Harness racing, betting coming to Woodstock

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

WOODSTOCK — Whether it’s the bobtail nag or the bay, horse lovers will be able to bet on harness races at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds starting this year.

The Virginia Equine Alliance signed a lease of up to 20 years with the fairgrounds earlier this month. The agreement establishes races on Saturdays and Sundays for a set number of weeks starting after the county fair ends in September.

The fairgrounds’ website said this year’s races will start Sept. 10 and run for four weekends. Additionally, the 2017 agreement features races for seven weekends, according to a press release from the Shenandoah County Fair Association.

Tom Eshelman, the fairgrounds’ general manager, held a press conference and Q-&-A session on the new races at the fair’s office on Thursday.

Each weekend of racing will feature 16 to 20 contests, during which racegoers can participate in pari-mutuel wagering, or placing bets in a pool.

The inaugural racing weekend will coincide with the Food Truck Festival on Sept. 10 and Sept. 11. Other races will run alongside the Microwbrew and Chili Festival on Sept. 24 and Sept. 25, and the Wine and Trotter Festival, which has featured harness races since 2013, on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2.

Jeb Hannum, the VEA’s executive director, said horse racing lost its only venue in the state in October 2014 when Colonial Downs in New Kent County surrendered its racing license. As a result, Hannum said, the state created the nonprofit alliance to find new racing locations.

“We identified the site at Woodstock as being a suitable place to hold races,” he said. “It’s had county fair races for 98 years. It has a short track, it has a grandstand and it has a stabling area.”

According to Colonial Downs’ Facebook page, a lack of state funding forced the racetrack’s closure. It also closed all of its wagering sites in the state last spring.

Hannum said the VEA will start improving the fairgrounds’ race area in the next month. According to the fair association release, the alliance is paying $700,000 to widen the track, renovate nearby bathrooms and upgrade the track’s electrical capabilities.

Hannum said the VEA will benefit from the Woodstock races as much as the fairgrounds will.

“It’s our job to promote and sustain horse racing,” he said. “There’s a very strong link between racing and agriculture.”

Other VEA races include the Virginia Gold Cup and the International Gold Cup at Great Meadow in The Plains, the Virginia-Bred Stakes at Laurel Park in Laurel, Md., and Virginia-Bred Racing at Pimlico in Baltimore, Md., according to the group’s website.

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