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Race horses train in Roberts Park

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On a cold, snowy day Monday, Ray Allen trains one of the horses he and wife own and keep in a barn near the Roberts Park track.
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Rick Buck shows off Ghost Rider, a 2-year-old Standardbred currently housed for training in the Fayette County Free Fair horse barn.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

Daily horse activity has returned to Roberts Park.

Alice and Ray Allen have moved 19 horses to one of the Roberts Park horse barns and to the new barn south of the track constructed by the Fayette County Free Fair Association. 

Ray has been on the track taking each horse for daily exercise, even on cold April days with snow in the air, getting in about 49 miles a day, he said. They start in the early morning. 

They’re training to get the horses ready for the harness season at Hoosier Park, at Anderson, and tracks in Ohio.

Alice Allen sat on her first jog cart at age 3 and has been looking at horses for 54 years. Ray does the racing.

Coming to Connersville returns Alice to her home area, as she was born in Dayton, Ohio, and raised in New Carlisle, Ohio.

“When my father got sick and ended up passing away, we moved to the city and ended up skipping two grades,” she said. “My father left a deposit on a house, a broke-down race horse and a child. My dad raised the girl and raced the horse, and the horse fed five kids.”

Her brother lives in Eaton, Ohio, Alice said.

The couple has seven other horses in Grabill, near Fort Wayne, and some of their mares are back on the farm in New York.

Ted McQuinley, the Free Fair Association president, contrasted local conditions with what he’s seen of the couple’s New York operation. “The day she called me in October, they had 140 horses on their place. Ray showed me pictures on his phone of the place they came from; it’s just a completely different world.”

Alice tells people in New York that Indiana is a good place for horse breeders. She does speaking engagements in the Albany, New York, area, and tells them the Midwest will supersede New York again in horse racing. Ohio and Indiana breed more mares than New York, but the purses are better there, she said.

“I sent a stallion to the state of Indiana to stand stud, in upstate Indiana,” she said. “I bred a lot of mares so I have a lot of Indiana breds so it was kinda like the best of both worlds. Twelve miles, 14 miles from the Ohio border for my brother but still be in Indiana for the Indiana breeders awards.”

For “The working class horseman, who really has their heart in the business, the Midwest is a whole lot better,” Allen said.

The Fair Association completed the horse barn in 2013. Issues with permits and being in a flood plain kept it empty. Once those issues were resolved, the Fair Association began seeking owners wanting to train at the nearby track and house the horses in the barn.

The New York couple learned about the local barn and track through an advertisement in a Standardbred harness magazine ad placed by the Free Fair Association.

“It’s almost unbelievable what I’ve seen since they have been here,” McQuinley said. “We have people in this town that don’t get half the care these horses do. No one will realize the economic impact they have.”

Two of the biggest hay producers in the area have sold to the Allens, McQuinley said. 

When the horses first arrived and began training, people who brought their dogs to the park, the dogs often would be let loose and would chase Ray on the track, she said.

She asks that people in the park keep dogs on leashes and away from the track while they are practicing. People are welcome to come to the barns and see the horses and see the babies when they are born.

“I have three horses in there that are going to have babies and they are 18 days overdue,” Allen said Monday. “People can name them. When I came here with the stallion, I named all his babies after fallen soldiers. The families could get a free meal at the track because people forget what matters. I lived in New York on Sept. 11. There were blocks of firemen who did not come home.”

The last group of babies had been New York bred, so each had the name of a fallen soldier from that state, she said. The current group is all Indiana bred, so they will be named after fallen soldiers from the area. For many years, Standard breds carried soldiers to their graves in Arlington National Cemetery, she recalled.

The cost to feed and bed each horse is $10 a day, Ray said. Additional costs include veterinarian services and blacksmithing.

During the recent flooding, water reached the city barns in the park but did not come close to the fair’s new barn, McQuinley said.