WINDSOR — Barring another tropical storm like the one that postponed opening day last year, the popular Windsor Fair is scheduled to start Sunday.

Fortunately for the fair organizers and fans, the National Weather Service is predicting a mostly sunny day with a high of 77.

Attendance at the fair totaled about 120,000 last year, despite Tropical Storm Irene, which forced the cancellation of last year’s opening Sunday.

“People poured out for it on Monday and we were able to make up for what we lost during the rest of the week,” said Tom Foster, who has been fair president since 1992.

All the profit from the fair goes back into it and pays for permanent improvements at the fairgrounds on Route 32.

The fair, which ends on Labor Day, is so large that it has its own police department, fire department and ambulance service, “the whole shebang,” Foster said.

He said the committee has tried to keep admission prices down for the nine-day fair, which features a full slate of harness racing and a new pick five betting option at the track.

“We try to make our fair affordable for the family,” he said, with free admission for those under 16, and free parking.

Fairgoers over 60 get discounts on a couple of days on the usual adult fare, which is between $7 and $9, depending on the day.

Foster and others on the committee have spent a lot of time preparing for this year’s fair, and there’s a new barn for draft horses and another for sheep and goats.

“It’s a summer of getting ready for this whole thing,” Foster said Wednesday. “This week we’re in the process of doing last minute touchups and details. Some people are already moving in to set up booths.”

Commercial exhibitors generally arrive first; people exhibiting animals at the fair won’t arrive much before Saturday.

When the public turns up, they’ll find hanging baskets of flowers and other homey touches.

“We try to make it a pleasant experience to go to the fair,” Foster said. Rockwell Amusements, of North Scituate, R.I., is providing the midway, as usual.

Woodsmen’s Day is Monday; Children’s Day will be Sept. 2. The daily schedule of events is posted at www.windsorfair.com.

Bill McFarland, Windsor Fair race director, is initiating a $2 pick five bet to help attract people to the track. The buyer picks five winning horses in races 5 through 9.

“What I’m hearing is a lot of the people are going away from harness racing as far as betting because there are a lot more legal opportunities out there today,” he said. Previously, players in Maine had to be content with betting on horses and playing beano or bingo, he said. “Everybody swarms when the payments get bigger,” McFarland said. “We partnered with the Maine Harness Racing Promotion Board, and we are going to guarantee an initial minimum $4,000 pool for the pick five. It will carry forward every day if nobody wins. Hopefully it will build beyond $4,000.”

One of McFarland’s previous brainstorms has proven successful over the years.

In 2005, after several years of being faced with the job of cleaning up the losing tickets littering the grounds, he started the Lucky Losers drawing, in which people put their name on losing betting tickets and drop them in a box. “It was amazing how well it worked,” he said. Today, it’s the Lucky Winners drawing.

Initially prizes were $25 every few races; today, winners get a jacket with a Windsor Fair logo, which is valued premium, according to McFarland.

As he awaits the busy start of the fair, McFarland is surrounded by an estimated 125 race horses.

“We currently have the most horses stabled at Windsor in preparation for Sunday than I’ve had in four years,” McFarland said. Many of those horses travel by truck to the other agricultural fairs that host harness racing.

This week, they’re running at the Union Fair, which ends a day before Windsor opens.

 

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