The word is out on a local 80-foot-wide, half-mile all seasons, all-weather, regulation track in Wyoming County as the Silver Springs Ranch near Beaumont hosted a two-day fair featuring Pa. Sire Stakes Races.
Thursday and Friday night’s socially distant crowd lined the straightaway under tents, while other spectators watched from an overlook point and picnic area as some of the best harness racers in the state competed for purses on a clear, crisp night.
Ken Churchill and Ron Walsh purchased the Ranch three years ago with the vision of providing a top-class facility, and they have come a long way in that time.
“This used to be a track, a long, long time ago,” explained Churchill. “But in the last 20 years or so, it became overrun and had some large trees. We bought it, originally, as a water source, but saw the potential in the track.”
In its second year of competitive racing, Silver Springs hosts 64 stalls in the first barn, and has the ability to house up to 144 horses.
According to the website, it took over a quarter million dollars in track footing material alone, and Churchill said, “We had to get it right and make it right for our best clients, the horses.”
With most fairs and events cancelled this summer, Churchill and Walsh saw their outdoor venue as an opportunity to get the racers and fans excited.
“We didn’t have to cancel because we are outside, and we have all this beautiful land to spread out on,” said Churchill.
In fact, the Kunkle Fire Department served as greeters to the ranch, taking temperatures and handing out masks, if needed, to all who entered the property, something Churchill and Walsh were proud of.
“We aren’t taking any chances with the regulations,” said Walsh.
Sire Stakes are state-sponsored races in which the state largely underwrites the purses.
Churchill and Walsh are still building their brand, adding such things as a Harvestfest, a drive-in movie screen, offering to host large scale events, and are considering implementing a straight strip along Buckwheat Hollow.
On this track, the horses would be able to race a straightaway on the first stretch and follow up with an incline on the way back up.
Four years ago, the two partners came up with ideas of what they wanted Silver Springs to be.
Walsh had worked at the property for about 20 years transporting water from the facility, and he saw it fall into disrepair in the final few years of the previous owners. He said they have put immense amounts of time and money into this endeavor, and have put all the right people in the right places to get where they are today.
“I always thought about what I could do with this place if I got a hold of it, it really is a helluva place,” recalled Walsh. “Then when I met Ken through a banker friend of ours, things took off. It really was a perfect storm.”
Thursday night’s races featured 2-year-olds in 12 races, and Friday had 3-year-olds compete in 13 races.
The first race on Thursday had six colts and geldings racing for a $7,950 purse.
Roger Hammer has been racing since he was 16, showing off his 58 years of experience. Riding Rowdy Ryder out of Bedford, he took home the first race winnings.
“This is my second year here and it is a real good track,” said Hammer after he also won the third race of the evening atop Swing Batter Swing. “The people here are just so nice, it is a good barn, a good track, and they are really helpful.”
Todd Schadel, of Spring Glenn, raced in the first two races on Thursday. He placed fourth riding Shakealeg Hanover in the first race and second on Seriously Yankee in the second.
Schadel has been racing for 32 years and follows the fair circuit. He has always had horses, and figured he could make a living out of it.
“I always enjoyed breaking the babies, and seeing them develop,” he said. “This really is a beautiful place, and I will certainly be back.”
The PA Sire Stakes Races continued Friday night, with the gates opening at noon and racing beginning at 4 p.m. There were food truck vendors from Uncle Buck’s BBQ and Kunkle Fire Department. Susquehanna Brewery was scheduled to attend, but with the latest regulations regarding alcohol, was not on the grounds Thursday night.
“There really is nothing else like this around,” Walsh proudly boasted.