Horse racing in Nebraska?

Atokad Park holds first horse races of the year and looks ahead to future plansHorse races are regularly held in only two spots in Nebraska, and the tracks in Grand Island and Columbus are usually pretty quiet apart from the rumble of thoroughbreds that stomp past the half-empty grandstands.

Suddenly, though, communities throughout the state are clamoring to revive mothballed tracks and build new ones.

Why the surge in interest in a sport that for decades has waned throughout the country?

In a word, casinos.

“All of a sudden you have a bunch of communities who don’t give a darn about horses saying, ‘Hey, we love horses!’” said Pat Loontjer…

For an industry that for years has struggled to attract any interest, the sudden embrace of the sport has led to plenty of eye-rolling and more serious concerns about even finding enough jockeys, exercise riders and veterinarians to hold races, never mind whether spectators will actually show up.

Nationally, the sport has been in decline for decades. The number of race days has fallen by almost 40% in the last 20 years. Omaha’s once-popular Ak-Sar-Ben (“Nebraska” spelled backwards) racetrack closed in 1995. Given that, proposals for nearly a dozen tracks has annoyed even some racing supporters…

More on horse racing in Nebraska