And they’re off: Shenandoah Downs racing begins Saturday

Horses and their drivers make a turn around the track during the first day of harness racing at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds in August. Racing with parimutuel betting begins at Shenandoah Downs at 1 p.m. Saturday and continues through Oct. 15. Rich Cooley/Daily file

WOODSTOCK –  The second season of pari-mutuel harness racing returns to Shenandoah Downs on Saturday and runs for the next five weeks.

Darrell Woods, director of communications of the Virginia Equine Alliance, said harness racing brings fans from all around the country together.

“Last year the first people at the gate were from Prince Edward Island,” said Woods. “Our core base of fans are mostly from Woodstock, which is neat, because it shows a loyal, intimate fan base.”

Woods said last year they invested $800,000 to upgrade the track at the fairgrounds.

“Now fans are able to have a more intimate experience as they cheer on their favorites from the grandstand,” he said.

The half-mile oval recently played host to four days of Shenandoah County Fair harness racing for the fair’s 100th anniversary.

Taking place during the first two weekends, the featured event, the Virginia Breeders Championship races, will consist of  2- and 3-year olds.  The 2-year-olds finals are scheduled for Saturday, while the 3-year-olds finals will be held Sept. 24. A total of eight divisional titles are up for grabs, and over $300,000 in purse monies will be awarded.

For the second year, fan cans wager on their favorites at betting windows  located at the grandstand. For the first time, the races will be streamed live, free of charge, on two different websites: www.shenandoahdowns.com and www.virginiahorseracing.com.

“No matter the outcome, our fans cheer on both the winners and losers. They appreciate the trainers and drivers,” said Woods. “The energy is monumental.”

Each Saturday will feature a themed festival.

Harness racing begins at 1 p.m.  every Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m through Oct. 15. Pacers and trotters will compete in 10 races each afternoon, which will occur roughly every 20 minutes.

Gates open at 11 a.m. on race days, with free parking and admission. A separate admission fee applies to Hops ‘n Hooves, Wine & Trotter and Autumnfest.

Festivals At The Track

Saturday: Hops ‘n Hooves, a craft beer tasting festival.

Sept. 23:  Food Truck Festival.

Sept. 30:  Wine & Trotter Festival.

Oct. 7: Seafest.

Oct. 14: Autumnfest.