MOUNT VERNON — As little as $2 can make for a very exciting 2 1/2 minutes at the Knox County Fair.
That’s how much it takes to place a bet on the harness racing, which is held at the grandstand several times during the week. Monday there were 11 races with each one taking just over two minutes.
“It’s fun, but you’re probably not going to get rich,” said Ed Stewart, who made the two-plus hour trip from his home in Beverly to bet on the horses Monday.
Stewart was one of a good sized crowd of people who were throwing down their $2 bets on horses to win (first place), place (second) or show (third). Stewart was there Monday to bet on Miss Bakin Eh, a horse in the third race that he co-owns with Eric Nesselroad. He’s been playing the ponies most of his life, but really started following the county fair circuit five years ago after investing in some horses.
“I’ve always liked to watch the races, but it’s more fun if you’ve got a horse in it — something to root for,” Stewart said.
Stewart and all the others in attendance placed their bets on the 11 races Monday with the central Ohio company Pari-Mutuels.
The Poorman family run the betting windows where people can place their bets on the top three horses, or even pick the top two, three or four horses in a race. Odds are set on each horse to win the race, and by picking the right one, you can even make a little money. Picking a horse with 5 to 1 odds who ends up winning will net you $10 on a $2 bet, but one with 1 to 5 odds only nets you 40 cents.
Monday’s races weren’t going for high dollars, though, as the favorites seemed to win most of the races. When that happens, the way to make more money is to be able to pick two, three or four horses in a row, said Dan Poorman of Pari-Mutuels.
Bettors can choose the Exacta by picking the top two horses in a row, or go with a Quinella, which is the top two horses, but in any order.
Poorman said the Trifecta is the first three horses in exact order, or they even offer a $1 Superfecta where you have to pick the first four horses in exact order.
“It gets a little tougher to get them in order, but it pays more,” Poorman said.
The Poorman family and crew have been taking care of the betting at county race tracks around Ohio for 38 years. Mills Poorman got things going back then, and now his sons, Dan and Eric, have taken over the business.
Dan Poorman said they handle 61 fairs each summer, with 119 sessions overall. Some days there are up to three fairs holding racing at the same time, so they split the team up.
Poorman said harness racing was a dying breed a few years ago, but casino money at racetracks like Scioto Downs and Northfield Park have reinvigorated things a bit. But, it still struggles as the majority of its bettors are getting older.
One thing Poorman likes about harness race betting over casinos, though, is the time factor. With races only being held every 15 minutes, it’s a much more relaxed atmosphere than in casinos where you pull a lever every few seconds.
Harness racing is also much more of a family event at the county fairs, as several generations will sit and watch the races together.
“What we do here is a little like it’s own community. We’ve seen the same people sitting here (just outside the betting window) for the last four years. It’s a social thing,” he said.
Harness racing will be held again tonight at 6 p.m. at the grandstand.