WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP — Harness racing returned to the Crawford County Fairgrounds — but with some major changes, including one in the announcing booth.

Dylan Daugherty of Mercer is the new voice of harness racing echoing through the grandstand. He’s taken over calling the annual races from Roger Huston, a Harness Racing Hall of Fame announcer.

Huston called more 188,000 harness races at The Meadows track at Washington, Pa., in an almost-60-year career. He went into semi-retirement last year at age 77. Dylan’s age? He’s 10.

“I’ve been around it all my life,” he said matter-of-factly before the start of Thursday afternoon’s 12-race card. “It’s just something I love to do. I love horse racing.”

Dylan has called a few races at various fairs including in Crawford and Butler counties since he was 7, but under Huston’s tutelage. Thursday was his first time calling all the races on a card.

“He’s been going with me to the fairs,” said Bill Daugherty, Dylan’s grandfather and a harness racing owner and driver. “Roger took him under his wing a little bit and it’s worked out fine.”

Dylan said he has some aspiration to be a driver; he already has a harness racing horse.

“I like driving, but I like announcing more than anything probably,” he said.

His goal is to be an announcer like Huston.

“You can never know the future,” Dylan said. “I could be a sports announcer, too. I like sports commentating.”

For Dylan, the best part of announcing is being at the fairs themselves.

There is somewhat of a downside, though. “I have trouble with some of the names — like Capo Dei Capi,” he said. “That took practice to memorize some of the names.”

Dylan knows why some of the names are so difficult to pronounce.

“They’re running out of names,” he said. “Half of them are spelled different because they already have an original horse and can’t say somebody else’s name. They have to just spell it different and squish it together.”

Industry returns

The harness racing industry in Pennsylvania — both at tracks and for fairs — was shut down for about three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Racing was allowed to resume at Pennsylvania tracks in July with safety protocols in place.

It was allowed to resume at Pennsylvania’s fairs after Gov. Tom Wolf approved a waiver July 6 allowing the Department of Agriculture to reimburse local fair boards for harness races held at otherwise-canceled fairs.

Those in the industry — especially doing the fair circuit — say they’ve adapted to the changes brought about by the pandemic. The schedule became compacted when harness racing resumed in early July. Multiple safety protocols had to be put into place including keeping people onsite to 250 and having no spectators in the stands.

“One (safety measure) is no overnight stabling. Everybody’s shipping up (to the grounds) the same day,” said Lisa Dunn, race director of the Crawford County Fair. “We’re trying to put people next to the same people every fair so we’re not overexposing people to one another.”

Zan Kaiser, an owner and driver from New Oxford in southcentral Pennsylvania, said, “The racing is pretty much back to normal, but the purses got cut. They don’t have the money for the purses because of the (economic) shutdown.”

“It’s all the same, but it’s just not the same without a fair going on,” said Roger Hammer of Bedford, who has been racing for 58 years.

“It was good up until the shutdown,” Fred Uber, an owner and trainer from Sandy Lake, said of how his horses were performing prior to the shutdown for the pandemic. “Our horses (now) aren’t doing as good as they had been. It’s thrown off the rhythm.”

A case in point is Broadway Kabam, one of Uber’s horses. In its first six races, it brought home $10,500 in prize money, he said. Then came the shutdown. It only has earned $2,000 in prize money in four races since racing resumed.

Another round of no-spectator harness racing on the state fair circuit resumes this afternoon at the Crawford County Fairgrounds.

It will return to two other northwestern Pennsylvania fairgrounds in the coming weeks: at the Erie County Fairgrounds on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 at noon both days and at the Stoneboro Fairgrounds on Sept. 3 and 4 at 2 p.m. both days.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

Original source credited to: Meadville Tribune

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