Hawkinsville, GA--A few more days like Saturday (April 17), and maybe Jerry Murkerson will be tempted to leave his regular job.
|Photos by the author|
|Jerry Murkerson, who is the Hawkinsville city manager, returns to the winner's circle after winning his second race of the day.|
Murkerson is best known here as Hawkinsville’s city manager. Today, though, he was a two-time winner during the 37th annual Hawkinsville Harness Festival at the Lawrence Bennett Harness Horse Training Facility. The festival is presented by the city and the Hawkinsville-Pulaski Chamber of Commerce.
The training center, which is owned by the city and leased to Mac and Ann Lilley, is the winter home to more than 250 harness racing horses. The festival features qualifying and matinee races.
Murkerson has been driving on weekends for the past several years and his wins in two qualifiers on Saturday were the first victories of his career. He drove pacer Firms Randsome, trained by Dan Ater, to a 1:59.2 triumph and followed it in the next race with a 2:05.2 win behind trotter Credit Marker, trained by Ivan Davies.
|Jerry Murkerson guides Firms Randsome (3) to a narrow win over One Hot Yankee and Tach Hanover in 1:59.2. It was the first qualifying lifetime win for Murkerson.|
“I had a lot of fun,” said a grinning Murkerson, who only competed in those two races and spent the remainder of the afternoon mingling with the crowd of several thousand spectators. “I had two good horses and won my first two races. I had an outstanding time.”
The training center is a vital part of Hawkinsville’s economy, bringing in an estimated $8 million a year.
“We have the festival to show our appreciation for the horsemen who come to our community,” Murkerson said. “They have a significant impact on our community from an economic standpoint. We want to have this festival in honor of them, and also for the crowd. We’ve got a pretty good crowd today on a beautiful day in South Georgia.”
|Harness Festival Queen Shana Oxford (right) with Young Miss Harness Festival Queen Brooke Moore.|
That crowd enjoyed a parade followed by nine races on a sunny, 85-degree afternoon. Earlier, there was a 5K race as part of the festivities.
On Friday night, Hawkinsville hosted fireworks, local entertainment and its first-ever BBQ cookoff to kickoff the weekend.
“It’s been a great last 24 hours,” said Scott Fisler, the chairman of the Harness Festival Committee. “We’re enjoying the races and enjoying the festivities. It’s a big deal to the community and we want to make it a bigger deal, to be honest with you. We’re just beginning.”
|A crowd enjoys the start of a qualifier on an 85-degree South Georgia day.|
State Sen. Ross Tolleson was among those enjoying the day. He has attended the event for the last nine years.
“It’s a great festival,” Tolleson said. “It’s a great economic development tool for the area; there’s a lot of excitement when the horses and all come in. It’s just a great event for the community. It’s a whole different kind of event for the area. I just enjoy the people and watching the horses and being out here in this beautiful weather. It’s just a great way to get out and enjoy the quality of life.”
Hawkinsville resident Candi Dokey, who brought her two children, ages 4 and 10, to the festival, agreed.
“We enjoy all the activities they have for the kids and then watching the harness races,” Dokey said. “It brings a lot of people to the community. You have the arts and crafts and the kids’ activities; I think it’s a good time for the whole community to come out and meet people. It’s a good opportunity for everyone to get together.”
|Three-year-old pacer Battle Ground, with trainer-driver Fred Drouillard, wins in 1:57.1.|
On the track, trainer-driver Fred Drouillard was the most frequent visitor to the winner’s circle. Drouillard guided three horses – pacers Ella V Horse, Battle Ground and Cajon Thunder – to victory.
Three-year-old filly pacer Up Front Cruiser, driven by Matt Amann for trainer Jim Arledge Jr., posted the day’s fast time, getting around Hawkinsville’s one-mile oval in 1:56.3.