The races attract generations of fans to the Shenandoah County Fair
WOODSTOCK – Roger Huston stands atop the Shenandoah County Fair’s grandstand with binoculars in one hand and a microphone in the other as horses circumvent the track below during the harness race.
After Peoplesayimnogood crosses the finish line for the victory, he turns off the microphone and says “and we go to the next race.”
It’s just another day at work for Huston, 75, who has announced harness racing for 59 years. He has announced 177,000 races at 140 tracks in 17 states and eight countries and said there is no better track than at the Shenandoah County Fair.
He said it “is the most beautiful setting in all of racing,” noting its location amid the mountains. That, along with a fast track, he said makes for “first-class racing.”
Although Huston is paid to announce, he said “I’ve never worked a day in my life” because he loves the job. He said what keeps him coming back is the excitement of races and riled-up crowds.
Ensuring the crowd has a great time, he said, is one of his most important duties.
“You can’t be monotone…you’ve got to put some umph in it…even if it’s a boring race,” he said.
Agnes Perry, 85, of Edinburg, was one the fairgoers in the crowd listening to Huston’s commentary as the horses raced.
She said she was a big fan of betting on races in Michigan for about 40 years. Upon “giving my heart to the lord,” she said she stopped betting on races because it is not a proper activity for a Christian.
When prompted to attend the race on Wednesday, however, Perry said she was happy to see horses race for the first time in four-plus decades.
“It’s good to be back,” she said. “I love watching how graceful they look and how graceful they run.”
In her gambling days, Perry said she always picked horse number seven to win. At the fair, horse numbers stop at five, so her fandom was decided based on the best name. With that in mind, her favorite horse Wednesday was Hold The Gold.
Corrinne Koval, 14, of Edinburg, said she had a great time at the race because she has an affinity for horses due to their beauty She and her five siblings visited the barn before the race and were given an up-close look at the horses and all their equipment by jockey Charles Perry Jr. and his horse Midnight Brown. This was the first time she saw a race, and she said it did not disappoint.
Fair volunteer Julia Ritter, 81, of Woodstock, said she has attended the fair since she was a child and the harness race has always been an attraction. While it was never her favorite fair activity, Ritter said she has come to appreciate it recently.
Unable to walk around the entire grounds anymore, she now sits at the entrance of the harness race and hands out brochures to the spectators. This allows her to enjoy what she always loved about the fair in being able to talk to all of the interesting passersby.