By Ryan Cornell
WOODSTOCK -- The raindrops pelting Woodstock most of Wednesday morning did little to dampen fairgoers' spirits or the racetrack that would host seven rounds of harness racing.
Harness racing pits four horses and their drivers, who each sit on a chariot-like wagon called a sulky that's pulled behind each horse. The horses are required to match a certain gait, either at a trot or a pace depending on the type of race.
The Shenandoah County Fairgrounds is the only county fair in Virginia to continue the tradition of harness racing and sustain a harness racing racetrack, but the future of the sport was put into jeopardy when a devastating fire in February burned down 70 percent of the stables used to house the horses.
Due to the support of donations and volunteers, a new barn was built next to the old stables just in time for this week's fair.
It wasn't hard to tell who was the clear winner in the first race.
Shenandoah Tomcat, owned by Graceful Pace Farm out of Clifton and raced by C. Chief Robbins, got off to a comfortable lead from the start and didn't look back.
Inversely, Like a Bat Out of Time, owned by John C. and Mary W. Bare out of Forest and raced by Roy Dinges, never recovered from its poor start and only lagged further behind.
In the middle of the pack, Rising on Sunday, owned by Ursula J. Ayd from Lothian, Md., and raced by Betsy Brown, and Spinning for Gold, owned by Arthur J. Lisi out of Alexandria and raced by Alvin Lineweaver, vied for second place.
Rising on Sunday was able to overtake Spinning for Gold on the third turn. Shenandoah Tomcat nabbed the win with Rising on Sunday in second place, Spinning for Gold in third and Like a Bat Out of Time in distant last.
The second race, held at a "rockin' rose pace," was tighter. DVC Just Like Magic, owned by Ronald L. Lineweaver from Maurertown and raced by Alvin Lineweaver, held the lead for the entire race, but the next three positions were a definite toss-up.
Heading into the second lap, Lineweaver was leading with Western Albert, owned by the Clifton farm and raced by Robbins, following was Perfect Ending, owned by the Bares and raced by Dinges. Rosa Villa, owned by Susan Gale Viars out of Tazewell and raced by Jimmy Viers, was not far behind. Rosa Villa was growing on the third turn and would gain a position.
The race ended with a clear win by DVC Just Like Magic, and a near tie, with Western Albert pulling ahead by a hair just before the finish line. Rosa Villa completed the circuit in third, while Perfect Ending failed to live up to its name.
The third race started with Revenue Eyecatcher in the lead, owned by Betsy Brown from Woodstock and raced by Robbins, then Longfellow, owned by Jim Brown from Fairfax and raced by Dinges and then the other two -- Mal's Gal, owned and raced by the Lineweavers and Tug River Man, owned by Ayd and raced by Betsy Brown -- in the distance.
"Mal's Gal and Tug River have a lot of catching up to do," the announcer said.
The second lap ended in the same results, with Mal's Gal and Tug River Man switching places.
And then going into the finish, miraculously, it was anybody's race. The announcer, who was so excited he sounded like an Argentinean commentator calling a close soccer match, was filling the microphone with the rise and fall of the different horses.
In the end, it was Tug River Man on the winner's podium. Longfellow grabbed the silver and Revenue Eyecatcher the bronze after starting in first. Mal's Gal finished in last.
Across the racetrack, a crew set up the stage in preparation for the night's Thompson Square concert. They did not seem too interested in Tug River Man's ascent from last to first.
Harness racing will continue at 1 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org