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Off to the races

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HOOSIER WINNER:Hoosier Macie, at right, takes the lead on the way to a first place finish in the fifth race during harness racing at the Converse Fairgrounds on Thursday.
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HOT TO TROT:Shelbi Forgey gets Charity Girl, a standard-bred trotting filly ready for the fourth race during harness racing at the Converse Fairgrounds on Thursday.

BY Paige Conley - pconley@perutribune.com

The Converse 4-H Fair happening now through June 9 is kicking off the Indiana fair season as well as the Indiana-Sired Fair Circuit.

The Indiana-Sired Fair Circuit has been around for decades and so has the tradition of harness racing.

Harness racing is a form of horse racing where the horse sprints around a track pulling a two-wheeled cart occupied by a driver. The harness race horses are normally two-and three-year-old pacers and trotters who are nominated by their owners, according to Converse 4-H Fairground Vice President Dessa Miller.

Each year, the circuit holds its first harness race in Converse before traveling to ten different counties throughout Indiana and ending at the Indiana State Fair.

During the summer, the horse and jockey teams acquire points for every race and, at the end of the season, the top eight horses are invited to compete in the Indiana State Fair Championships for a prize purse of $20,000, said Indiana Horse Racing Commission Communications Coordinator Megan Arszman.

“The horses ranked ninth through 16th will compete earlier in the day in the consolations for purse money totaling $8,000,” according to information from an IHRCommission press release.

According to Arszman, the Indiana-Sired Fair Circuit is apart of the Indiana Standardbred Breed Development Program which is apart of the IHRC.

The horses nominated in the circuit are solely Indiana-sired and bred standardbred horses, Arszman said. This means the foals are born in Indiana and their sires stand in Indiana.

“They’re a Hoosier Homegrown product because these two-and three-year-old horses were born and bred in Indiana and they have a large economic impact on Indiana,” Arszman said.

Harness racing is like the “grassroots part of the breed development program,” according to Arszman.

Its long history in Indiana has made it a tradition among families.

“It’s just kind of a good family thing that people stayed in it,” Miller said. “It’s kind of something they want to show their kids and grandkids.”

This year about 118 horses were nominated to compete in the fair circuit, Arszman said. The circuit travels to county fairs all over Indiana including Shelbyville, Goshen, Kendallville, and Portland.

Some counties even host the races more than once. An example of this is Converse, where the races can be seen again next week on June 13 and 14.

The fair circuit draws in people from all over Indiana who want to race their horses.

Harness racing is a hobby for some and a living for others, according to Miller. It’s also a great way for beginners to get a feel for raising and racing their own horse.

“‘The fair program is a vital piece of the racing program in Indiana because of the opportunity it gives trainers to develop young horses (2- and 3-years-old) into racehorses,’ says Dwayne Rhule, Chairman of the Indiana Standardbred Advisory Board,” according to the IHRC release.

“The fair circuit is a lot of fun and very family-oriented,” Arszman said. “It’s also a good way for people to get in on the ground level of breeding, training, and owning.”

According to Miller, whose family is apart of the Indiana-Sired Fair Circuit, owners put a lot of work into their horses. The horses are trained every day and during the summer compete in a race every week.

“These horses are very athletic,” Miller said.

Miller and Arszman hope to see more people in the stands this year for the races, but, most importantly, they hope everyone just has a good time.

“It’s free family fun,” Miller said. “People can come out, eat, and enjoy the fair.”

Individuals interested in learning more about the Indiana-Sired Fair Circuit or participating in the races can go to the Indiana Horse Racing Commission website.