As Running Aces begins its 12th season of harness racing Saturday, the track in Columbus will offer the highest purses in its history. With a total of $5 million up for grabs during a 53-day meet, there won't be enough room in the stable area for everyone who wants to race in Minnesota this summer. Aaron Bedessem, director of marketing at Running Aces, said trainers quickly claimed all 250 stalls on the grounds. Many are housing additional horses at local farms, giving the track a robust population of trotters and pacers for a season that runs through Sept. 14. Three years of wagering increases and a thriving card room have allowed Running Aces to raise purses by more than 10%, Bedessem said, generating optimism for this season and beyond.

"We've seen increases in attendance and purses, and our facility has been growing,'' he said. "We expect our 12th year to be our biggest, and we anticipate it getting bigger and bigger.''

The track, which has free admission, does not count attendance. Track announcer Darin Gagne did not have wagering figures available, but he said Running Aces has seen gains in its live racing handle both on-track and at out-of-state locations.

Races will be held Saturdays and Sundays, with the first post at 6 p.m., and Tuesdays beginning at 7 p.m. Season highlights include the $50,000 Dan Patch FFA Pace on July 21 and the Sept. 14 Night of Champions, the richest single day of racing in track history. Several races will offer $50,000 purses, with total purses of more than $400,000.

Gagne said the Minnesota-bred racing program is "growing exponentially,'' with more races added for state-bred horses. Many familiar stables will be returning from northern California, Florida and Pennsylvania as well. Top drivers this summer include Steve Wiseman, the defending champion, and Nick Roland, Running Aces' all-time leading driver.

Rachel Blount