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Harness racing returns on Saturday

Renfrow Hauser, of Mt. Airy, North Carolina, exercises one of his horses, Audrey Helpburn, along the track at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds on Monday. Hauser will race three of his horses this weekend during the opening season for harness racing at Shenandoah Downs. Rich Cooley/Daily

The 2018 harness racing season charges back to Shenandoah Downs starting Saturday.

Attendees can watch and bet on horses from several divisions. Darrell Wood, director of communications of the Virginia Equine Alliance, said the season’s third year is looking to capitalize on the solid 2017 season.

“Last year had a nice uptick in attendance and betting,” Wood said. “We’re hoping to see that growth continue this year.”

Wood said there has been increased interest in harness racing at Shenandoah Downs from racers from around the country.

“We expect 132 horses to be based on the grounds for the five weeks, more than we ever have had,” Wood said. “Horsemen are finding out about Shenandoah Downs and hearing good things.”

Wood also attributed this increased interest from other racers thanks to the quaint, old-school feeling of the area.

“The racers like the laid-back vibe from the track,” Wood said. “It’s a nice stop for the racers as they tour around.”  

One of the ways Wood said they wanted to keep the growth going is to offer “experiences” for attendees, including a chance to ride in the starter’s car during an actual race, a ride in a double-seated sulky with a professional racer or trainer during an exhibition race, and a chance to “own” a horse and keep the purse money that the horse earns in a race.

“We wanted to give people a different experience they couldn’t get anywhere else,” Wood said. “We wanted to bring the ‘wow’ factor this year.”

One of the bigger attractions this year will be the appearance of Foiled Again, a 14-year-old horse who is the winningest harness racing horse in history, on Sept. 29. Foiled Again will race and then will be available for a meet and greet session. Wood said this would be one of Foiled Again’s final stops as the horse will be retiring Dec. 31.

Other events that will take place during the season include:

• The Seafest Celebration, which will have seafood from Pro Shuckers Seafood Catering,

• The Autumnfest Celebration, which will include barbecue, over 30 different craft beers and live music.

• The Virginia Breeders Championships, which will include horses in different divisions competing for cash prizes.

Races will be held at the track every Saturday and Sunday through Oct. 14, with special cards being offered on Monday, Oct. 8, and Friday, Oct. 12. The first races will begin at 2 p.m. instead of the 1 p.m. start time from years past. Wood said that the change was made so people could have more time to do activities in the morning instead of rushing to the track by 1 p.m.

“We wanted to make sure people felt they had enough to time to do errands or go to church in the morning,” Wood said.

For the second year in a row, parking and admission are free; however, attendees will have to purchase tickets to events like Autumnfest. Wagering will be available in the main grandstand area at manned teller stations and self-betting terminals.

More Information

For racing schedule, events and ticket information, visit www.shenandoahdowns.com.

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