SD horse owner seeks redemption on Fargo race track

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- One of the most popular horses on the Dakotas racing circuit is Alexassilvercharm, a soon-to-be 8-year-old gray mare that is almost always the favorite when she reaches the starting gate. Yet her handlers have been waiting two...

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - One of the most popular horses on the Dakotas racing circuit is Alexassilvercharm, a soon-to-be 8-year-old gray mare that is almost always the favorite when she reaches the starting gate. Yet her handlers have been waiting two years to make up for one of her rare lackluster performances.

The North Dakota-bred horse was upset in the feature race of the 2014 meet at the North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo, the track that Alexassilvercharm trainer Robert Haar calls the gold standard in the two states. Even so, the facility has struggled to stay afloat since it opened and last year the entire season was axed so track owners could get their finances in order.

Haar was disappointed that his horse's chance for redemption was taken away.

"All the other tracks do not hold a candle to Fargo," said Haar, of Aberdeen, South Dakota. "The fans in Fargo come to the races and support it. There is no reason why it shouldn't be one of the premier tracks in the Upper Midwest."

Backers of the horse park say they have one last chance to get it right, beginning with six racing days in July. The track first opened in 2003 and has gradually increased its fan base despite a two-season layoff in 2010-11 and the cancellation of last year's meet. That came after a 2014 season that saw an average of about 2,250 fans per day.


"It's like an on-again, off-again relationship with an old girlfriend," Haar said. "You keep getting back in and eventually it's either going to work or it's not. You can't keep trying forever before you've got to move on to something else."

Dave Piepkorn, a Fargo city commissioner and member of the state Racing Commission, said the state and city have invested millions of dollars in the facility and he wants to see it put to good use.

"I would say that this is kind of our last shot, to prove to everybody that this is going to be legit," Piepkorn said. "We have to race ever year so people can depend on it for entertainment and the horsemen can put us on their schedules."

The issue has been the inability of the park to cover nearly $2 million in special assessment taxes owed to the city. It was complicated by the fact the facility was owned by two separate nonprofit groups, who have since gotten together to work out a schedule to pay off the assessments.

Mike Schmitz, general manager of the park, said last year's void has allowed the owners to regroup and expand its offerings. Schmitz is scheduling other events at the facility, including a food truck festival, a chicken wing cooking competition, concerts, other live entertainment, and even a wedding.

"It woke a lot of people up," Schmitz said of the 2015 shutdown. "A lot of people got maybe a better understanding what was actually going on. Things sure were looking good from the racing side of it before that happened."

Backers of the track would like to see the race season expand to at least five or six weekends, or 12 to 14 days of racing. Haar said Fargo is well-positioned for middle-of-the-summer racing because many other tracks in the region are shut down at that point. In addition, he said, handlers with horses who aren't quite good enough to race at Canterbury Park in the Twin Cities are looking for places to run.

"They are not going to be Canterbury level," Haar said of Fargo. "But they will have a full field. There will be 10-horse races. That's what people want. They don't want to come and watch a five-horse race."


Schmitz said the state Racing Commission plans to finalize details for this summer's schedule when it meets Thursday in Bismarck. In the meantime, Haar said he gave Alexassilvercharm her first winter season off from racing in Arizona in hopes she'll be fresh for Fargo.

"She hasn't rested since she was a baby," Haar said. "She just started training again and is doing very well. Fargo is the one that we want."

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