Bob Pollock

Columbus races steward Bob Pollock poses on the track Friday in front of the toteboard at the Columbus Races. Pollock has been in the horse racing industry for more than 50 years and has been coming to Columbus since 1970.

It was a muggy day in early May 1975 when Bob Pollock was on top the grandstand at Aksarben Park in Omaha. As it turned out, the severe weather and tornado warnings that had been issued earlier in the day proved to be more than just a little accurate.

Remembered as the most famous tornado in Omaha history, Pollock was six stories above the ground experiencing a part of history that only he and the track announcer had a perspective on that day.

"It was pretty scary. We had horses ready to be saddled waiting in the paddock for the second race. I looked over to the west and it looked like there was a whole roof moving in slow motion," Pollock remembered. "All those little rocks that sit on top of the grandstand were being blown like bullets."

It's just one of the hundreds of stories Pollock can recount from his 50 years in the horse racing industry.

He's back in Columbus again this summer for his 10th straight year after a break of more than a decade had him running a track in San Antonio. Pollock actually retired a few years back but couldn't stay put.

In addition to serving as a steward in Grand Island and Omaha, he spends a month in Columbus away from his wife of 54 years because he's always drawn back to the track. Although he doesn't have any direct influence on results the way a trainer or a jockey does, it's the continued care for the sport that has become part of his identity.

"I like Columbus, for one thing," Pollock said last week from his desk inside the racing office at Agricultural Park. I would do anything to help racing here, as well as the other tracks in Nebraska."

A kid from a town of fewer than 100 in North Central Oklahoma, Pollock first found a love for horses when his family began buying, owning and training at the age of 7.

The Pollocks raced all summer long in Nebraska, including Bob and his brother on their own a few times running horses at Park Jefferson - a track 5 miles north of Sioux City.

He went to college and studied sociology and physical education, took a job at a Goodyear tire plant in Kansas, but was soon back in racing. While working in Topeka, he was asked by the head of racing in South Dakota to come up and serve as a steward.

Half a century later, he's one of the most recognizable faces in the Nebraska racing industry. He began coming to Columbus in 1970 and typically spent nine months out of the year in the state between Ag Park, Fonner Park, Aksarben and other local race tracks.

Eventually, he and his wife bought a house in Grand Island and raised a family there until the mid-1990s.

Now, Pollock is a resident of Frisco, Texas, except for the four months or so he spends up north during the Nebraska racing season.

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He left Nebraska in 1995 to become the general manager at Retama Park in San Antonio for 12-and-a-half years. But when retirement in 2008 just didn't suit him, he found his way back to Columbus, where he lives in an apartment, plays golf and attends church for the month he's away from his wife.

"Retirement’s not for me. I couldn’t take it. Mow the lawn, clip the roses, that’s about it. I always had friends up here. Everybody who owned a horse or worked up here, I probably knew them all. I was asked to come back to Fonner Park, and I did," he said. 

"San Antonio is a great town, but shoot, I spent most of my life in Nebraska, other than when I was going to high school or college. I knew all of the towns."

Pollock's job, at least the short answer, he said, is interpreting and enforcing the rules of Nebraska racing. Every day he's at the racing office at 7 a.m. to help owners, trainers and jockeys get through the day. That can include assisting in entering a horse, scratching a horse, exercising a horse, making a jockey change, bookkeeping and paperwork.

"The bottom line is to make a difference to racing, make it better. I try every day," Pollock said.

But at 77, just how much more work does he want to put in?

"Who knows. I even say sometimes, 'Why would anybody want to hire me. I'm old,'" Pollock joked. "I'm not worn out, but I'm old. Probably a few more years."

He's got three more race dates left on the 2019 Columbus season. Pollock, who will head back home likely the day after Labor Day, will oversee the week and the final three race dates Saturday, Sunday and Monday as one of Columbus' three stewards.

Fonner Park will no doubt call him back in mid-February then Columbus again next August.

Although it seems odd now, Columbus and all of Nebraska was a hotbed for the industry in the 1970s. Yet even today, Pollock said, Ag Park typically has better attendance than most small tracks around the country.

"Columbus was terrific racing back in those days. You couldn’t even find a seat in the grandstand it was so packed," Pollock said. "The reason I keep coming back, I always say I want to make a difference for racing. I think I kind of do a little bit, if nothing else, through leadership."

Nate Tenopir is the sports editor for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sports@columbustelegram.com.

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