SIDNEY — Halee Cummings’ father said this year’s barrel race event honoring his daughter was even more emotional than last year. And he said his daughter would’ve been even harder on his performance in the arena.

“I would’ve caught hell for that one, that’s for sure,” Hardy Cummings said.

Cummings nearly fell off his horse, Cactus, near the second barrel during the final day of the Halee Lyn Cummings Memorial Barrel Race at the Silver Spur Riding Club in Sidney. Halee, 18, died in September 2015 in an all-terrain vehicle crash that left her family crushed. Her mother said she’s still in denial.

“I don’t have any emotion because I just ignore the whole thing,” Jami Paquette said. “We’ve done so much that we haven’t had a lot of time to think about (it). But everybody keeps telling me I ought to get therapy for this.”

The start was delayed by an hour because heavy rains late Saturday required extra maintenance work on the arena floor Sunday morning. When it was time to go, riders were led out of the holding area during the opening ceremony by Cummings, carrying a special flag honoring his daughter. He was accompanied by Harmony Renaud, a close friend of Halee’s, carrying an American flag.

Cummings said the opening ceremony and carrying Halee’s flag is always the hardest part of the whole thing.

“To carry that flag and see everybody out there supporting her, it’s tough,” he said.

There were almost 150 riders and about 75 campers, which doubled and tripled last year’s numbers, respectively. Paquette said they had $8,500 in prize money this year — up $2,000 from last year — and hope to have $10,000 for next year’s event. This year, the three-day event included a pig roast Friday, racing and live music Saturday and a final day of racing under blazing sunny skies Sunday, all for prizes including cash and belt buckles.

But everyone was there for Halee.

Hardy Cummings said the event has grown so much since last year that it’s tougher to handle because he’s able to see how many people Halee touched in such a short amount of time.

“It’s an overwhelming feeling, honestly,” Cummings said. “We’re just trying to keep her legacy going.”

Cummings crossed the finish line with an unofficial time of 24.814, but he didn’t receive a score because he nearly was thrown from the horse and had to veer off course to stay aboard. He said he’s only had the sleek, brown horse for about three weeks, and he didn’t pull the reigns at the right time, something Halee would’ve criticized him for immediately.

Paquette, the event’s main organizer, fared better than she did last year when she didn’t receive a time because she knocked over one of the three barrels. On Sunday, she crossed the line in 16.728 seconds and was smiling the whole time, as it was predicted by the event’s announcer.

“This is the kind of event (Halee and I) talked about having if we were ever going to have a show. We have people coming from out of the woodwork to support us and remember Halee.”

Indeed, there were more than 110 entries scheduled for Sunday, including Halee’s two grandfathers and riders from Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut. Halee had a passion for horse racing, her father said, and she traveled across the East Coast to compete.

Nick Gagne, Halee’s then-boyfriend, greatly improved his barrel racing skill since his first crack at the sport last year. He had a Top-20 time on Saturday, qualifying him for the day’s Shootout, and said the memories of Halee will always be there.

“I’ve got a young mare that’s coming along, but I’m feeling pretty comfortable on the horse now,” said Gagne, 24, before the event began. “Every day I wake up and still think about it (and Halee).”

Halee graduated a year early from Messalonskee High School in 2014 and was enrolled at the University of Maine at Augusta. She was in her sophomore year, and though she hadn’t declared a major, she was thinking about entering the nursing program.

Alexander J. Biddle was charged with manslaughter in October in connection with the crash that killed 18-year-old Halee Cummings in September 2015. The accident occurred not far from her home off Middle Road.

Her father said Biddle had a procedural hearing last week, which made it even tougher because the family was busy preparing for Halee’s memorial event. He said there will be an open wound until the case is settled.

“It was hard to deal with the week before this event,” Hardy Cummings said. “We were trying to focus all our energy on this, and the hearing kind of through us off a little bit.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

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