It might be three weeks late, but Bangor Raceway’s 126th season of racing at Bangor Historic Track will still get an early start.
After experimenting with late-afternoon post times last year, Bangor has gone with them exclusively this season, starting with today’s 3 p.m. opening. Racing will start at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays and 1:30 p.m. on Sundays and (later) Saturdays.
“They were successful in the fall last year and the horsemen really seemed to like them and getting home at a much earlier time, so we’ll soon find out if they’re equally popular in the spring,” said Corey Smith, Bangor Raceway’s director of operations. “We had more horses and drivers with the earlier post times, too.”
The newly-constructed paddock and racing offices building is fully functional with 21,000 square feet and 96 horse stalls ready for use. When the horses settle into their new quarters, they’ll notice a unique welcome gift.
“We ordered 96 bundles of carrots. We’ve never done that before, but we decided we’d rather reward the horses than the drivers this year,” race secretary Fred Nichols said with a chuckle. “It’ll look like Sam’s Club over there.”
Well, at least for a brief moment. It’s not likely those 400 carrots will last too long.
The resurfaced track — which had more moisture problems caused by frost again this year, resulting in the postponement of the season’s starting date from April 17 to today — is ready for racing and even this week’s steady rains have failed to dampen racing action.
“The track is in great shape so it would have to be an absolute downpour to wash out opening day,” Smith said. “The inside portion of the pylon drains so well and the course is so tight, that I don’t see that being a problem even if it rains [Friday].”
Bangor is scheduled to race 61 dates, the most in the facility’s history, this season, but will have to reschedule the six dates lost to the postponed opening. Raceway officials don’t expect try to start the season any earlier than May in the future.
“This is kind of the middle ground,” Smith said. “We used to open at the end of May and then we tried two years in a row to go earlier in April, but as far as thaw and water and resurfacing, instead of having to scramble and possibly start and stop again, we think this is the optimal opening time.”
Smith said most of the work on the surface was completed before the end of April.
“The grader went out on it on the 28th and we got that done very well. There was still some give where the frost was initially coming out, but that’s fine now,” Smith explained. “They were out there for five hours working on it and got all the dips and valleys out.
After the grading was complete, track maintenance supervisor Justin Mahar got out on the track and put stone dust down from about 7 p.m. until 3 a.m. The next morning, horses were able to get out on the track.
Horsemen seem to be satisfied with the surface.
“If there’s an issue, they usually let us know fairly quick and we haven’t heard anything so I would say no news is good news,” Smith said.
Nichols said a thin horse supply has made it difficult for him to put as many races together as he’d like, but said although quantity might be suffering a bit, quality won’t be.
“It builds and it’s always at its lowest point at the outset of the season with trainers still putting horses through their paces,” Nichols explained. “We struggled today to get a card together for Sunday, but what we got are good horses. We have some very good horses in eight races.”
Today’s program features nine total races.
“We have nine races Friday with only a couple six-horse fields. Sunday is light with eight races and a couple of five-horse fields,” Smith said.
Sunday’s card may be short on numbers, but not on talent. Velocity Hall, a trotter co-owned by Tom Dillon of Anson and Walter Hight of Skowhegan, finished sixth in last year’s $1.5 million Hambletonian, is running in the seventh race and Georgia Pacific, an 8-year-old pacer with career purse earnings of $1.4 million owned by Bangor’s Bill Varney, is racing the fifth.