The Ottawa County Fair Board has voted to continue harness racing at the 2012 fair but plans to schedule it for only one day.
Seventeen members of the board present at the Dec. 20 meeting voted unanimously to continue the harness racing program, said Jon Overmyer, board treasurer.
The decision to offer a day of racing follows an announcement in the fall by the Ottawa County Harness Horsemen’s Association to no longer conduct the program.
The association had promoted racing at the fair for 25 years but decided to not participate in the program, saying many members were getting too old for all the preparations and related work – particularly if it was limited to a one-day event.
“A lot of our members are 70 and over and it’s a lot of work for one day of racing,” Betty Jo Sherman, the association secretary, said after the association decided to withdraw from the fair. “The track is not used in other times of the year other than for things like a demolition derby or a rodeo or something like that, which tears up the track. It takes about a month to six weeks to get the track ready for racing after all this stuff is going on. Mostly the guys weren’t willing to put out that much effort for one day.”
Ed Wagner and Rollin Hetrick, who co-chair the fair board’s race committee, will be heading the board’s efforts to schedule the event at the 2012 fair, which is set for July 16-22.
Representatives of the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association and Northwest Ohio Colt Stakes have met with the fair board and encouraged it to try a one-day format, Overmyer said, adding more meetings with the groups will be held in the coming weeks and with associations who have held races in Wood and Paulding counties to discuss planning and other issues.
The fair board’s primary concern is to line up volunteers for work such as grading the ditch around the track and other maintenance.
Overmyer said the board will also need help prior to and during the fair to sell programs and sponsorships.
“The board has decided horse racing is an important part of the fair,” he said. “We want to thank the harness association members for their years of past service.”
Sherman said harness racing in Ohio has dropped in popularity while it has grown in neighboring states, drawing racers attracted by larger purses.
Entries per race at the Ottawa County Fair have dropped sharply in the past several years, according to Overmyer, who said that drop is mirrored by lower wagering.
Gordon Witty is credited with getting a harness race program up and running at the fair in the 1960s.
Once the association was formed, it was able to secure pari-mutuel wagering and draw better horses to compete at the fair, Sherman said.