When it comes to fall harness racing, the third time does in-deed seem to be a charm for Bangor Raceway.
If the first two days of the 21-day fall racing schedule are any indication, fall racing is trot-ting toward a banner season in its third year at Bangor His-toric Track.
“Our Tuesday-Wednesday racing started last week and our handle rivaled any we’ve ever had,” said Bangor Race-way director of operations Corey Smith. “They were around $16,000 and most days average around $12,000.”
This year’s fall schedule has plenty of new wrinkles, from a much earlier post time (3 p.m.) to an increase in race dates (nine) that has brought the total number of fall race dates to 21.
Although many were con-cerned that a post time that was four hours earlier would cut down on crowds and betting revenue, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“We were very interested in what would happen with that because when we went from 7:30 to 7 p.m. last year, it took awhile for people to get used to it and the crowds were lighter, but it doesn’t seem to be affect-ing crowds this time around,” Smith said. “The betting’s been good, the horsemen seem to like the earlier post time because they can get back home at a decent hour and the weather’s been great.”
The first second-session dates were Sept 3 and 7. This month, Bangor raced Oct. 7 and 8 and will continue Oct. 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 and 29 as well as Nov. 5.
Smith theorizes the good weather not only encourages more fans to turn out, it also helps make the horses more comfortable, thereby improving their times. Well, that and the fact that the almost completely rebuilt and renovated track has been a great improvement over the muddy, moisture-plagued one that caused several post-ponements this spring.
“The new track is phenome-nal. We’re getting rave re-views,” Smith said. “One of the horsemen stopped his truck near me, rolled his window down and said the track was fantastic. He said something else about not racing here for awhile. For him to stop just to tell me that was great to me.”
Area horsemen, while regret-ting the long wait, say it’s al-most worth it.
“It’s a big change. A big one, no question about that,” said Presque Isle native Kim Ire-land, who has been a driver, trainer, owner and breeder for the last 33 years. “I was up there Tuesday and Wednesday and I was impressed with the quality of the track.”
Skowhegan native Gary Mo-sher, a 31-year racing veteran as owner, driver and trainer, says he’s encouraged by the track’s improvements.
“We’re all glad the track’s fi-nally the way it should be. It’s been awhile,” said Mosher, 49. “We’ve got to give Penn Na-tional credit. They got one of the best grading experts in the state to grade it so it will drain every which way but on the track, they hauled clay in from my farm in Sidney, and they hired Justin Mahar to oversee it on a full-time basis.”
Penn hired 82-year-old Ernest “Junior” Danforth to grade the track.
Ireland also noted that the af-ternoon post times, while pos-sibly making it more difficult for fans working 9-to-5 jobs to get to the track and inviting more direct competition — bet-ting-wise — with thoroughbred tracks that traditionally race in the afternoons, also have ad-vantages such as warmer weather and cost savings from not having to run lights at night.
Mosher is so encouraged by the track, horse supply and fall racing conditions that the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association board member will join in talks with Raceway offi-cials to expand the 2009 sched-ule from 54 to 70 race dates.
“We’re hoping with the track being so good now, they’ll race earlier in April and later on into November,” said Mosher, who is just 17 career victories shy of 5,000. “They proposed racing the last day on Nov. 1, but we’d like it to go longer, so we’ll go back into negotiations this week to extend the season.”