- Associated Press - Sunday, May 7, 2017

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - When he’s not working behind the bench, Art Wetzel is a good judge of horse talent.

The Hall County Court judge has owned horses for close to 30 years. Some of those thoroughbreds have done well.

The horse he currently owns, Sightforsoreeyes, won the Dowd Mile April 15 at Fonner Park.

Even bigger, Sightforsoreeyes won a $75,000 allowance race in February at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

What does Wetzel like about horse racing?

“I think the competitiveness of the races,” he said. “It’s enjoyable to watch horses compete “and get to know the animals a little bit. They all have different personalities. And I like being around the barns.”

When he was a kid, Wetzel made regular visits to Fonner Park and Aksarben in Omaha.

His family never owned horses.

But his dad liked to bet on the horses. “So that’d get me out there,” he said. Like other kids, he “walked around picking up losing tickets to see if I could find a winner out there at the track somewhere.”

The Grand Island Independent (http://bit.ly/2pM6ase ) reports that the Grand Island native got into horse ownership in the late 1980s. He and three friends bought an interest in a horse named Please Move Aside.

Wetzel and Zach Mader formed a limited liability company that owned a number of horses over the years. One of them was Shesafrigidcat. At one time, Wetzel owned four horses. “Usually I own them with someone else,” he said.

The best part of the horse business is “probably just watching all the hard work come through in winning a race. People don’t really realize how hard it is to win a race,” Wetzel said.

Many horses don’t even make it to the track because they get injured. It’s rewarding, he said, to watch a horse mature and achieve success. “That whole process is what’s fun for me,” he said.

Every year, Wetzel goes down to Oaklawn, where he likes to spend time on the backside. He enjoys “being around there, watching the horses work in the morning.”

Wetzel, 57, bought Sightforsoreeyes at a yearling sale in Kentucky in 2015.

Wetzel owns two-thirds of Sightforsoreeyes. Trainer Doug Anderson owns the other third.

Chuck Turco, who is currently training Sightforsoreeyes, agrees with Wetzel that success is hard to achieve.

Even a quality horse or a top operation wins only about 20 percent of the time, Turco said.

If you look at it that way, people in the horse business “have to have some pretty thick skin a lot of times,” Turco said.

Sightforsoreeyes is a 4-year-old gelding.

“He was injured last year - nothing major, but we laid him up for a little bit of time and then brought him back to Oaklawn this year and he’s done really well for us,” Wetzel said.

Anderson is the primary trainer for Sightforsoreeyes.

On Saturday, the horse finished sixth in the Bosselman-Pump & Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes.

Turco, who’s trained Sightforsoreeyes for about a month, says the horse impresses him. “He is a very, very good athlete,” he said, adding the horse has “oodles of ability.”

The day before the Bosselman race, Turco said Sightforsoreeyes had the talent to be a factor, but didn’t have the experience some of the other horses had in big races.

Turco says Wetzel, his wife and daughter are “really good people.”

Wetzel, he said, has “always been fair with me. I think he’s a gift to the community. He really is.”

Turco said he’d feel very comfortable with Wetzel as judge if he ever found himself in a courtroom.

“I’ve known Chuck Turco since we were both young kids going to Aksarben,” Wetzel said. Later, one of Wetzel’s high school friends worked for Turco at Oaklawn. “So I used to visit that friend on the backside and got to know Chuck better that way.”

After Turco retired about six years ago, Wetzel “kind of started me back out,” the trainer said. After the layoff, Wetzel was his first client.

Turco has trained three or four horses for Wetzel. Some of those horses have been successful. “And then we had a dud or two that weren’t very fast,” Turco said.

Wetzel estimates that his horses have won 15 or 20 races over the years. “We had some luck with some early ones,” he said.

In the horse business, you’re never in the winner’s circle “as much as you want to be,” Wetzel said. But when the contest turns out that way, it’s a verdict he loves.

___

Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com

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