More than 1,700 people converged on AKsarben racetrack on May 30-31 when hundreds of items were auctioned, from photographs to grandstand seats. Many of the items had nothing to do directly with racing, such as kitchen equipment, chairs and tables, and file cabinets, but the pieces of racing history that did go through the ring brought significant prices.
Leslie Douglas is chair of the AKsarben Future Trust, which manages the 70 remaining acres that once hosted racing in Omaha, Neb. Douglas said the group would not release a total dollar figure from the auction, but she did give some specific prices brought by racing-related items.
The sale-topper in the "memorabilia" portion of the sale was a Steinway grand piano which sold for $4,000. Of the items directly related to racing, the scale formerly used in the jockey's room brought the highest price, $3,000. A painting of Seabiscuit fetched $2,600. Two items related to Omaha, the 1935 Triple Crown winner who is buried at AKsarben, were among the highest-priced memorabilia items. A 60-inch round painting of Omaha on suede brought $1,500 and the original marker for his gravesite was bought for $1,110.
"The (prices) in the memorabilia portion surprised me quite a bit," said Douglas. "Just signs that had been all over the facility, it was astounding what people were paying for those. A grouping of 10-12 signs brought $650.
"I think it went very well and there was a lot of interest," said Douglas. "Even people who maybe didn't come to purchase anything were able to look around. I think it brought back a little bit of history. It seemed like people were very impressed being able to walk in that room (full of memorabilia items) and reminisce."
According to the Kent and Gabe Peterson auction company, 1,762 bidders registered for the auction. At least one of the items sold on May 30, a money bag from the track's money room, is already available for sale on eBay, an online auction site.
AKsarben has not hosted racing since 1995. The facility has been essentially dormant since September when a local hockey team played its last game at the coliseum on the same property. The coliseum's scoreboard and seats were also sold in the auction.
Since AKsarben ceased operation as a track, portions of its 355 acres have been sold to First Data Resources, which now has a professional park nearby, and to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which built dormitories and a soccer field where the track's barns once stood. However, the grandstand has never been dismantled.
The future of the remaining property is still uncertain. This auction once again led to questions about the possibility of development on the property--questions that cause many to ask about Omaha's remains. According to Dennis Lee, who is chairman of the Nebraska Horse Racing Commission, and who spent many years working at the track, Omaha was originally buried near the east end of the grandstand. When the clubhouse was constructed on top of that area in 1974, the horse's remains were not moved, but the marker (which was sold at auction) was taken down and a similar brass one was put up in another spot on the property known as the "Circle of Champions," where it remains.