Running Aces harness racing season opens May 20

A driver warms up his horse on the Running Aces track on May 9.

The excitement of harness racing returns to Running Aces this summer.

The Columbus venue, now entering its 10th season of racing, opened its stables a little over a week ago, and trainers, drivers and horses have been arriving from all over the continent. Drivers could be seen putting the horses through their paces on the track last week in
preparation for a long summer of chasing prizes.

“We’ve got teams from California, Iowa, Illinois, Florida, Canada and a handful from Minnesota,” said Aaron Bedessem, marketing director at Running Aces.

The Running Aces season offers three days of racing per week, with eight to ten races each night. The action commences at 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and at 7 p.m. Tuesdays. As Independence Day falls on a Tuesday, a 5 p.m. start on Monday July 3 will replace the Tuesday date that week. The average purse per race will reach up to $7,000.

Parking and admission to the track is free. Spectators can place their bets if they want, but Bedessem stresses that there is bound to be plenty of fun for the non-bettor as well.

“You can’t beat the value of spending a beautiful night at the races,” Bedessem said. “We’re great for families. We’re a perfect place for a first date, a company outing, a class reunion. There’s something for everybody to do and see.”

Tuesdays will be Dollar Night, with hot dogs, chips, sodas, programs, bets, and pole rental at the venue’s trout pond all reduced to $1. Saturdays will be Keep It Local Night, with local beers, wines and cocktails available for $4. Local musicians will provide entertainment after the racing is complete. Sundays will be Family Night, with face painting and coloring contests, and free pole rental at the trout pond for children.

Running Aces will hold harness races on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer.

Harness races are run at a trot or pace by standardbred horses pulling a driver on a two-wheeled cart called a sulky. The race begins with a moving start: An official’s car drives in front of the horses at the desired speed, holding the horses back with gates that extend out from the side of the car like wings. When the car and horses reach the starting line, the gates swing in toward the sides of the car, releasing the horses to begin their trip around the track.

Besides these obvious differences between jockey and harness racing, another is the lifestyle of the horses. Harness horses, being more solidly built than thoroughbreds, can be used as work or pleasure horses outside of their racing careers. A horse that retires from harness racing through injury or age often becomes a riding horse.

“One of the great things about harness racing is that the horses have normal lives after they’re finished with racing,” Bedessem said.
The first races of the 2017 season will kick off Saturday, May 20, at 6 p.m.