Fair trotters hit improved track

Harness racers make the turn during opening day of racing Wednesday at the Shenandoah County Fair. It was also the opening day for the fair's new track. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – The newly remodeled harness racing track at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds held its first official race and drew a sizeable crowd of fairgoers Wednesday afternoon.

Shenandoah Downs will begin hosting United States Trotting Association races at the fairgrounds on Sept. 10, but the Shenandoah County Fair’s four days of racing will break in the track. Wednesday’s first heat started off with eight horses, a first for the fair with the wider track.

Roland Offutt was manually timing Wednesday’s races, but said electric timers will be installed before next weekend. He said he’s seen more out of state riders at the fair than in previous years, and he knows riders from New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania are expected at Shenandoah Downs on Sept. 10.

Serving as announcer at the fair’s races for a fifth year, Michael Carter said banking the curves and building the track wasn’t an easy task for construction crews.

“The track … it’s exceeded our expectations,” he said.

Jane Burner, left, of Harrisonburg, and Sue Hughes, right, of Woodstock, cheer on the horses and jockeys during harness racing at the Shenandoah County Fair. Rich Cooley/Daily

Rose Robbins, from Clifton, was in the stands rooting for her husband Charlie Chief Robbins, who took second place with their horse Pistol Petesdragon in Wednesday’s first race. She said they race their three horses at tracks at Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland and in Chester, Pennsylvania. She said they’ve been coming to the fair’s harness races for 15 years.

“I’ve been coming up here once a month and taking pictures of the transformation of (the track),” she said. “We’re really excited about it since we are in the horse racing business.”

She said news of the track has helped to boost turnout at the fair’s races this year. There’s been a few new names on the list of owners and drivers, too.

“It’s nice to see all these guys up here,” she said. “By way of social media, it’s really getting out there.”

Ted Rhea, from Woodstock, and Tip Pangle, from Maurertown, said that besides the banked curves and the increased width that allows for eight horses instead of five, it’s the same track it’s always been.

Donald Dirting, of Mount Jackson, watches harness racing during opening day at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I don’t think the horses even care,” Rhea said.

Both said they might go to one of Shenandoah Downs’ events or races, but for them, the fair’s harness races are where it’s at.

“This is the real deal here,” Ted Rhea said.

“Generally, this has a local flavor with it,” Pangle added.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com

Ralph Combs, left, and Robert Mowery, both of Woodstock, watch harness racing from the grandstands. Rich Cooley/Daily

Harness races run in front of the grandstand during opening day on the new track at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds. Rich Cooley/Daily

A harness racer moves down the backside of the new harness racing track Wednesday at the Shenandoah County Fair. Rich Cooley/Daily