Harness Racing Tradition Continues at Williamson County Fair

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By Nick Hausen

MARION --  Harness racing has been a staple at county fairs in Illinois for more than 150 years. It was featured at the first Williamson County Fair in 1857 and continues to this day.

"Harness racing, you have the track firm surface," said Williamson County Fair speed superintendent Thomas Throgmorton. "So the pacers, or trotters, don't have to dig in and can hold their feet much easier."

Some of that popularity has waned due to smaller purses in recent years. Throgmorton has seen Illinois' harness racing numbers dwindle and racers look elsewhere for bigger purses.

"The breeders aren't breeding the number of horses," explained Throgmorton. "Twenty five years ago, when I first got into it, we'd have as many as 25,000 colts a year. Now they'll have about five or six thousand."

The smaller payouts haven't stopped driver Tom Tetrick. The Fairfield native comes from a very successful harness racing family.

"When you fall in behind a gate, it's a big adrenaline rush," said Tetrick. "When you've got one you raised and broke and went with all winter, and he wins, it's a special thing."

Tetrick's two brother's, Tim and Trace, have had tremendous success nationally. Monday, Tom continued the family's success winning three of the four races featured.

"It's amazing," exclaimed Tetrick. "It's hard enough to win one, and to win three out of four in one day, that's a big accomplishment."

There's another day of harness racing beginning at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Williamson County Fairgrounds. Admission is free. The carnival midway opens at 5 p.m., and Ronnie McDowell performs at the grandstand at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

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