Ed Wagner, chairman of the race committee for the Ottawa County Fair Board, predicts a decent four-legged turnout for the one-day harness racing showcase Monday at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds.
“We’re figuring on 13 races,” Wagner said. “We’re set up for six horses in each race, but I’m going to say (there will be) 4-5 in every race.”
The first race is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at the fair, which runs from July 15-21.
Wagner, who has been in charge of the fair’s harness racing events for 25 years, has been a member of the Ottawa County Fair Board since 1984. He said there is a legitimate reason why harness racing at the fair was dropped from three days of racing down to one day last year and again this summer.
“We went from three days down to two, and last year it was one day because of the drop in the number of horses in Ohio as far as the racing end of it,” Wagner said. “This year it has picked back up. In two more years, the numbers should pick back up to a certain point. When a colt drops down to the ground, it takes two years for them to get to racing.”
The Ottawa County Fairgrounds track is a half-mile banked track with a dirt gravel surface. Both pacers and trotters will compete this year, but the number of horses and their jockeys who will compete won’t be known until a couple of days before post time.
“They don’t call the horses in until Friday morning, when they have to nominate the horses,” Wagner said. “They’re all nominated, so I don’t know how many are signed up to come. There are 100 horses nominated to run the circuit in Ottawa County. We have two races we don’t have any more, the signature races. We didn’t get involved in them, mainly because of the money issue with the Fair Board. We dropped that part of it last year. Hopefully in another year or two I can get that back in.”
There will be three special events again this season: the Gordon Witty Race, the Portage River Pace and one that was started last year in memory of Jim Walter, called the Jim Walter Memorial race.
“The Gordon and the Portage have been there ever since the track got started, in 1964 or ‘65,” Wagner said.
Witty helped build the track at the fairgrounds and was a well-known trainer, driver and owner who helped organize the Ottawa County Horseman’s Association.
“Jim Walter was with Witty from day one and helped get everything going,” Wagner said. “When Gordy got where he couldn’t get around so much, Jim took over. He pretty much took over the track and got everything ready for the races.”
Bill Peters, a resident of Edgerton, Ohio, will call Monday’s races for the 35th year. Peters, who began announcing in 1960, became a horse owner and trainer for 31 years beginning in 1962. He started “clerking” races - taking entries and putting the races together - in 1972.
“I still do that,” Peters said. “I collect the entry fees and write the checks. This is my 35th year as announcer and clerk.”
Several local owners - two from Pemberville, one from Oregon and one from Woodville - will have a stake in this year’s harness racing events, according to Peters.
Co-owners Mark Headworth of Oregon and Steve Bateson of Rudolph, Ohio, will have a horse named Happy Go Jamie entered in the two-year-old colt trot.
Emil Konesky of Woodville will have a horse called Trottin On Over in the three-year-old colt trot. As a two-year-old, Trottin On Over won the Ohio Sires Stakes final and was named the two-year-old colt trotter of the year.
Peters said Dan Venier of Pemberville is likely to race two horses, Chuckie B, in the three-year-old colt trot, and Samantha Truant in the three-year-old filly pace.
John Konesky of Pemberville will likely race Countonme in the three-year-old filly trot. Countonme is a former co-champion in the Northwestern Ohio Colt Racing Association.
Peters said the later start time this year (last year’s racing started at 3 p.m.) should make for more wagering on Monday. Just over $5,000 was wagered in 13 races in 2012.
One new track record was broken last year. Sir James finished in 2:03 in the two-year-old colt trot in a non-winner’s race, breaking the previous mark of 2:05 set in 2004.