Growing up on a North Dakota acreage with horses—as well as a fierce competitive spirit—I naturally took to horse racing at a young age. Growing up with movies like Dreamer, Seabiscuit, and Secretariat were all influential in my love for the sport, and even watching modern stars like California Chrome and American Pharoah race on TV further fueled my passion and goal to one day watch a horse race in person. Little did I know I didn’t have to travel far to experience that dream, and that’s when I attended my first races at North Dakota Horse Park.
Head west on 19th Ave N past I-29 and you’ll soon find yourself on the peaceful grounds of Fargo’s 100-acre horse racing venue. The 6-furlong track, which was built in 2002, has a unique story, best told by no one other than one of the founding members and an influential expert in the horse racing industry, Susan Bala.
Susan Bala and the History of horse racing in North Dakota
Fargo native Susan Bala is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from England and Eastern Europe, and she comes from a legacy of horse racing. Her great-uncle was a tick-tock man (responsible for calculating odds and communicating them across the track via hand signals) at York Racecourse in England, one of the world’s oldest and most famous courses.
Bala first became involved in the North Dakota horse racing industry when former ND Governor George Sinner approached her and some associates to conduct a feasibility study for North Dakota in the 1980s. This was a time when the world of racing was changing significantly, as the US Supreme Court had just ruled that parimutuel horse racing (betting pools) was legal in the country, opening more opportunities for horse racing across the country—including North Dakota.
With each state now working to legalize parimutuel racing, Bala and her colleagues wrote a business model that would drive the economic development of the horse racing industry in North Dakota by obtaining a license for simulcast systems and building off-track betting networks around the country.
The simulcasting network was a huge success, building not just networks across the country but internationally as well. In April of 1990, North Dakota opened its very own simulcast system, and from then until 2000, Bala and her colleagues at the racing commission worked to get all of the breeding programs underway to help support a racing venue, and in 2002, North Dakota Horse Park in Fargo was born.
Did you know?
Food trucks will return to the park this season, giving fans tasty eateries while enjoying live racing. Additionally, there will be a sloppy joe eating contest this season!
Hugh Drexler and North Dakota Horse Park Today
Founding member Susan Bala and general manager Hugh Drexler at the North Dakota Horse Track grounds
Boston native Hugh Drexler is the current general manager at the North Dakota Horse Park, and also comes from a racing family—in fact, his parents met at a racetrack in Puerto Rico. His father was a jockey, and his mother’s father was a trainer, so it’s no doubt racing runs deep in the Drexler blood.
Drexler loved growing up in the racing world but ultimately
took a different path after high school and pursued real estate
in Phoenix. But once racing is in your blood, it’s hard to get
“I realized that I missed my passion,” Drexler said. “I missed my love of horse racing, so I went back to the University of Arizona and actually got a degree to go along with my experience in the industry. And here we are about four years after I graduated, and I got the opportunity to become the general manager at North Dakota Horse Park.”
Drexler’s goal in being with ND Horse Park is to help create more opportunities for longer racing schedules and more family-friendly enjoyment each race day—and this summer, there’s a lot in store!
A Summer Packed with Fun for the Whole Family
July 14 | Opening Nigh – College Night
This summer, fans can enjoy six live racing dates to attend, with each race day offering unique activities, events, and themes for everyone to enjoy. The first race day of the summer is “College Night” and will take place on Friday, July 14. The race evening will feature exciting live horse racing, happy hour specials, as well as the return of celebrity magician John Stessel—an internet sensation who has appeared on many TV shows and has performed with some of the biggest names in the industry. Gates open at 3:30 p.m.
July 15 | Budweiser Clydesdades Day
The following day, live horse racing will continue, along with a special showing of the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales for fans to interact with. Gates open at 11 a.m.
July 22 | Horses and Heroes
ND Horse Park’s Horses and Heroes Day honors our heroes—including retired and active-duty military personnel, EMTs, and first responders—with free admission. This would be a great opportunity for families to enjoy live racing with their loved ones. The race day will include giveaways, as well as special opportunities to take photos in the winner’s circle with the winning horses and their connections. Gates open at 11 a.m.
July 23 | Family Day
Although each race day is family-friendly, if you’re looking for the perfect race day to bring your little ones to, Family Day race day is a must! The day will offer plenty of interactive activities and entertainment for kids, including a petting zoo, face painting, balloon animals, and more. Gates open at 11 a.m.
July 29 | Derby Day
ND Horse Park’s most popular race day, Derby Day is your chance to dress to the nines in your finest, most elegant attire, just like fans would at the Kentucky Derby. The day will feature live racing, signature drinks, giveaways, as well as a best-dressed award and best hat contest. If you’re looking for the perfect date idea, or if you love getting dressed up, this is your day!
On the racing front, this will be the largest horse race day in the state, with the thoroughbred derby offering a $30,000 purse. Gates open at 11 a.m.
July 30 | $1 Dollar Day & ND Cornhole Tournament
The final racing day of the summer will feature $1 admission, live racing, a cornhole tournament as well as a $100,000 horseshoe toss— fans will have one chance to get a ringer, could it be you? Gates open at 11 a.m.