By Greg Gulas
The Canfield Harness Horsemen’s Association will get this year’s racing season under way when it hosts its annual matinee session Sunday at the Canfield Fairgrounds.
Gates will open at 9 a.m. and admission is free.
Post time is set for 10 a.m. with eight races on tap for the special harness event, which is expected to attract both local horses and a grouping from Pennsylvania stables.
“It’s a kickoff to the Canfield Fair for our group as we assist the Fair Board with pairings and races during Labor Day weekend,” CHHA president Jim Criss said. “The event serves as practice for young horses as they get ready for Northfield, the Meadows in Pittsburgh and various county fairs this summer in the tri-state area.”
The non-wagering event is two-fold in purpose, the first of which affords young horses the opportunity to race in an exercise/training mile that is their very first experience in leaving from the starting gate.
Secondly, the public gets a chance to see how horses prepare for a race with families afforded the rare opportunity to view close-up the horses, drivers and sulkies — the wheeled vehicles or common bond between horse and driver.
CHHA, founded 30 years ago, is one of the largest horsemen’s groups in the state with over 100 active members. Criss, who has been in the horse business since 1970, has been a member for two decades and has served as president since 2007.
As a trainer, he enjoyed matinee success with a filly named Gadjet; a horse that would go on to post over $100,000 in career earnings.
“We matinee’d Gadjet and you could just tell that she was a very special horse. She was owned by club members Dominic and Jeannie Staffrey, who were instrumental in starting the club,” Criss said. “Dominic trained horses all of his life, but is now in his 90s. When it became too much for him, I took over as her trainer. As a 3-year old she won the 2009 Ohio Sire Stakes and with the money that she earned, I’d say she has had a pretty successful career.”
In addition to horses, drivers have also enjoyed success after matinee showings.
“[Veteran Ohio trainer-driver] Bill Popio is one driver that comes to mind who has enjoyed success so we’d like to think that in some small way we played a part in their development,” Criss said.
The 167th Canfield Fair will run Aug. 28-Sept. 2, with harness racing slated for Aug. 31 and Sept. 2 beginning at 12:30 p.m. Wagering will take place both days.
“We’d like everyone who will be attending the fair to come out and visit us and see the sulkies race. It’s an absolute fun time for everyone,” Criss said.
For more information, call 330-550-1228.