Harness racing season comes to an end this weekend

Drivers round the turn before the final line at Shenandoah Downs during a Saturday race in September. Rich Cooley/Daily

The five weeks of harness racing season comes to a close this weekend with special programs Saturday and Sunday.

Director of Communications for the Virginia Equine Alliance Darrell Wood said over the first eight days of harness racing at Shenandoah Downs crowds of 200 to 800 attended based on the types of events and promotions going on during those races.

“Opening day of course was best,” he said. “Many curiosity seekers and people that wanted to be a part of those initial festivities.”

He said crowd turnout has been solid and is pleased with how the wagering has gone as well. On most races, five bets were offered: win, place, show, exacta and trifecta.

“Fans have taken to it,” he added. “As many people like betting on self-betting terminals as they do at a manned teller window.”

Throughout the five weeks of races, a food truck festival and beer and wine tastings have been held in conjunction with the event, and the closing weekend will follow suit.

This Saturday will be “Seafest” Day at the races, where three seafood vendors will be on site outside the main grandstand. Pro Shuckers from Annapolis, Maryland, will have oysters and fried shrimp. Po’Greens LLC from Strasburg will have fish dinners and crab cakes. Cuz & ‘Em Southern Cooking and Seafood from Harrisonburg will provide shrimp, crab cakes and soft shell crabs.

Admission to Seafest is $5, and kids 12 years and younger get in free.

As part of closing weekend festivities, the Virginia Harness Horsemen’s Association will give the first 1,000 fans, 18 years and older, a free $5 betting voucher for both Saturday and Sunday.

On closing day, Sunday, admission is free and a Shenandoah Downs souvenir baseball cap will be given to the first 200 attendees.

End of season awards will also be given out to the leading driver, leading trainer and Horse of the Meet.

“Based on those promotions, the fact it’s the last chance to see and wager harness action this season, and a favorable weather forecast, we’re hoping for big and enthusiastic crowds all weekend,” he said.

Wood added that the first season has gone very well.

“The track renovation itself has gotten positive reviews from horsemen, racing officials and fans alike,” he said.

He said the number of horses competing increased in the second and third week, showing word had gotten out.

“The first year has been about establishing Shenandoah Downs on a local, regional and national level as a track where horsemen can come to race over a good and safe surface, be treated well, and have a good enough experience that they will want to come back to race in the future and tell others about that experience.”

He said once this season comes to a close, a group will get together to review how the meet went, discuss lessons learned and how to use those experiences to make the second season better for both racers and fans.

He added that expectations for next year include a similar racing schedule with races held over five consecutive weekends beginning early to mid-September after the Shenandoah County Fair ends.

Gates open at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, with races beginning at 1 p.m.

Shenandoah Downs is located at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds in Woodstock.

A list of horses racing this weekend is available at www.virginiahorseracing.com.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com.