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Go Explore: Pinehurst, N.C.

Showcasing Exceptional Equines

Horse lovers visiting Pinehurst Harness Track never know if they might be witnessing the workout of a future big-money winner.

A winter training center for Standardbred horses since 1915; it’s the oldest continuously operating equine sports facility in North Carolina. To hear Paula Wellwood, part owner and trainer of Marion Marauder, a Triple Crown trotter that trains here, it’s still one of the best — not only in N.C., but also in the nation.

Today, the Village of Pinehurst owns Pinehurst Harness Track, with capacity for 260 horses in its 312 stalls across several renovated barns, including feed and tack stalls. 

Track Superintendent Ray Skellington has overseen the operation the past 11 years, and at 111 acres, there’s plenty to maintain with a one-mile clay track, a half-mile sand-clay track and a five-eighths-mile sand-jog track.

Training season runs Oct. 15 until May 1, and the sight of the wild strength and sheer beauty of some of the world’s largest “domesticated” mammals running around the pristinely maintained raceway is quite the attraction. 
An added bonus for visitors is that it’s free.

The Pinehurst Matinee Harness Races have drawn record crowds the last two springs. The town’s newspaper calls it “graduation day” for the two-year-olds, “all the Standardbred youngsters in training here all winter.” 

One such graduate, Marion Marauder, became the ninth horse in history to win the Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Trotters in 2016. Paula Wellwood and husband Mike Keeling trained their horse two winters in Pinehurst before winning the $1 million Hambletonian at The Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, N.J., the first leg of the Trotting Triple Crown, followed by winning a half-million dollar purse in the Yonkers Trot and $431,000 in the Kentucky Futurity. 

In addition to training, the track hosts two dozen special events annually including polocrosse matches and dressage events showcasing the partnership of horse and rider.

Leonard Tufts, son of Pinehurst founder James Tufts, helped create the Pinehurst Jockey Club in 1916. The track was being turned into a winter training facility by the 1920s  — a proud history still drawing onlookers today.  

 (Top photo courtesy Given Tufts Archives, Pinehurst, March 1954)

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