SKOWHEGAN — Despite the closure of some tracks around the state, harness racing returned to the Skowhegan fairgrounds in a big way on Sunday, drawing hundreds of bettors and spectators to the grandstand.

Harness racing has a long history in Maine, and has been an annual feature of the Skowhegan State Fair since the late 1880s, according to the fair’s website.

But today, some of the fairs and commercial tracks around the state that have historically hosted harness racing are shuttering their operations. The Oxford County Fair eliminated the races in 2017. The track at Scarborough Downs ended racing in 2020, and The Northern Maine Fair in Presque Isle followed suit in 2022. Union Fair was the latest to shut down the sport, announcing the decision earlier this year.

Most closures were due to financial hardships, officials operating those tracks and fairs have said. Despite this trend, and some recent controversy over rule violations and horse abuse allegations, harness racing was hotly anticipated in Skowhegan this year.

Around a dozen races took place Sunday, kicking off six days of harness racing events, and hundreds came out to watch or make their wagers.

“We came down here all the way from Minnesota,” said spectator Brenda Cowles, who was visiting the fair for the first time with friends.


Cowles said she’s in town visiting family, but was excited to stop by the fairgrounds to watch harness racing in Maine. Though Cowles has seen a similar event in Minnesota, those horses pull sleds, not wheeled carts.

But for many Mainers, harness racing is not a spectacle but a long-standing tradition watched year after year.

“I’ve just been coming here my whole life,” said Portland native Susan Bragdon on Sunday. “My father started going to the races in Bangor as a child with his grandparents.”

Bragdon and her family were celebrating her father’s 85th birthday at the races — Ed Fowler loves to return to the races each year and bets on the horses, his family said.

“It has been a lifelong thing for him,” Bragdon said.

Harness racing is one of many events that draw huge crowds to the Skowhegan State Fair each year. The fair is the country’s longest-operating agricultural fair and, for 205 years now, has taken place without interruption through world wars and even the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, according to the fair website.


This year’s fair is already well underway. It began on Thursday and will continue through to next weekend, ending Saturday, Aug. 19.

Thousands are expected to come to the fairgrounds over the course of the 10-day fair. Major draws include the demolition derbies, antique tractor and truck pulls and livestock shows — which were all well-attended this weekend.

Beyond that, many people at the fair Sunday said they came out for the great fair food, the fun rides, the games and exhibits.

For a full schedule of the week’s events, head to

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