A brisk and breezy early Spring day did not deter 3,000 fans of harness racing from lining the outside fence of the homestretch of North Carolina's Pinehurst Training Center. Eight events exclusive to 2-year-olds racing in jog carts lined up behind the Preferred Equine Marketing starting gate, much to the joy of throngs of rail birds and tailgaters.
Over fifty railside parking spaces lined the entire outer rail, complete with pop-up tents and elaborately catered food and drink arrangements. Prior to the races, the 82nd Airborne Division Chorus from Fort Bragg performed the National Anthem while the Pinecrest High School ROTC marched proudly while presenting the color guard.
The Pick-A-Winner contests, which rewarded handicappers with gift certificates provided by local supporters, were hotly contested and had long lines of anxious pseudo-bettors. As the races were run, well-known Canadian announcer Earl Lennox provided the call. Several well-known trainers were proud to debut their colts and fillies over the red sand half-mile track.
The first race featured the Ackerman, Brunet, and Wellwood stables, while the second race was filled by pupils from Gordon Corey's Institute of Equine Erudition. Other stables participating in the matinee include, Mike Medors, Normand Fluet, Roland "Polie" Mallar, and David Wade.
Most of the race times were clocked between 2:25 and 2:40, and usually had 4 or 5 starters. Each race had an individual sponsor and the corporate sponsor for the entire race card was Preferred Equine Marketing, Briarcliff Manor, NY. The starters were Bob Bloodgood and Paul Battis, and the Racing Secretary was Twila Mahar.
Staff from the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame was on hand providing information and souvenirs to visitors. Many of the drivers and trainers joined with Hall of Famer Doug Ackerman and participated in the Museum's Cracker Barrel series, part of the ongoing effort to preserve oral history from some of the sport's oldest participants.
The successful matinee event, in its 64th consecutive year, would not have been possible without the considerable efforts of scores of volunteers and the village of Pinehurst, which is very supportive of the long tradition of harness racing in the sand hills. Garth Henry, President of the training center and the matinee race coordinator, along with D. R. Ackerman, Vice President, work diligently throughout the season to ensure the success of the popular race day.
The annual Pinehurst season finale, the USTA sanctioned qualifiers, will be held on the mile track this Wednesday, April 9th.
by Chris Tully, for Harnesslink.com