Illinois News

Harness racing tradition continues at Brown County Fair

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Aug. 6, 2018 9:50 am

MOUNT STERLING, Ill. -- April Cline makes sure to come out to the live harness racing each year at the Brown County Fair. It's a family connection.

Sitting in the grandstands Sunday in the Brown County Fairgrounds, she pointed to the sign across the horse track that commemorates the horse Tiger Bill, which was owned by her grandfather. She also spent 23 years on the fair's board.

Kline of Timewell and her family were one of the hundreds that came out for the second day of harness racing at the fairgrounds in Mount Sterling.

The Brown County Fair is the only county fair in Illinois to offer pari-mutuel betting.

Though Kline does place small bets on races, she was abstaining Sunday.

"I don't like losing money," she said with a laugh. "Usually when I bet, we break even."

Her method for selecting horses is fairly simple.

"My method to my madness is looking at who's the top money winner," Kline said. "They'll usually do pretty good."

The horses in the 11 races Sunday afternoon competed for more than $70,000, which is the largest purse for a single day in fair history.

Ed Teefey, superintendent of racing at the Brown County Fair, said racing continues to be a big draw at the fair, where many local families attend each year.

"This half-mile track was actually built in 1878, and we've had harness racing ever since," he said.

Teefey, who also serves as the track announcer, said the fair allows those who know little about horse racing to learn about it.

"They can see some of the better horses. They can talk to the trainers and walk through the barns," he said.

Though the purse helped bring in better horses and top drivers for the weekend, Teefey said the horseracing industry in Illinois continues to struggle.

"This sport is kind of thriving in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but kind of dying off in Illinois, just because of the competition from the slot machines in the bars and all that type of stuff," he said. "In Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, they tied all their gaming interest into the racetracks. Here we don't have any casino gaming at the racetracks."

A 2016 report from the Illinois Harness Horseman's Association noted that Standardbred horses in Illinois dropped from 2,409 in 2002 to 796 in 2015.

"The horse population has increased in neighboring states while ours has shrunk because of the competition from outside gaming sources without giving the racetracks more gaming opportunities," Teefey said.

Teefey said the fairgrounds has served as a training facility to many horses, but few train there anymore.

"But there's still a lot of local interest," he said.

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