And They’re Off! Horse racing brings new festivals

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

WOODSTOCK — The fair may be over, but the Shenandoah County Fair Association is prepping for a new slate of fall events.

Starting last Saturday, the Woodstock fairgrounds will host three new festivals to coincide with the launching of five weekends of state-sanctioned harness racing at the newly dubbed Shenandoah Downs race track.

The races, which include parimutuel betting, are sponsored by the Virginia Equine Alliance. The group announced Woodstock as the site of its newest horseracing venue in March.

The former venue, Colonial Downs in New Kent County, surrendered its racing license in October 2014 because of a lack of state funding.

The festival lineup kicked off Saturday with the Food Truck Festival, which featured 10 food trucks from across the Valley, including Mama’s Caboose of Dayton and Tacos El Primo of Harrisonburg. Admission is free.

On Sept. 24 and Sept. 25, the fairgrounds will host the inaugural Hops and Hooves Microbrew and Chili Festival. That will feature samples of 24 craft beers and a chili cook-off.

The inaugural Sea Fest will close the racing season on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9. It will feature three kinds of oysters from Maryland, as well as food trucks. Admission is $5.

A returning fall event will also take advantage of the racing season.

The fourth Wine and Trotter Festival will take place on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2 and is being extended to two days for the first time. It features wines from 10 vineyards on the Shenandoah Valley Wine Trail.

Hot Rod Cruisers of Front Royal will hold free car shows on Sept. 17 and Sept. 18. Tom Eshelman, the fairgrounds’ general manager, said the festival schedule will pause that weekend so it won’t compete with the Edinburg Ole Time Festival.

Tickets for Hops and Hooves and the Wine and Trotter Festival are $16 in advance and $20 at the gate.

Admission to the races is free all five weekends. All races start at 1 p.m.

Cheri Wright, executive director of the county Chamber of Commerce, said the new festivals and harness races will bring an “unbelievable” tourism boost to the Valley.

“It will bring 700 to 1,000 new people into our area,” she said. “We’ve already seen an uptick in hotel stays and Airbnb stays from Mount Jackson to Strasburg. And our residents will be the ultimate word-of-mouth guide on where to eat, where to shop and what to look for.”

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