Before my first-ever turn as a local “celebrity” in the Celebrity Harness Race at The Great Frederick Fair on Wednesday, I got two pieces of advice.
Unfortunately, they conflicted.
One of my fellow celebrities passed on a tip he had received: “Keep your mouth closed.”
That made sense. We’d be sitting in a low, two-wheeled cart called a sulky, getting pulled around a dirt track for a mile by a horse going about 25 mph, kicking up dirt in our faces.
I also talked to celebrity harness veteran Ed Waters, who represented The Frederick News-Post for several years in the event. He had a few more tips. But he also said it didn’t much matter.
“It’s really up to the horse and driver,” he said. “My best advice is to get comfortable, hang on, and when they turn, lean into it. I don’t know what else you could do ... I guess you could yell at the horse.”
Yell? Or keep your mouth closed? I asked my driver, Gary Bosch.
Gary’s a pro at this. He’s been harness racing for almost 40 years. He’d be the one on the reins, while I sat there next to him on the sulky and tried not to fall off. Keeping your mouth shut’s not a bad idea, he said, but it’s pretty hard not to yell.
There were three horses in the race. My fellow local celebrities were Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith and Circuit Judge Scott Rolle; we were all first-timers.
After a warm-up lap, which seemed pretty fast to me, the horses fell in behind a gate pulled by a car. The horse pulling Gary and me was raring to go. As we approached the start, the horse seemed to be pushing against the gate, and we jumped out in front almost immediately as the horses kicked into it.
The race itself went by in a blur of churning horses with spinning fair rides in the background. Our horse held onto a narrowing lead, but Charlie’s horse came right up beside me, maybe 5 or 6 feet away. That was the best part of the race, seeing that horse up close as it pounded away.
Two turns past my family cheering on the side of the track, Charlie’s horse was putting pressure on us from the outside, and we were into the backstretch. Gary hollered our horse into action, I joined in, and we held our lead through the finish line.
I can’t say whether my expert leaning and yelling did much to help. At least I didn’t fall off. In the end, I ate a little dirt, but it was worth it, for a glorious ride on a glorious fall day at the fair.