COLUMBUS – Running Aces Casino and Racetrack will begin its harness racing season on Saturday, May 20, with a summer of fun events planned. The horse races are one of the biggest draws of the season. Harness racing has a more than 200-year history: the sport requires a Standardbred horse to race at a trot or pace while pulling a driver in a two-wheeled cart called a sulky.
“They’re going about 35 mph around the track, and these guys are so close to each other,” said Running Aces Director of Marketing Aaron Bedessem. “There’s anywhere between five and 10 horses a race, with a minimal of eight races a night. It’s great to see them coming down the home stretch and feel the pounding of the horses coming down to first place.”
Bedessem said that the racetrack has made more of an effort to offer education to visitors who may not be very familiar with horse racing. In an effort to make guests feel more comfortable, there are attendants around the seating area who can answer questions and help place wagers.
“If you look lost, we want to help,” Bedessem said. “People ask, ‘Where do you find the horse’s name; How do you decipher all that information?’ So our staff is really wanting to educate you, we’ve got key people in spots.”
Tuesday nights are Dollar Night, where guests can purchase $1 hot dogs and $2 beers. Saturday is Keep it Local Night, where local breweries, wineries and musicians are features. And Sundays have always been Family Night. Running Aces has gone through a major rebranding in the last couple years, which is reflected in this season’s lineup and offerings.
“We wanted to create an atmosphere that combined the State Fair and the St. Paul Saints,” said Bedessem. “Harness racing has a long tradition, and you’re able to get really close to the action. For families and kids, you can come out and there’s always something going on on the track. Between races, there’s horses warming up, or there’s a tractor, so kids are always visually stimulated.”
There are many other special events scheduled in addition to regular weekly theme nights. On June 25, Running Aces will host a Chalkboard Art Night, which will bring in artists to create original chalk artwork during the races. There will be no races on July 4, but July 3 races will include a military appreciation discount and possibly a military tribute in partnership with the National Guard and U.S. Marine Corps. On July 15, the Big Great Inflatable Race will take over the racetrack. This fun run lets participants travel around a course filled with giant inflatable slides, ball pits and other obstacles.
August events include a charity night and a chance for kids to get up close and personal with various reptiles.
As the season winds down in the fall, the racetrack will host a Fighting Pediatric Cancer Night Sept. 10. The Cruise for the Troops car show and ride will take place in September, beginning and ending at Running Aces. Once the horses have left the stables for the season, a huge barn sale will be held there.
In addition to a full schedule of summer events, the casino has updated its dinner menu to incorporate locally sourced foods and drinks. Since the casino is located along I-35, it receives a lot of out-of-state visitors. The menu is designed to give these visitors a literal “taste” of Minnesota, as well as provide fun twists on familiar fare for local visitors. Dishes include tater tot hot dish, meat hand pie pasties, pot roast and shore lunch panfish.
“Our goal has been keep it as local as we can,” Bedessem said. “We’ve partnered with as many local food purveyors as we can, but then we make traditional Minnesota entrees. “We are a local company, and it only makes sense to do as much business with our locals as we can. So us being an entertainment spot where were driving a lot of eyes and people here, we expose (visitors) to a lot of different things.”
As always, the Trout Air Fishing Experience also allows guests to catch their own dinner, which can be taken home or prepared by cooks onsite, no fishing license required.
To further reflect the local connection, the casino also recently installed an original wood art piece by entitled “Minnesota Grown.” Artist Leah Bedford used pieces of wood that were donated or repurposed, including some that came from wine barrels and planks from the old city hall in Columbus.
Father’s Day weekend, which falls June 16-18 this year, is one of the biggest events of the summer, Bedessem said. In addition to that, there are two other signature race nights: Dan Patch Weekend on Sunday, July 23 and Night of Champions on Saturday, Sept. 16.
This fall, Running Aces will also break ground on a new hotel on the property. Bedessem said that the plans are not yet finalized, but the building will be located right next door to the current structure. Running Aces is located at 15201 Zurich St., Columbus. Find upcoming events, racing schedules and more at www.runaces.com.
Jackie Bussjaeger can be reached at 651-407-1229 or email@example.com.