The following appeared in The Northern Virginia Daily November 11 and was written by Don Lambert.
Harness racing at Shenandoah Downs in Woodstock ended in mid-October with a winning season.
Darrell Wood, the director of communications of the Virginia Equine Alliance, said this season was the best year yet from both an audience and participant standpoint. He said that $148,147 was wagered on races this year, a record for Shenandoah Downs and a 24.4% increase over last year’s amount of $119,099.
“Over the five weekends, crowds were consistently healthy, betting was the best yet, and horsemen supported the race program to the extent that we had days with 13, 14 and even 15 races,” Wood said.
He noted that one factor in the attendance increase this year was the decision to hold races on Fridays instead of Sundays. He said that with races taking place from 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Fridays, fans could come after work or school and kick off their weekend at the racetrack.
“There was an energy in the grandstand during the later afternoon races on Friday that we didn’t have on Sundays,” Wood said.
Wood said the good weather in September and October also helped keep attendance numbers up.
“On two of the days, we had some rain prior to the first race but I don’t think it actually rained while racing took place at all during the season,” he said.
Like last year, the harness races weren’t the only thing that drew crowds to Shenandoah Downs. This season saw the return of Autmnfest to the event, which drew the biggest crowd of the season with 3,200 attendees. Other events introduced this year included the Wiener Dog Derby – a series of wiener dog races on the track area in front of the grandstand – and Pink Power, a breast cancer awareness event that drew the biggest betting day of the season with $19,147 wagered.
Wood said that events like Autumnfest, the Wiener Dog Derby and Pink Power will help continue to drive people to the harness races.
“Moving forward, we have several great established events now that we can continue to build on,” he said.
Other highlights of the season included the “Own a Horse For a Day” activity, which allows fans to own a horse for an afternoon and keep the purse money the horse wins, and the appearance of Foiled Again, the harness racehorse that has won the most races in history, and popular harness racing driver John Campbell to meet and greet fans the opening weekend of the season.
“Both are retired but have strong followings,” Wood said. “Those appearances helped attendance on the track but it helped get Shenandoah Downs and Woodstock gain national attention as well through social media and industry websites.”