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New Harness Track Offers Opportunities
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Visionaries may not have dreamed big enough when plans began for the construction of a harness track at Mississippi State University, but now that it is operational, several upcoming events will compliment the track's training purposes.
Members of the Mississippi Trotting Association were the first to see the need for a harness training track, and a location near MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine seemed the logical choice. They approached then-Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Jim Buck Ross and the plans began for the track along with MSU's new AgriCenter.
Eric Tinsey of Terry, president of the Mississippi Trotting Association, talked to Commissioner Lester Spell when he was a candidate for Ross's post. Tinsey lobbied for increased support of trotting horses in a state where quarter horse programs were already sufficient.
"Mississippi has had a significant increase in interest in harness racing in the last five years," Tinsey said. "Unlike in states with parimutuel betting, harness racing in Mississippi is an expensive hobby, but it is something you do from the heart. The events are like huge picnics with spectators tailgating and enjoying themselves."
A harness racing event is planned at the new MSU track on May 30, Memorial Weekend. The benefit race will raise money for future trotting association competitions. Plans for harness events during a Golden Triangle Regional Fair, Aug. 25 through 28, also are underway at the AgriCenter.
"Illinois and Ohio have 40 to 60 fairs each year that have harness racing events," Tinsey said. "Mississippi has only had the Neshoba County Fair and a weekend event at Camden in Madison County."
Tinsey said most of Mississippi's harness racers are clustered in the Jackson and Starkville areas.
Local harness racers began using the MSU training track this spring in preparation for the upcoming season. In addition to the few competitions in the state, Mississippi trainers journey across the region and further north during the racing season, which lasts from about May through the middle of September.
Robert Outlaw, a trotting horse owner and trainer from Starkville, said the track enables him to evaluate each horse in a safer setting.
"Training is a long, slow process that takes about a year. Endurance is a big issue, so we work on building up the horses' muscles and lungs for competition," Outlaw said. "Only about half of the horses we work with ever make it to a race."
Webb Flowers, MSU AgriCenter manager, said the university's goal is to increase the use of the track and enable more people to enjoy the facility.
"The location and facilities are a natural for major events that utilize all we have to offer including the main AgriCenter arena, the barns and the harness track," Flowers said.