OXFORD – Horse racing has returned to the Oxford County Fair.

When a four-day race card begins Wednesday, harness racing will officially be back in Oxford after a 39-year absence.

There had been racing at the fair until it had to move to the Pottle Road.

“Horse racing is one of the richest traditions in Maine,” said Wendy Ireland, vice president of the Maine Harness Horseman’s Association. “There was harness racing in Maine when we were still part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

The half-mile track was completed last spring and it promises to be fast.

In May track officials ran a limited, eight-race card to get feedback from drivers and trainers.

“The track is deep, but it’s going to be fast,” said race driver Mark Athearn.

“It’s going to be nice,” said Freeman Parker, longtime trainer and horseman. “I’d say it’s in excellent shape. By fair time it’ll be hard.”

Phil Jackson, director of racing at the Oxford Fair track, said he expects that a speedy time of 1:57 will be posted.

The rack and facilities – five paddock barns to house 80 horses, two pari-mutuel betting facilities, judge’s facility and bathrooms – have set the cost of the facility near $300,000, including in-kind labor.

“It’s been a lot of work, but you never can relax because you don’t know what the next curve will bring,” Jackson said.

He said the community support for the track has been tremendous. Now he is hoping people plan on coming to the track for the races.

He thinks there is a chance. He said according to demographic studies, 40 percent of the population of Maine lives within 50 miles of the new track.

He said the return of racing will benefit the fair, agriculture and the community in general.

“It builds the future of the Agriculture Society,” Jackson said. “It enhances and assures that agriculture will survive. It adds agriculture to the picture and gives everybody an opportunity to see agriculture in its full realm.”

He said the fair gets to keep 19.5 percent of the handle from the races and the state gets the rest.

He said there is also a trickledown effect to those businesses along Route 26.

“Take a look back to when fairs started and the main attraction was racing,” Jackson said. “It’s been around for centuries.”

Races will begin at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The racing will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Jackson said the average race purse will be $1,500 and there will be stakes race events with a purse of $5,000.

The Charles E. Day Memorial Race, part of the Vacationland Series of races, will be the final race on Saturday.

The other stakes races are part of the Pine Tree Series and there will be two on Wednesday and two on Thursday.

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