Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Harness Racing Returns to Oktibbeha County

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Visitors to the Mississippi Horse Park will witness the most exciting minutes in sports as harness horses return to race around the renovated track in the first sanctioned events since 2006.

Bricklee Miller, manager of the Mississippi State University Extension Service facility, said the races will begin around 2 p.m. on May 22. Admission is $5 per person, and concessions will be available. Bleachers will overlook the track, but she recommended lawn chairs and binoculars. Miller said harness racing has a long history in the state.

“Harness racing is a popular attraction every summer at the Neshoba County Fair, and many competitors live in or near Oktibbeha County,” Miller said. “We want to promote and preserve all aspects of the equine industry in our state, and harness racing has been a big part of it. Spectators love the racing atmosphere and appreciate the athleticism of the horses and drivers on race days.”

The U.S. Trotting Association is sanctioning the races.

“The USTA guidelines will be followed to ensure the safety and quality of the event,” Miller said. “Starting gates, judges, photo finishes and an official clerk will provide the results to the association.”

The track, which opened in 1999, was designed for training and competitive purposes to support the harness racing industry. The track hosted races the first few years, but events tapered off over time. In 2007, MSU conducted a significant upgrade by flattening the infield to improve visibility.

Eric Tinsey, president of the Mississippi Trotting Horse Association, said competitors are thrilled to have sanctioned races in another part of the state. In addition to Neshoba County, Mississippi racers have home tracks at Cooper Downs in Terry and Madison County Amusement Park in Camden.

“In recent years, Mississippi is the fastest-growing state for harness racing. We have a lot of young competitors, and the numbers of spectators are expanding, too,” Tinsey said. “Races provide a great family atmosphere and are also very exciting.”

Tinsey said while many Triple Crown fans have enjoyed watching horse races on television, seeing races in person is even more exciting.

“We have everything we need right here in Mississippi, and you don’t have to travel to see some great horses and races in traditional harness racing states, such as Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana,” he said.

Tinsey explained that several races will take place throughout each hour for about four hours that afternoon. Each race is 1 mile in length.

The Mississippi Horse Park is located at 869 East Poor House Road, south of Starkville. For more information on the facility, visit