Shenandoah Downs ready for debut
WOODSTOCK – This weekend Shenandoah Downs harness racing will make its debut at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds in Woodstock on the newly renovated track.
This will be the first of five weekends of harness racing put on by the Virginia Equine Alliance and the Virginia Harness Horseman’s Association.
“Everybody’s very excited,” said Jeb Hannum, the executive director of the VEA. “We think this is a great day for racing in Virginia, and a great day for the fair and a great day for agriculture.”
The races will start at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and there will also be a food truck festival there as well this weekend.
The Shenandoah County Fair reached an agreement in March with the VEA and the Virginia Harness Horseman’s Association to lease the fairgrounds for the next 20 years. Starting next year on the weekend after the fair ends, there will be racing for seven weekends every year.
There will also be parimutual betting. Spectators can only bet on the racing at Shenandoah Downs and they must show up to the races to place bets. The betting machines arrived on Wednesday.
Hannum said that there will be several tellers who will take bets under the grandstand, but he said that they will also have tellers who will go around during the races and offer to help spectators if they aren’t sure how to place a bet. There will also be self-bet machines there for those familiar with how to operate them.
“Betting, if you haven’t done it before, can be a little bit intimidating, so we’ll have tellers and support staff available to help people, and to explain to them how to make a wager,” Hannum said. “We’re not so concerned with the amount people bet, but we just think it’s fun and engaging for people to bet even if it’s just a few dollars on each race.”
Hannum said they recently were granted a license by the Virginia Racing Commission for betting. He said the commission will be overseeing all of the races.
He noted that betting is important to keep harness racing going.
“The betting is important because the money helps to sustain the industry,” Hannum said. “When a person makes a bet, 20 percent of the amount bet stays in racing, going to support purses, going to support the breeding program and going to the racing commission to support oversite.”
The VEA invested approximately $800,000 into the Shenandoah County Fair Association’s track and infrastructure. The track was widened to approximately 65 feet and was banked around 6½ feet high.
Doris Lineweaver, who is assistant race secretary and clerk of course for VEA, is a Maurertown resident and has lived in the area her entire life. She said that she’s amazed at how great the track looks now.
“It’s amazing, just the transformation of it and how it compares to any track, any half-mile track in the country now,” Lineweaver said. “It’s not just a fair track. They’ve done a really good job.”
Lineweaver’s father, Winston, and uncle, Alvin, will be racing in this weekend’s races. She said harness racing has been in her family for at least 60 years, and it’s nice to have a racetrack close by where they can all race at.
“My parents haven’t been here for a long time,” Doris Lineweaver said. “They race other places closer to them, where they live now for better money and that kind of thing. So for the track here to be so close and to be home is great. They can spend time with the grandkids for six weeks.”
Hannum said the harness racing industry is important to agriculture as well.
“It’s very good for the agricultural economy and all of these horses eat a lot of grain and they eat a lot of hay,” Hannum said. “They’re all moved around the state by pickup trucks and trailers and all of the money gets circulated through the rural economy, which is very important for Virginia.”
Hannum said there will should be eight races each day with as many as eight horses in each race. There will be 25 minutes between each race. Hannum said that should give spectators enough time to look at their programs and to place bets on the next race.
This weekend’s races will be a special weekend with only Virginia-bred horses racing.
“This weekend is the championships for the horses that have been bred in Virginia and there are various divisions for those horses,” Hannum said. “So this is the opportunity for the breeders that have raised their horses in Virginia to compete against each other. After this weekend then the races will be open to horses that have been bred all over the country.”
Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org