Coming off a successful extended season in 2020, Fonner Park continued that success in 2021, says Fonner Chief Executive Officer Chris Kotulak.
The Grand Island horse track concluded its 2021 meet with an on-track mutuel handle of more than $4.65 million. Compared to 2019, the track’s last full season, Fonner was up 19% in the parimutuel handle of Fonner Park guests betting on Fonner races.
In 2020, Fonner racing was closed to the public after the first four weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a news release, Fonner in 2021 rode the wave of “an unprecedented 2020 extended season of thoroughbred horse racing.”
The handle for out-of-state wagers on Fonner Park in 2021 was roughly $15.5 million, an increase of 447% compared to $2.8 million in 2019. The overall national horse racing industry handle was up approximately 12% for March and April, but Fonner Park was up 19% on-track.
“This year I spent extra on marketing to the horse players across the nation who got exposed to Fonner Park last year during the pandemic. I wanted to remind them that we were back and still a good bet,” Kotulak says in the release.
In 2021, the average size of the field in races bumped to 7.9 from 7.3 in 2020. Large fields “are always a draw to the bettor regardless of quality,” Kotulak said.
Sleepy Eyes Todd went on to win three stakes races after his 2020 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes win. Remarkably, he returned to defend his title off three multi-million-dollar, Grade 1 races in three previous months. As a 2-5 favorite, he was beaten by 9-2 second-choice Mo Mosa, ridden by Armando Martinez and trained by Michael Maker.
Mo Mosa was named 2021 Horse of the Meet and First Alternate was the unanimous choice for Champion Older Filly or Mare after winning three stakes races in as many starts for trainer Stetson Mitchell.
“She’s a blessing to me and my family and the special kind of horse horsemen pray for,” Mitchell said.
By winning the final race of the year, Jake Olesiak won his sixth title as Champion Jockey, with a total of 46 wins, one more win than Armando Martinez.
David C. Anderson won his 15th Champion Trainer award at Fonner Park with 36 wins in 169 starts. D and L Farms (Darcy and Lee Burghardt) won 15 races from 39 starts and earned Leading Owner honors. And the 2021 Feat of the Meet award was voted as Fonner Park’s presence on the national stage with 2021 export handle five times greater than 2019.
“I am convinced that the success and future of Fonner Park is directly attributed to our passionate community of staff, horsemen and race fans,” Kotulak said. “Without our strong community support we could not survive.”