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Horses race to Converse Fair

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GATED: Horses begin the race by lining up behind a car with expandable gates. When the car pulls away from the track, they’re off.
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PACERS: Most of the races on Wednesday were 2-year-old pacers. For some horses, this was their first ever race.
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NECK AND NECK: These young horses are still learning the tricks of the trade, and since they all start out at about the same level, some races are very close.

BY Samantha Oyler


Most people in the stands watching the harness races at the Converse Fair were spectators or owners, but some make racing part of their everyday life.

Carl Hanes has been watching harness races since he was a child.

“I used to come here with my dad when I was 5 or 6,” Hanes said.

It wasn’t until he retired that he really paid attention to the races.

He recalls when the bleachers were packed and the field behind the racetrack was filled with cars, practically bumper to bumper.

“He used to be the only one in the grandstand,” said Pam Cross, a friend and associate of Hanes’.

Cross and her husband, Jay, care for and train Hanes’ horse, Celebrate Winning.

‘It’s an everyday job,” Cross said.

She said she gets up, feeds the horse, cleans out its stall, jogs it, bathes it and feeds it again in the evening.

“Then we do it all again the next day,” she said.

Cross says the horses are just like athletes – they need to train every day.

But the racing life isn’t new to Cross.

She’s been part of this community for about 50 years.

She started out helping her father and grandfather track the races when she was young. Now she tracks the horses times and distances while her husband drives.

Every time her husband was out racing on Wednesday, she would mumble “be careful, buddy” under her breath in between radio calls.

Cross and Hanes aren’t the only people who are dedicated to the sport.

After the eighth race, Lucy Shirley, a Converse local, was called onto the track.

Shirley has owned or leased 125 horses since 1991 and has accumulated over $500,000 as a trainer.

The Indiana Standardbred Association awarded Shirley with an embroidered blanket that said “we all love Lucy Shirley.”

For those who missed the races, videos are available on indianaharness.com.

The fair will also host goat, sheep and pig shows, a dirt drag and various rides.