Tioga Downs rises from the ashes on opening day

NICHOLLS, N.Y. (WETM) – The 2024 racing season at Tioga Downs is set to be off and running on May 4 and for many horsemen; it’s a triumphant return to the races.

“It’s not bittersweet, it’s like rising from the ashes,” said Trainer Randy Taft.

On November 9, 2023, 30 horses were killed in a fire at Tioga Downs. Horsemen here are grateful for the community’s support and looking for a fresh start, putting those bad memories behind them.

“It was a terrible thing that happened, but the way that the community came together and not only the horsemen’s community; but people in general that read about it. We collected over $800,000 in donations, which were dispersed to the five trainers involved and their owners as well as some equipment. So, it’s not bittersweet. It’s really triumphant I think. It’s amazing,” said Taft.

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“I try to put that behind me. It was one of those things that was very unfortunate. It was a great loss for everybody involved and tomorrow we hope is kind of a new beginning. I’m really enthusiastic, I haven’t raced all winter. So, for me it’s opening day too,” said Trainer Jim McDonald.

“It’s kind of like the first day of school, everybody’s just excited. There’s new people. There’s a lot of our old friends just reconverge on the area and it’s just a very exciting time,” said Taft.

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The trainers 18 News spoke with have a few horses running on opening day and hope to get the new meeting off on the right foot.

“I have three racing on opening day. Three girls and three boys on the second day. We’re excited, you’re always hopeful. I’m an optimist, I think I can win every race and then I’m disappointed. We’re looking forward to it,” said Taft.

“I have one in the first, I believe I’m back in the sixth and I think I’m back again in the 12th. All three of them have a chance I believe. But, then I’m supposed to believe that,” said McDonald.

The track has more than just racing planned.

“We’re giving away free t-shirts to the first 200 guests. We have a free magnet calendar giveaway, we play games between the races. There’s a Kentucky Derby hat contest that starts at 2 p.m. Sign up at the player’s club. We’ll announce the winner of that around 4:30 p.m. So, plenty of stuff going on besides the great racing action,” said Regional Director of Racing Andrew ‘Shades’ Demsky.

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For more information on harness racing and events at Tioga Downs, click here.

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