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Friday, September 07, 2007

Charity won this horse race, I just held on

I admit I was just along for the ride, so I can't take credit for winning the first Celebrity for Charity Harness Race at the Walworth County Fair.

With jockey Gary Magee on one side and luck on the other, we led wire to wire in the race for a $1,000 dollar purse to be donated to charity.

The winnings went to the Time is Now, a local group whose good deeds in helping our friends and neighbors in need are chronicled each Sunday in The Week.

Each racer was ultimately a winner, with amounts being paid to each of their charities.

My fellow harness racers included:

-- Sheila Reiff, Walworth County's clerk of circuit court, who raced for breast cancer awareness.

-- Reggie Michaels of WSLD radio, raced to raise money for Walworth County food pantries.

-- Dr. Deana Courier, a family practice physician, whose charity is the Agape House in Walworth.

-- David Graves, Walworth County's sheriff, whose winnings will go to the local American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

None of us knew what we had gotten ourselves into as we gathered by the side of the track early Saturday afternoon, but who'd pass up a free ride on a harness cart?

Gabe Wand, on the other hand, did have a good idea of what we had gotten ourselves into. As the president of the Wisconsin Harness Horse Association, he coordinated the event, presenting us to the grandstand crowd and setting us up with our jockeys.

My first stoke of luck was getting paired up with the horse Mamtrix, owned by Bob Mohr of Elkhorn. At least I'd be winning or losing on a local horse.

My second stroke of luck came in the form of jockey Gary Magee, a long-time horseman from Shawano.

Magee had never driven Mamtrix, so he explained that we'd have to put together our strategy in the warm-up lap before the start of the race.

If the horse turned out to be aggressive and wanted to run, we'd go for the lead from the start.

If he was tentative, we'd hold back, but not let the leader get too far out ahead. We'd hope the lead horse tired, then make our move later in the race.

The cart was a two-seater, with two sets of reigns. Magee's led to the horse. Mine were connected to nothing. It was clear that my role was to sit, be quiet and not fall out. Anything more would potentially hurt the team, and certainly wouldn't help.

After our parade lap, we began our approach to the starter car.

Magee kept up a soothing monologue of directions to the horse, making Mamtrix comfortable with his commands.

(Note to next year's racers: Keep your mouth closed. The hooves kick up plenty of gravel.)

As we approached the starter, Magee pulled back as hard as he could on the reigns. "This one wants to go," Magee said. "We're going for the lead at the start."

And that's what we did.

In a way, leading means there's not much of a view. I had no way of knowing where the other racers were.

That was until Reggie Michaels began to close in. But Magee had a plan for that too. Just like in NASCAR, you don't want a fast car drafting behind you going into the last lap.

So Magee eased off near the third post, forcing Michaels to move outside and running full into the wind.

"We'll let him come up, then take off on the final stretch."

All I had to do was sit there, be quiet and not fall out.


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