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October 4, 2012

Off and racing

Local teen takes on new challenge

The winner’s circle is not an unfamiliar place to one local teen.

Ashley Eldred of Burlington Flats has been there plenty of times. She grew up with family members who own Standardbred horses and has worked as a groom paddocking other people’s horses at harness racetracks. However, her goal is to get there as a under saddle rider.

The 19-year-old has just two races under her belt, and already came close. She placed second on a 5-year-old mare named First Tail U See at Vernon Downs in early September. Her first race was at Tioga Downs where she did not catch the starting gate and finished last. Her goal, she said, was to just finish the race and get experience.

According to Ellen Harvey, executive director of Harness Racing Communications, an arm of the United States Trotting Association, Racing Under Saddle (RUS) is a “hybrid” type of horse racing – combining elements of Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing. She said with riders and a saddle, not drivers and a sulky, RUS is not exactly new, though most racing fans in the Northeast have never seen such a race. In fact, she said, Standardbreds have been racing under saddle since the early 1800s, and “monte” racing, as it is called in Europe, is common.

It is something the USTA is promoting at harness tracks across the country.

“We are pretty excited about it and we will see where it goes,” Harvey said.

There is no betting on RUS in the United States so there is really no way to measure the sport’s popularity, according to Harvey. However, she said she does feel it is getting people’s attention and allows a group of people in the Standardbred racing industry to become involved in a way that they would not have otherwise been able to.

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