Horses harness the fascination of fairgoers during Grandstand races


By Kayla Barlow, TheStatehouseFile

A herd of fairgoers gathered at the Hoosier Lottery Grandstand on Friday to watch what was sure to be a treat for horse lovers—a harness racing competition. 

Majestic steeds galloped swiftly around the Governor’s Cup Grand Circuit. The drivers of the horses, who ride along in wheeled carts, waved at spectators as they passed by, the lush manes of the horses flowing in the wind. 

“This is the best day ever!” exclaimed two excited children, taking in the equine spectacle. 

It was just as great a day for Roger Welch’s stable. 

The Beecher, Illinois, native brought two horses to the fair this year: TellMeItMatters and Teelatini, and both of the 2-year-old standardbred pacers won their heats.

Welch, the horses’ trainer, a seasoned horseman who has raced at the Indiana State Fair and in other Midwestern states for 25 years, said this win was especially significant—this year was the first year racing for both horses.

Their accomplishments didn’t end there. 

“Teelatini is the fastest 2-year-old Philly pacer ever in the state of Indiana,” Welch told shortly after the race was over. 

Teelatini’s record-setting time was 1:51.2, and TellMeItMatter’s time was two seconds faster at 1.52.00. The two winning times of heats 10 and 4 (respectively) earned both horses first place. After winning, each horse was draped in a royal blue cloth bordered with gold fabric, inscribed with gold words that read “Indiana State Fair Horseman.”

But do the horses know when they’ve won? 

“Absolutely,” said Welch. “They’re just like your children, you know … They get that glow in their eyes. They know. They hang their head out more, they’ll be a little bit cockier.”

To earn that win, though, the horses have to train hard. 

“A lot of repeated exercise, … six days a week,” said Welch. 

“We’ll jog them clockwise, … then go the opposite direction, which is the racing direction … then we’ll go fast with them. We carry a stopwatch, and we’ll split it up into quarters, sometimes eighths … to work on their lung capacity.” 

While the path to victory isn’t a cakewalk, it’s still one filled with sweets. 

“They get special treats every day. They get apple candies, peppermint candies, you know, that kind of stuff.” 

Like the candies, Welch noted that the horses are sweet too, demeanor-wise. 

“They’re gentle giants … They respect people, and they’re very loving horses,” Welch said.  

While Welch walked away with two victories, he thinks the audience leaves the races with something, too. 

“I hope that [the audience] finds [the races] really interesting and come back again to watch the horse races and maybe down the line want to invest in and own a horse,” Welch said.  

“To come to the races … is nice, but to come to the races and one of your horses racing? There’s nothing better than that.

“Well, there is one thing that’s better than that. That’s when that horse wins.”