Harness Racing Season Begins in VA with Purse Increase

Harness Racing Season Begins in VA with Purse Increase

Virginia's 2021 harness racing season at the Shenandoah Downs half-mile track in Woodstock has begun with prize money raised 50% over 2020 levels.

Horse racing fans and Virginia gamblers can return to the track this year after a 2020 season that was run without fans in attendance or wagering due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shenandoah Downs is at the historic Shenandoah County Fairgrounds, halfway between Harrisonburg and Winchester. Race fans can gather in a grandstand close to action on the track and cheer on their favorite horse.

It’s all about horse racing at Shenandoah Downs — there is no simulcasting, no casino and no grand dining room — just a good old racetrack that underwent an $800,000 renovation in 2016. Often the horse finishing last is cheered as much as the winner, according to Shenandoah's website.

The 2021 season runs from Sept. 17 to Oct. 16 with Happy Hour racing every Friday at 3:30 p.m. and Saturday racing at 1 p.m. This is the sixth season of pari-mutuel harness racing and it runs for five weeks. Horses from Virginia, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware race at the track. Parking and admission to races at Shenandoah Downs are free and family friendly. Wagering is available on every race.

The 2021 Colonial Downs thoroughbred race season recently wrapped up with records set for purse distribution and daily wagering average.

Virginia sports betting launched in January, part of a gambling expansion that includes casinos.

Must be 21+ to participate and present in VA. T&Cs apply.

Pari-Mutuel Betting

Pari-mutuel betting is the most common form of horse racing betting. Rather than placing a bet against the track, as one would with a bookie or sportsbook, horse racing bettors are wagering against each other. For this reason, the payouts on a single wager could range anywhere from less than the actual amount wagered to astronomical amounts.

Own a Horse for a Day

The Virginia Harness Horse Association had its popular “Own a Horse for a Day” promotion on Sept. 18. Eight fans were selected during the recent Shenandoah County Fair meet and each “owned” a horse in a $5,250 race. They were able to spend time with their respective horse, driver and trainer in the paddock before the race and best of all, win the amount of purse money their horse earns in the race. One lucky “owner” walked away with $2,625. Another round of “owners” was drawn at random that Saturday after the seventh race. That new group will return this weekend (Sept. 25) for their promotional experience.

Bonus Bets Expire in 7 Days. One New Customer Offer Only. Must be 21+ to participate & present in VA. Gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER. Visit BetMGM.com for Terms & Conditions. US promotional offers not available in NY, NV, or Puerto Rico.

The Purses

Purses for Breeder’s Fund races, scheduled over the first three weekends, have doubled from last year. Finals for 2- and 3-year-old horses will be run for $80,000, aged events for $20,000 and eliminations for $8,000. In addition, horses that are 100% owned by a Virginia resident will get a 50% bonus on overnight races, and drivers/trainers that are Virginia residents will get a 50% bonus on overnights. Condition sheets that reflect the updated purse levels are at shenandoahdowns.com.

State Impact

According to a study by Chmura Economics & Analytics, Virginia's horse racing and breeding industry generated an estimated economic impact of $542.1 million in the commonwealth in 2019.



Keith Stein is a Virginia-based writer for BetVirginia.com who covers sports betting and casinos.

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