You know what I could use this week? A big horse track right in the middle of Omaha. A place where I could go and not just bet on the Derby but also catch a few live races, maybe drink a julep in the clubhouse, and just generally marvel at the species known as the horseplayer.
Omaha used to have that. For a time, Ak-Sar-Ben was actually one of the more successful tracks in the country. Then the riverboats set up shop in Council Bluffs (technically at least) and the money went across the river. Ak-Sar-Ben closed in 1995 and all but one vestige of the former track is gone, replaced with upscale housing, a payment processing center and some college classrooms.
Omaha, the 1930 Triple Crown winner (but not, believe it or not, Horse of the Year), was buried in the circle of champions at Ak-Sar-Ben. They kept the marker (pictured above) for Omaha in Stinson Park at the new Aksarben Village where he now has a fantastic view of a Godfather’s Pizza. Here’s the full story on Omaha straight from the historical marker:
Buried here at Ak-Sar-Ben is Omaha, one of the immortals of the American turf. His sire Gallant Fox was the 1930 winner of the Triple Crown, and Omaha succeeded him to this title in 1935. To win the Triple Crown a three-year-old must win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. They are the only father-son combination to achieve this honor.
Omaha was foaled March 24, 1932, at Clairborne Breeding Farm in Paris, Kentucky. He was owned by William G. Woodward’s famed Belair Stud. The chestnut colt was out of Flambino by Wrack, standing 16.3 hands and weighing 1,300 pounds in his prime. He was trained by “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons and ridden in his great American races by William “Smokey” Saunders. As a four-year old Omaha was shipped to England where he won the Victor Wild Stakes and the Queen’s Plate.
Omaha was retired to stud after his fourth season. In 1950 he was brought to Nebraska by breeders interested in improving Nebraska thoroughbreds. He was taken to Grove Porter Farm near Nebraska City where he lived until his death on April 24, 1959. He was buried here by special invitation from Ak-Sar-Ben in honor of the great place he had earned in the annals of American racing. Betti Richard, an internationally known sculptor, fashioned the lifelike bronze figure of Omaha which marks the grave.
If you want more history of the old track, Ak-Sar-Ben.com is your one stop shop.