Horses shoot down the race track at the Farmington Fair’s pari-mutuel horse racing Thursday, Sept. 22. Longtime community members say it’s the camaraderie that makes Maine’s harness-racing industry shine. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — Betsy Clemens, Judy Seamon and Beverly Field are pressed up against the fence of the race track at the Farmington Fairgrounds.

They’re waiting to see how their bet will turn out in the Wednesday, Sept. 21, edition of pari-mutuel harness racing at the week-long Farmington Fair.

The three women, Clemens of New Vineyard, and Seamon and Field of Kingfield, have placed their bets on #6, Gold Star Barron.

Barron’s done well in the races, but not too well. This makes the pay off all the better, but the gamble all the riskier.

If Gold Star Barron wins, Clemens will also win the daily double, bringing her profits up to $6.

“He’ll make me back my money,” Clemens hopes.


Clemens, Seamon and Field have been betting on the horses as long as they can remember. Clemens remembers being eight years old and deciding what horses her parents would bet on.

“I always wondered why my parents were handing me money after we got back from the fair,” Clemens joked.

“It’s just an excitement, like being at the slot machines,” Field said.

On their marks, get set, go and the standardbred horses shoot off. Gold Star Barron inches toward the front, the announcer says.

But it’s Bay Brute that takes the win; Gold Star comes in second.

From left, Beverly Field, Judy Seamon and Betsy Clemens watch the pari-mutuel horse racing at the Farmington Fair Wednesday, Sept. 21. Field, Seamon and Clemens love coming to bet on the horses because of the familiar faces and fun of rooting for something together. Kay Neufeld/Franklin Journal

Still, the three women aren’t all that fussed. It’s not about the winning, really, they said.


“I like the camaraderie,” Seamons said.

“It’s the same faces every year,” Clemens added.

Maine’s harness racing scene is like one big family, according to Shannon Smith and Gloria Cushing, local members of the horse-racing community.

For Cushing, it’s also a family business. Her brother-in-law and son own barns across from the track; her mother and father had race horses; both of her sons race for a living; her grandson races out in Ohio; and her son, Mike Cushing, is president of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association.

Cushing also got her husband hooked on horse racing.

“He had no idea when we got married that he was going to be involved with horse racing,” she said. “Anywhere we can race horses, we race horses.”


Horse racing is in the Cushing family’s blood.

“And when it gets in your blood, it doesn’t get out very easily,” Cushing said.

Cushing, Smith, her sister-in-law and Robert Witt, her brother, echoed exactly what Clemens, Seamon and Field said: horse racing is all about the “camaraderie.”

“Everybody just takes care of everybody else,” Witt said. “If you can’t feed up, someone will feed up for you; somebody gets hurt, everybody pitches in; when you leave something at home, someone will go get you whatever you need.”

“Everybody’s family,” Smith said. “Everybody’s there to help each other.”

And it’s a symbiotic industry with a long chain of impact. From the farmers selling the hay, the feed stores and the equipment providers to the filling stations, horse trailers, “it’s really a business,” but one that unites on “the love of taking care of animals,” Cushing said.


In that vein, it’s not just the humans that are family.

“You gotta love the animals or you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing,” Smith said. “They become your family.”

Perhaps, one of the reasons for this tight-knit community is the nature of harness racing.

Unlike thoroughbred racing, where the rider needs a very specific body type and build, anyone can compete in harness racing.

“The drivers can be six feet tall, they can weigh 200 to 300 pounds to drive,” Cushing said.

Betsy Clemens of New Vineyard roots for her bet, Gold Star Barron, at the Farmington Fair Wednesday, Sept. 21.

The standards for harness racing are more inclusive, Cushing said. And that can create a community filled with people who race horses simply because they love doing it.


Farmington Pari-Mutuel Racing Announcer Michael Sweeney views Maine’s harness racing industry as “a tightly knit, yet loosely organized group of people.”

That being said, it’s still a competition.

“Winning is in [drivers’] blood too,” Cushing said.

“[Horse drivers] will help each other out for anything,” Sweeney said. “But they’re fierce competitors once the starter says go.”

“They’re supportive before and after they get on the track,” Witt said. But on the track, it’s a race to the finish line – even for brothers, fathers and cousins competing against each other.

And the need to win is felt all around.


The horses, too, know they’re “there for a purpose, not for a joyride,” Smith said.

“I could remember when dad would take them out of the trailer, they’d always talk to each other like they knew what they were there to do,” Smith said.

While the horses are duking it out on the race track, the drivers are “cursing each other out,” Sweeney said.

“And then five minutes later, they’re best friends again,” Sweeney said.

At the end of the day, “we are all working together to try to safeguard the future and continuation of the industry that we love,” he said.

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