A recent trip to the Great Frederick Fair, which hosted four days of harness racing, was both entertaining and educational, and it brought back some unexpected memories.
I had the pleasure of meeting Colby Hubble, who is on the fair’s racing committee and is involved in many other aspects of the fair and the fairgrounds, which serves as a year-round Standardbred training facility. She laughed when I told her I remember her driving at the old harness racing matinees at Cowtown in Salem County, N.J., in the early 1980s, and she then talked about several of the horsemen that played a key role in the history of the Frederick fair.
She mentioned the Offutt family, still quite active in Maryland harness racing; Bob Uebel, who worked on the harness side of the fair even after his retirement and is best known for the popular pacer Come On Fred, whose photo still hangs at Rosecroft; and Pete Wathen and his wife, Darlene Heber—a very underrated driver—who teamed up with many good horses such as Mandy’s Good Friday and Beau Star and did very well at Liberty Bell Park in the fall and winter during gaps in the Maryland schedule.
Hubble and others that keep fair racing going in Maryland, both in Frederick and Pocomoke City, deserve a lot of credit. Much has changed in the state since the harness racing revival of the 1980s, but having a historical perspective is an important part of moving forward today for harness racing. It will never be what is was, but it’s a lot better now than it was only 10 years ago.
The key is taking advantage of current opportunities in a much different landscape while not losing sight of the things that made it good before.
Here’s a look at several races on the Wednesday, Sept. 26 program:
Three mares are dropping from the “non-winners of $2,500 last five starts” class on Sept. 19 into the bottom condition. Cedar Hall Heiress competed in what appears to be the tougher division last week having been parked out from the start; she raced very well to pace in 1:55 3/5 off a decent qualifier and looks strong versus this crew. Shaker Rei and You Have My Word were third and fifth, respectively, in the other division; the latter held OK after a first-up grind and the former was a bit late in the lane off of stalled cover.
The 3-year-old filly Cool Toy was visually impressive in her victory at this level last week when she swept from ninth to first for an easy win with final half-mile in :56 and change. She clearly enjoyed the switch to the five-eighths-mile track from the half-miler and moves inside tonight given the also-eligible condition for higher money winners.
It will be interesting to see how she fares against older mares such as Junkyard Treasure, who returns to Maryland after facing legit condition types in Pennsylvania during the summer, and Little Sandyloam, who qualified nicely at Harrington a week ago after a productive campaign at Ocean Downs. Bret Brittingham is listed to come in from Delaware to drive Little Sandyloam, who on her best night can display sharp early foot from an outside post.
At Harrington, some of the “non-winners of X races lifetime” events can be underrated, and we’ll see whether that’s the case with a Sept. 19 “non-winners of 5” race. Two members of that cast—Angelou (second) and Winrlosedrnkdaboze (fourth)—land in a reasonable spot tonight and get to stretch their legs on the bigger track after multiple efforts on half-milers. Of the locals, Breadcrumb Income was shuffled badly after an alert beginning in the race dominated by Cool Toy and couldn’t recover; she drops one condition level and has a touch of class that’s hard to ignore.
Russell Foster elected to drive DBs Rosco, who finished a distant fourth at the “non-winners of $2,500 last five” level last week against a freaky-fast runaway winner. He should prove best on the drop to the bottom condition level and should be much closer here. New Jersey-based Stakeout, who drew the pylons, was well-traveled during the summer and showed decent closing kick in races that proved a bit too tough for him. He has done good work at Rosecroft in the past and is overdue for a big one; Brian Burton was named on the overnight but has to drive Adios Muchachos, who he trains, so Frank Milby gets the call.