been in the management side, so I have done a little bit of everything involved with horse racing.”
Drexler said the sport used to have a fun family-friendly atmosphere, but with the popularity of sports betting, the casino industry changed the aura of the sport. When it comes to betting, Drexler said there’s no formula but trusting your instincts.
“I would say go with your gut,” said Drexler. “Some people handicap by the program, some people will look at a horse and say ‘Hey, that horse is pretty, I think that horse will win’. So, really whatever your form of handicapping is, that’s what’ll work. There's really no secret to it.”