Generations of families enjoyed harness racing in Presque Isle.

Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 9:39 AM EDT
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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (WAGM) - Harness racing will no longer be part of the Northern Maine Fair. Officials have announced that they will be removing turns 1 and 2 and leveling that part of the track. Fair Board President Lynwood Winslow said they did everything they could to keep harness racing at the fair, but with the reduction from a nine day to a four day fair and the cost of operating a race meet made it not feasible to continue with racing. The removal of turns one and two will improve the safety of motor sports events and easier to control spectators and an opportunity to grow the agriculture displays with exhibits and food. Harness racing in the Star City has a very rich heritage that has been passed down from generation to generation.

The barns are empty quite a difference from years gone by when there were dozens of horses stabled at the track. Harness racing’s history in the County goes back 150 years and there have been generations of families involved in the sport, both as a hobby and as a business. Mike Cushing is the President of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association and has seen other historic tracks around the country go dark and end racing. He said this is a sad time for him and other horsemen who have spent time in Presque Isle.

(Mike Cushing):”So many outstanding horses and horsemen and families and generations of horsemen have come out of Aroostook County and Presque Isle. Churchills, Irelands, Duncans, Murchisons, Governor Reed. The history of harness racing in Aroostook runs very deep and this one is personal.”

They say that racing gets in your blood and for many families it was passed from generation to generation. Kim Ireland is a third-generation horseman (Kim Ireland):” Dad’s father I don’t know if you remember Vernon Ireland. He had horses and had a trotter who set the track record up there. Lightning Pick and that was back in 1966.” So many of the horsemen shared the same story of going to the races with family and friends and falling in love with the sport.

Ireland:” I started going to the barn with Dad when I was five years old. I had a big love of the horses.”

(Dirk Duncan):” I remember back in the days when I was five or six years old my grandfather would take me to the races. It’s been a great history over the years. I understand times change and it is going to be sad to see it go.”

(Neal Grass):” We had relatives that raced and we always enjoyed going to the races. It was fun.”

(McGwire Sowers):” That is where they came and the family got together. Presque Isle was always the start of the summer.”

Bo Sowers grew up in New Brunswick,but spent a lot of time in Presque Isle and the track has a special meaning to him.

(Bo Sowers):” My very first drive was at Presque Isle. It happened to be a win which was all so good. I got my start there it wasn’t New Brunswick.”

While the Northern Maine Fair hosted six days of racing a year. In the past there were extended meets held at the track. the most recent in the 80′s 90′s when the County raceway held two nights of racing a week throughout the summer.

Duncan:” Mid 80′s when I drove my first horse at the Northern Maine Fair. Ray Ireland gave me my first drive.The first one didn’t go so well, but I did win my next race.” Kim Ireland’s father Ray trained several horses who had success from Maine to Kentucky. The Irelands horses held several track records around the state and Kim was involved in many memorable races including this one with Fred and Barney back in 1997.

Ireland:” Set some track records with Mr Nice Guy. He had the track record of 1:55. Fred and Barney had a couple of close calls to break the track record. Ce Cedille beat me by a head and then Valiant Towner one year. Pine Magic set the track record on the trot.”

It’s a sad day for everyone involved in the sport and everyone who enjoyed an afternoon at the races on a hot summer day. Grass:” Take the fence down and bulldoze the ends of the track. That is permanent. There was always a little glimmer of hope that they might eventually come back and have racing again, but......

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