How Sports-Starved Bettors Made Fonner Park Must-See TV

Jake Olesiak’s transformation starts at 8 a.m. after he punches out from his overnight shift at an ethanol factory. His steel-toe boots go into the trunk, as do his mask, face shield and hard hat. Black riding boots come out, then the goggles and finally his Minnesota Vikings ball cap.

Behind the wheel is his wife, Megan. For the next two hours, Olesiak, 32, tries to sleep with his hat pulled down over his eyes as Megan drives the S.U.V. westward from Firth, Neb., to the meatpacking town Grand Island, with little besides cornfields and the interstate to keep her company.

Check out Art Parker’s piece for AGOS – Essential Business from last month.

Olesiak, a production supervisor at E Energy Adams, which makes fuel from local grain, is considered an essential worker. He is more than that at Fonner Park, a tiny jewel box of a horse track in the heartland. He is a money rider, perennially atop the jockey standings.

Olesiak has won more than 1,000 races and has nearly $7 million in purse earnings. He has dreamed of riding in the Kentucky Derby, and for a decade, he pursued it full time. He has hung his equipment, or tack, in jock rooms in the Dakotas, Iowa, Ohio and Canada.

But soon after his second daughter was born, he decided to take a full-time job and ride the boutique Nebraska circuit …

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 17-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the 2018 NHC Tour with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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