MEDINA — For 164 years, trotters and pacers have answered the call to the post in front of the grandstand at the Medina County Fair. Next year could be a different story.
Harness racing will make its traditional appearance on the fairgrounds track at 11 a.m. Sunday with a 12-race card. A dwindling fan base, however, coupled with the possible lack of a fair speed superintendent, could leave the future of this free event up in the air.
Longtime fair speed superintendent Norm Krueger died last October. Sally Chrissanthis assumed the post for this year only, finishing out Krueger’s three-year term.
“There’s nobody that seems to be interested in taking over,” she said. “It’s not a very thankful job.”
That lack of interest has stretched to the grandstand, where fewer fans each year take in the event.
Fair Board President Bob Bauman said interest in the event has declined noticeably in recent years and draws fewer spectators and bettors.
“The interest in harness racing has definitely dropped in the past few years,” Bauman said. “It will take a lot of work to keep it going. Maybe this new gambling law that allows slot machines at Ohio racetracks will get more horsemen involved in the sport because it’s going to take horses.”
State lawmakers and Gov. Ted Strickland reached an agreement earlier this month to allow slot machines at racetracks to help fill a $3.2 billion budget gap.
Chrissanthis said since the fair has added more attractions and events that appeal to the younger generation — such as motocross and the demolition derby — harness racing has lost a younger demographic.
“I’m afraid there’s not enough young blood with racing,” she said. “We need more younbloods. Perhaps when they get the slots in Northfield (Park), it will encourage people to come.”
If the fair board does drop harness racing, it will join a statewide trend. Jerry Knappenberger, the general manager of the Ohio Harness Horseman Association, said fairs in three counties — Clermont, Trumbull and Huron — have dropped harness racing in the last five years.
“It seems like every year we lose a fair or two,” said Tim Massie, the president of the Ohio Fair Manager’s board of directors.
The fate of harness racing at the Medina County Fair will rest in the hands of the board of directors.
Bauman said every year the board analyzes which events draw the most interest at the fair and decide which to bring back and which to exclude the following year.
“If you go around the county, there’s a lot of pleasure horses around, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to regenerate the interest in harness racing,” Bauman said. “We’ve had harness racing forever, and I can’t speak for the board in terms of where and how we’re going to move on it.”
Contact Adam Ferrise at firstname.lastname@example.org.