Ak-Sar-Ben Race Track and Coliseum
Approximately 8,500 people were in attendance as the race track at Ak-Sar-Ben field was dedicated on September 14, 1920. For four days, a variety of horse races were run. One day of auto racing followed the horse racing meet. While pari-mutuel betting was banned in the state of Nebraska from 1929-1935 and a national ban on horse racing occurred during World War II, horse racing remained popular at Ak-Sar-Ben through the late 1980s. In 1984, Ak-Sar-Ben was the sixth most popular horse racing track, in terms of attendance, in the nation. The 1995 racing season was the last for Ak-Sar-Ben.
The Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben were founded in 1895 by a group of Omaha businessmen. The goal of the organization was to promote Omaha and encourage agricultural endeavors in the area, which later took the form of livestock shows, 4-H events and rodeos. On September 19, 1895, the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben held its first coronation ball, based upon the Spanish legend of the Kingdom of Quivera. Floats from New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations were purchased for the first "electric parade" that was a highlight of the coronation ceremony. While the society events remained one aspect of Ak-Sar-Ben, support of public concerns was an integral part of the organization.
While once serving as an air field during the early days of its existence, Ak-Sar-Ben Field was also used in support the effort during World War II.
Ak-Sar-Ben members also enjoyed many seasons of entertainment. Early shows included the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Chico Marx and Jimmy Durante. Later show included Bob Hope, Victor Borge, Tony Bennett, Xavier Cugat and other performers. Ak-Sar-Ben members also attended family shows that were produced in the interest of the children in the community. Ak-Sar-Ben continued its tradition of entertainment in recent years with appearances by Metallica, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech at the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum during the Presidential campaign of 1936. General Dwight D. Eisenhower also spoke at Ak-Sar-Ben in 1952 during his campaign.
On May 15, 1959, horse racing's 1935 Triple Crown winner, Omaha, was laid to rest at Ak-Sar-Ben. A monument to Omaha currently exists in the Ak-Sar-Ben Circle of Champions.
Besides hosting fairs, entertainment and agricultural events, Ak-Sar-Ben has hosted numerous ice skating shows and sporting events. Ice hockey (Knights and Lancers), basketball (Racers) and indoor soccer (Flames) have all taken place inside of the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum.
At this time, the grandstand and other buildings of Ak-Sar-Ben remain. However, much of the property has been sold and redeveloped by businesses and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Listed below are links to other pictures of the Ak-Sar-Ben complex:
|Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack and grandstand looking west||Ak-Sar-Ben grandstand and coliseum looking southeast|
|Horse racing at the first turn (1973)||Horse racing in the final stretch (1973)|
|Monument to Triple Crown winner, Omaha||Ak-Sar-Ben clubhouse|
|Nebraska State Historic Marker for Omaha||Nebraska State Historic Marker for Ak-Sar-Ben Field|
|Ak-Sar-Ben grandstand (2002)||Ak-Sar-Ben grandstand entrance (2002)|
|Ak-Sar-Ben paddock area (2002)||Ak-Sar-Ben infield with grandstand|
|For further information on Ak-Sar-Ben, I recommend visiting the official website of Ak-Sar-Ben or the following book:
The Ak-Sar-Ben Story, A Seventy-Year History of the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben, Nelson, Arvid A., Jr., Johnsen Publishing Company, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1967
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