SIDNEY — The 2020 Shelby County Fair’s harness racing drivers wish the grandstands could have been filled with screaming fans, but their horses liked the more subdued atmosphere at this year’s fair.
Harness racing was held Wednesday at the fair with no betting and a limited number of spectators including owners, trainers, drivers and some exhibitors from the Junior Fair swine shows who watched from outside the track.
“It’s different,” Scott Marr, a driver and trainer from Troy, said. “I don’t think the horses miss the rides or anything like that going around. But (I) definitely miss the people.”
Shelby County’s Fair was limited to just Junior Fair events and harness racing this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Shelby County Agricultural Society received $3,500 from the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association for hosting the races.
Not having rides and other attractions that usually come with the carnival portion of fairs probably was better for the horses, Jeff Nisonger said.
“It’s actually probably better for them,” the harness racing owner, driver and trainer from Lebanon said. “Not a lot of stuff going on, you know, with rides and all of that that scares all the horses. This year is actually kind of nice.”
Nisonger compared the atmosphere at this year’s Shelby County Fair to a typical training session, which is quite different from the usual racing atmosphere.
“Strange,” he said. “Strange. It’s kind of what pumps you up. It kind of fires you up, seeing the crowd, people cheering. It’s fun, you know. It’s almost just like another day at the track. It’s almost like we’re training or qualifying.”
Nisonger drove Nora Tova to victory with a time of 2:05.0 in the first race of Shelby County’s 2020 harness racing program, winning the 2-year-old fillies race and the largest purse of the day, $11,387.
Richard Dingledine drove Telling The Story to victory with a time of 2:09.3 in the second race, a 2-year-old fillies competition.
Imagine It and driver Doug Rideout won the third race with a time of 2:05.1 in a 2-year-old colts and geldings race.
Nisonger picked up his second victory of the day in the fourth race as he drove Poets N Pirates to a win with a time of 2:10.3 in a 2-year-old colts and geldings race.
Katie’s Lucky Day and driver Trevor Smith won the fifth race of the day, a 2-year-old fillies competition, with a time of 2:08.2.
Allen Woolums drove Woo Said to victory in the sixth race, a 2-year-old colts and geldings race, with a time of 2:07.1.
Driver Bruce Schmidt and Knotty Pine won the seventh race, a 2-year-old colts and geldings competition, with a time of 2:12.1.
Bad Ms Johnson and driver Hank Le Van finished first in the eighth race, a 3-year-old fillies race, with a time of 2:01.3.
Nisonger’s third win of the day came in the ninth race as he drove Shecanshakealeg to a win with a time of 2:09.2 in a race of 3-year-old fillies.
Rideout’s second win came in the 10th race as he drove Western’s Last Gun to a winning time of 2:02.0 in a 3-year-old colts race.
Nisonger recorded his fourth win in the 11th race, driving Upfront Stone to a victory in a 3-year-old colts and geldings race with a time of 2:04.2.
Nisonger won again in the 12th race, guiding Shehitthehighnote to a win in 2:02.1 in a 3-year-old fillies competition.
Dingledine’s second win of the day came in the 13th race as he drove Getawayall Hanover to a win with a time of 2:07.2 in a 3-year-old fillies competition.
Nisonger’s sixth and final victory came in the 14th race as he drove Mcbuster to a winning time of 2:03.2 in a 3-year-old colts race.
Twin Power and driver Ken Holliday won the 15th race, a 3-year-old fillies race, with a time of 2:02.3.
Southern Flight and driver Jack Dailey won the day’s final race, winning the Joe Strayer Memorial with a time of 1:59.1.
The lack of fans at races this year has hurt the purse money at some of the larger tracks but not so much at fairs, Marr said. The lack of betting probably will decrease the amount of purse money available at next year’s fairs, though.
“This season here has been really hectic, man. It’s been really hectic,” said Marr, who has been training and driving horses for 40 years. “It’s going to hurt down the line.”
While the changes prompted by the pandemic aren’t ideal, Nisonger said, he’s glad races have been able to continue.
“I’m just glad we’re racing,” he said. “That’s the main thing.”