Despite what the cool temperatures and wintry precipitation may suggest, the calendar does say that Friday is April 11, signaling the official opening of Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus.
General Manager Bob Farinella — who came from upstate New York, where he managed Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs — says he doesn’t see any impediments or red flags that might delay the 4:30 p.m. ribbon cutting ceremony. And they’re not concerned with a forecast of rain or snow.
“We’ve already arranged for nice weather,” he adds.
The grand opening will begin on Friday afternoon at the main entrance of Running Aces, where track owners, elected officials of Columbus and a variety of other representatives will have a moment to speak.
“When all of the speeches are done and the flag’s up and we’ve had the national anthem, we’ll cut the ribbon, take some pictures, open the doors and let folks in,” Farinella shares.
“They’ll be able to take a tour of the facility, sit down in our restaurant, join us in our lounge, and buy their programs and prepare themselves for the evening of live horse racing. So it’s going to be a pretty exciting day.”
Day at the races
In most cases, regardless of the weather, the harness racing will run as scheduled.
Gregg Keidel, director of racing, says Running Aces is an all-weather track, and the Standardbreds are a hearty animal. As long as the track is determined to be safe, the show must go on.
“Absolutely,” he states. “We go rain or shine. I ran the track in Cleveland for 23 years and we had one cancellation. We raced all through the winter.”
The harness park will have races on Friday, Saturday and Monday nights as well as Sunday afternoon.
The night races begin at 6 p.m., while Sundays start at 3 p.m.
“Our goal on Sunday is to kind of make a family, county fair atmosphere,” Farinella says.
Admission and parking are both free, and with a picnic area set up on the northeast side of the grandstand, Running Aces is focused on entertaining the entire community.
A typical race day will feature eight races, with approximately 20 minutes separating each one.
“So we start at six o’clock and somewhere around 8:30, nine o’clock we’ll be completed with the program,” Farinella says.
For those who would like to know more about harness racing and receive tips on wagering, Running Aces is teaming up with Minnesota Harness Racing Incorporated to offer Harness Racing 101.
With more than 200 horses stationed permanently in the track’s barns, and another 150 that will be shipped in and out during the season, spectators can receive advice on what to look for and what to wager.
“We can educate a whole new fan base,” Keidel says.
Running Aces is waiting to see if a Minnesota law will be changed, which would allow them to simulcast other races, like Thoroughbreds and Quarterhorses. In the meantime they can show races from other harness parks.
While the owners and management of the harness park believe progress is being made on the simulcast issue, they are certain of other additions to Running Aces.
After 50 days of racing are in the books, the card room will be allowed to open.
“Depending on weather, right now the way our schedule lays out we’ll have completed our 50 days so we can open on the first of July,” Farinella explains.
“We’ll know a little bit more as we move through the season.”
(The Progress Edition of the Forest Lake Times said early fall was the expected opening of the card room)
Once the card room becomes an entertainment option, Running Aces will expand its hours from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., to being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week
“I anticipate that we’ll have a good crowd, Farinella says. “People want to see who we are, what we’re doing, what type of facility we’ve built here, what type of services we offer, and what type of entertainment value that they can receive as we move forward.
“I’ve been in the gaming, hospitality, racing business for many, many years. The facility that we’ve have here is actually ideal. Everything that’s been built here is really first class and I think this is something that the community can be very proud of.”