07/31/2013 2:49PM

Columbus: Local businessmen form nonprofit to run race meet at Agricultural Park


In a move to preserve live racing and simulcasting rights at Agricultural Park in Columbus, Neb., five area businessmen have formed a nonprofit to put on the 16-date meet that opens Friday. The Columbus Exposition and Racing group is taking over operations from the Platt County Agricultural Society, which did not seek race dates for 2013.

Nebraska requires that a minimum of 49 live race dates be conducted statewide in order for tracks to be allowed to conduct simulcast wagering. Racing opportunities have declined over the past several years in Nebraska, which has a rich horse-racing history. The meet that opens Friday will be the first live cards run in the state since Horsemen’s Park closed May 12.

The downward spiral is of concern to Dan Clarey, Tom Jackson, Tom Jahde, Russell Placzek, and Chad Sucha, who have committed their personal time and resources to operate the meet at Agricultural Park, which seats 3,500 and has a five-furlong track. Clarey said the group is receiving some financial assistance from the Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

“The five of us decided, in order to keep racing going, to form a nonprofit,” Clarey said. “We’re all interested in racing, and we realize because of the laws we have to run live in order to continue simulcasting. Not only would we lose live days if we didn’t operate, we would shut down everything. A lot of people go year-round to simulcasting, or for the big races. We don’t know if the legislature will change the laws. We also want to be around for expanded gaming if that happens.”

Clarey, 50, is the manager of a manufacturing plant in Columbus and is on the board of the Platt County Agricultural Society. He’s also been the chairman of its race meet committee for the past five years, and his familiarity with the Columbus season helped him pull together a group that includes racehorse owners Jackson, 53, and Placzek, 43, racing fan Sucha, 40, and retired school superintendent Jahde, 61.

Clarey said the group has signed a 12-month “user agreement” with the agricultural society and bears the responsibility for the cost of running the meet. He would not disclose the financial aspects of the deal but said the agricultural society would keep some of the revenue from concessions. Any funds left over after the meet’s expenses are met would be put back into racing, Clarey said. Brian Palmer will manage the meet. It will be his second season at Columbus.

“We’d love to see great crowds, everybody happy, and for us to come out in good shape,” Clarey said. “Hopefully, it’s a win-win for everybody.”