MOUNT VERNON — County residents can mark their calendars and collect their $1 bills, as harness racing will be front and center Saturday night at the Knox County Fairgrounds.
With an early opening and free admission that day to the Knox County Fair, board members hope to offer county residents the opportunity to enjoy the excitement of harness racing during the heart of the weekend.
“It’s something we just wanted to try this year. I think we’ll have more people here on Saturday night because it’s a weekend and we’ll have more people betting,” said Jim Shipley, fair board member and Speed Committee chairman.
Three sessions of harness racing are typically scheduled for fair week — Sunday afternoon, and one week night and one week day race. Shipley said moving the day race to Saturday night seems to go hand-in-hand with attendance trends.
“We are not a day fair, really,” Shipley said. “We are an evening fair. From 4 p.m. on, we have a lot of people. In the afternoons, we don’t have a lot of people because the people in this county work.”
Another factor in moving racing from afternoon to evening is the heat.
“Normally, but it hasn’t been this year, it’s hot in the afternoon, and it’s hard for people to sit out and watch racing. In the evening they will come because it’s a little cooler,” Shipley said.
Although attendance for harness racing isn’t what it once was, Shipley said interest is on the rise again.
“The horses are bringing in more people in the last two years here than we have in a long time. A year ago, on a Sunday, we had one of the biggest crowds we ever had. The celebrity race did bring some people in,” he said.
Although admission is free and some concessionaires will be available, other traditional activities will not be open in order to keep the spotlight for the night on harness racing.
“We are hoping to have one of the biggest betting nights the fair has ever had,” Shipley said.
Whether one is a gambler, horse lover or just looking for something to do, Shipley believes Saturday night at the races will offer the biggest bang for a buck. Well, two bucks.
“A lot of people come to the fair and just make a $2 bet to have fun. That’s what it’s all about is having fun,” he said. “The excitement of it is great enjoyment.”
A typical bet is $2 and can be posted in the win (first place), place (second place) or show (third place) positions for a particular horse. Bets can be placed on one horse for one, two or three of the positions, for $2 each. If a bet is placed on all three, for $6, and the horse finishes in first place, the payoff is for all three places. If the horse finishes in second, payoff is for place and show. If it finishes third, pay is in show.
The pay rates are posted following the finish of each race.
Other betting options that can be offered, depending on the number of horses in the race, include:
•A $2 quinella — the first two horses coming in first or second place.
•A $2 perfecta — the first two horses coming in first and second place in the right order.
•A $2 trifecta — the first three horses coming in first, second and third in the right order.
Shipley said the perfecta and trifecta can be “boxed,” meaning as long as those two or three horses are in the top spots, it doesn’t matter which order they finish. The concept is identical to playing Pick 3 and Pick 4 with the Ohio Lottery. Adding the box feature requires an additional bet. This bet pays half as much as the straight bet.
Race programs are sold listing horses in each race along with their records, history and purse winnings.
Racing begins at 7 p.m.