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2021 Shenandoah Downs race meet report

The following report was given by Debbie Warnick at the Virginia Race Commission meeting held on December 15, 2021.

The 2021 harness racing meet was held at Shenandoah Down in September and October. The 10 day meet was held over a five week period with racing on Fridays and Saturdays. There was also four days of racing during the Shenandoah County Fair prior to the pari mutel meet starting.

We were thrilled to be able to welcome fans back to the races this year. Events like weiner dog races, Pink Power breast cancer awareness events, double seat jog cart rides, starting car rides, happy hour Friday racing, give away promotions and the very popular Own A Horse for a day promotions attracted a lot of fans. The Shenandoah Downs fans are unlike fans at any other track. They are enthusiastic and add to the excitement for the horsemen and the drivers. On several days, fraternity members from James Madison university filled the stands and provided quite a lively environment. They helped push our betting handle to a new high of $157,000 this fall, beating 2019’s figure of $148,000. The two years prior saw handle figures of $128,000 and $124,000 respectively. Betting has increased each year since the track opened in 2016.

Thanks to Historical Horse Racing revenues, overnight purses were increased by 50%. Virginia Breeders fund stakes purses for 2 & 3 year old divisions doubled for both elimination races and finals -- from $4,000 and $40,000 respectively to $8,000 and $80,000. And a 50% incentive bonus program was implemented to reward Virginia-based owners, trainers and drivers who competed in Woodstock. A total of $1.6 million in purse and bonus monies was distributed compared with $943,000 in 2020 ---- $684,225 of that was dedicated to purses in the 24th annual Virginia Breeders Championships for 2 and 3 year old pacers and trotters of both sexes --- 8 divisions in all.

A total of 127 races took place over the 10-day meet including two separate days that featured 18 races. One other day’s program had 15 races another had 14. Horses and participants from 14 different states and Canada, were represented at the meet. Horsemen came from Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Ohio, Illinois, California, North Carolina, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Florida and of course, Virginia. In all, 72 trainers and 53 drivers competed at Shenandoah. Another base of owners, grooms and stable help brought the participant number even higher.

We would like to thank the Shenandoah County fair board & staff for all they do for the horsemen. And especially thanks to fair manager Tom Eshelman, who announced he will be leaving the fair at the end of the year. He will be missed.

And as always, thanks to team members for great jobs --- Dee Lineweaver as Racing Secretary, JD Thomas for Track Superintendent duties, Luana Murray who oversaw mutuels and grandstand operations and Darrell Wood who handled too many things to name.

Some race meet highlights we would like to mention :

*Horse of the Meet honors went to trotter Vulcan Hanover who went a perfect 5-for-5 for trainer Mike Whitaker, who was competing at Shenandoah for the first time. Vulcan also went 3 for 4 during the Fair, giving him 8 wins in Woodstock in 7 weeks.

*Closing weekend saw two young harness racing particpants record their first ever wins --- Sierra Seidner as a trainer and Danarius Dortch as a driver.

*United States Tortting Association Hall of Famer Bill Popfinger returned to compete at Shenandoah for the second straight year and even celebrated his 85th birtrhday in the winners circle where the fans sung Happy Birthday for him.

*Woodstock resident Betsy Brown received a proclamation on opening day from the House of Delegates, who recognized her accomplishments in the sport for decades as an owner, trainer, driver and this season, as an outrider.

*Memorial races were held closing weekend for two long time Virginia harness horsemen who passed this year --- Winston Lineweaver and Ron McLenaghan.

We are looking forward to next year’s race meet which will be increased to eight weeks, pending VRC approval. We invite all the commissioners to visit Shenandoah Downs and share in the standardbred racing experience.

We are also excited to announce that because of the revenue from the HHR machines, we are able to start a new program for Virginia Sired horses. This program will start with the breedings of 2022. We just announced this program in October and as of today, we have 11 stallions that have committed to stand in Virginia, with two more possibles. Three of these stallions belong to Virginia residents and have stood here before. The remainder of the stallions are moving from other states to be part of our program. The addition of these stallions, as well as the mares that will be shipped here to breed, will boost the agriculture revenue in the state as well as the Standardbred racing program.

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