Live horse racing in Columbus may be in jeopardy.
After nearly 80 seasons of fans flocking to Platte County Agricultural Park, the track may be in the process of closing its gates to the sport for the final time, according to what an email from Columbus Exposition & Racing Inc. to The Columbus Telegram indicated on Monday afternoon.
The email came from an address listed on the CER website and was in response to an inquiry about last week’s suspension of simulcast betting.
The Telegram reached out to the CER by phone, as well, but no return call was made from the organization.
When the CER responded via email, it shared the following message, though the author of it wasn't identified:
“Here is our official statement regarding our operation: CER has suspended its simulcast operation and is evaluating the future of horse racing in Columbus. We are currently in negotiations with various parties and hope to make a decision regarding racing in the near future. We would like nothing more than to continue the rich 80+ year tradition of racing in Columbus and are working as hard as possible to make this happen.”
A notice taped to the door of the simulcasting facility last Thursday by the CER informed patrons of Ag Park that operations had been suspended. The note said to follow the group’s Facebook page or call the number on the website to follow up on the situation.
Brian Palmer, the general manager of Ag Park, declined to comment on the situation, saying instead to contact the CER. He also declined to share any personal contact information for the group but advised he would pass on that The Telegram was seeking further information.
Columbus Exposition & Racing took over live racing operations from the Platte County Agricultural Society in 2013 due in large part to the ag society’s struggles to maintain profitability on live racing.
Neither the ag society nor the Nebraska Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association showed any interest in continuing the live meet after 2013, as previously reported by The Telegram.
Expenses had outweighed income for several years leading the ag society not to request any live dates for 2013 at the Nebraska Racing Commission’s November meeting.
The final piece of CER assuming all racing operations fell into place on Jan. 1, 2014, when it also took over simulcasting duties.
Palmer told the Telegram in 2013 that the ag society lost $97,772 during the 23-day live meet in 2012. After the first year of the CER’s involvement, Palmer reported that the ag society had had netted a profit of $4,343.
The CER and Ag Park negotiates such agreements like how much the CER pays to rent the track for the live racing meet and how much of a cut each gets of the money wagered, the gate taken and the concession sold.
Wagering in Columbus has dipped nearly 40 percent from 2009 to 2017.
“From a historical perspective, (live horse racing) has meant a great deal. There’s no question,” said Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce President K.C. Belitz. “It has been a long standing part of our heritage, so to speak, and our entertainment options in the community. From that perspective, horse racing is certainly meaningful.”
Simulcasting is normally available from 11 a.m. Thursday until 11 p.m. Sunday, from such locations as Gulfstream Park in Florida, Aqueduct in New York City and Santa Anita in California.
“I like to go almost every weekend,” local simulcasting fan Brad Nelson said. “Especially in the winter time, when the horses are running in California and Florida. When I see the palm trees I’m not on vacation but it feels a lot better.”
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org