The clip-clop of trotting horses echoed through the grandstand at the Topsham fairgrounds Sunday, returning a sense of normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of racers speed into the third lap of their harness race on Saturday.  Payal Gangishetti

The harness racing events over the weekend signaled the return of the annual Topsham Fair, which was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each year, the Topsham fair draws an estimated 25,000 people looking for rides, fried food, agricultural expositions, and harness race, an industry that in Maine has seen its fortunes struggle over the past 20 years.

More than 65 horses competed in 11 races Sunday.

“COVID kind of hit harness racing business, but this year has been good so far, and we are hoping to bounce back,” said Heath Campbell, who has been a harness racing driver for more than 30 years.

For Campbell, the excitement of harness racing comes from training the animal and competing in close quarters with other drivers.


Gary Mosher, a horse driver for the past 45 years, said not many people these days are attending the harness races.

“We don’t get people at the track like we used to get,” he said. “I think casinos are taking out the gamblers because they can plat a slot machine one second right after the other.”

While a large number of people were found seated on the wooden bleachers, many gathered at the harness track to experience the spectacle of highly trained horses vying to beat the clock as they trotted or paced furiously around the way.

“We like to attend these races. They are great,” said Richard Belisle, a resident of Saco. He was watching the races with his wife. “We used to race years ago. We enjoy being outdoors, and it’s a lot of fun. We have been attending the races for over 40 years now.”

For Robert Courtis of Bowdoinham, the harness race is a must-see event every year.

“The racing has evolved over the years,” he said. “I have been attending the racing events at the Topsham fairgrounds since I was a toddler. I remember my grandmother would pack lunch for the entire family, and we would come here and sit along the fence. Back then, ladies and children were not allowed to enter into the bidding area, and that’s all changed now.”

The harness racing will be held at the Topsham Fair on Aug. 9-12 and Aug. 14.

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