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Bruce McGhee remembered during Harness Races named in his honor

March 11, 2018

Bruce McGhee died in February at the age of 89, but at least one member of his family was feeling his presence at the Bruce McGhee Memorial Harness Races on Saturday at McGhees’ Mile.

“I’m sure he’s up there and he loved it. He had the best seat in the house today,” said Bruce McGhee Jr. following the afternoon’s final race, the Bruce McGhee Memorial.

The winning horse, Modern Gesture, completed a mile in 2:02 2/5 while being driven by Justin Hite.

The elder McGhee owned McGhees’ Mile, which is on Banks Mill Road. Before he purchased the standardbred training facility in 1977, it was known as the Aiken Mile Track.

Following Bruce McGhee’s death, his family renamed the annual McGhees’ Mile Standardbred Races in his honor.

“This was his favorite day of the year because this was this track,” said another of Bruce McGhee’s seven children, Ashley McGhee. “He enjoyed seeing all the trainers who were here and the horses that had trained here during the winter season. It was his day to watch everybody shine.”

Even though Bruce McGhee’s widow, Janis, was smiling, she also was feeling a little sad.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” she said. “We thought he might still be here, but he’s gone. It just didn’t work out.”

The Bruce McGhee Memorial was one of the 11 races for standardbreds during the afternoon’s program.

There also was a race for miniature horses. The competitors in that event included a donkey named J.J.

Janis McGhee estimated that 3,000 people turned out for the Harness Races.

In the crowd were the friends of the late Norma Craven. The manager of Hiler Hay was 57 when she died last November.

“Norma was a wonderful, sweet woman, who loved her animals,” said Russ Hayes of Legacy Homes of Aiken. “We miss her tremendously. It was tragic that she passed so fast. It was like the snap of a finger.”

Hayes and his wife, Cristina, teamed up with Bruce and Beth Reider and Rick and Barbara Lepard to organize the gathering.

“We’re expecting about 50 people,” Hayes said. “We’ve got hamburgers, hotdogs and chicken wings, and everybody is bringing a side dish. Anybody who wants to join us can join us. We’re a friendly group.”

There was a Norma Craven Memorial race on the program, which In Trouble Again won while being driven by Stacey Nisonger.

In Trouble Again covered a mile in 2:06 4/5.

After moving to Aiken from Ohio, Bill Carpenter and Judy Dodds attended the annual day of harness racing at McGhees’ Mile for the first time last year.

They returned Saturday, arriving before the races started and remaining until after the last one was run.

The husband and wife sat in the top row of the bleachers near the finish line.

“If you bring chairs and put them down and sit, you’re kind of looking at the horses’ bellies,” Dodds said. “If you sit in the bleachers, you’ve got a bird’s eye view of everything from the start to the finish line. It’s the best spot. We love it.”

Also in 2017, Dodds and Carpenter went to the Aiken Trials, the Aiken Spring Steeplechase and the Aiken Horse Show.

“Each one was very different,” Carpenter said.

But they enjoyed their time at McGhees’ Mile the most.

“It’s the most relaxed, comfortable, approachable event, especially if you’re a first-timer,” Dodds said. “I’m glad we started with this one and worked our way up to the other ones.”