For nearly the last half-century, Eino Leinonen has never missed a harness race at the Windsor Fair.
But with nearly 5,000 races under his belt and more than a decade of rating the horses and drivers for people betting on the races, Leinonen, is ending his long-running hobby and passion. Maybe.
Bill McFarland, the agricultural fair’s race director who encouraged Leinonen to start coming to the races, said Leinonen is the fair’s “No 1 fan.” Leinonen has attended the approximately 100 races at every Windsor Fair since 1967, McFarland said.
“Some of those days might have been rained out,” McFarland said. “He might have still come, knowing him.”
For his 47 years of dedication, Leinonen will be honored in the harness racing program for this year’s fair, McFarland said. The Windsor Fair, on Route 32, will run Sunday through Sept. 7.
Leinonen, 76, said he told McFarland last year that it would be his last year attending all of the harness races.
“I’ve done it for 50 years, every race, and that seems like enough,” Leinonen said in a recent interview at his Nobleboro home. “But you never know. If somebody comes to me the next couple of days and says, ‘Would you like to do it again?’ Well, that’s what they’ve always said.”
Leinonen, who worked as a civil engineer with the Maine Department of Transportation for about 40 years, said he’s always liked working with numbers and statistics.
His daughter, Sandra Leinonen Dunn of Chelsea, said her father used to recognize people’s cars by their license plate numbers, not the makes or models.
In order to create the tip sheets for bettors, Leinonen developed a system that he used to rate the horses and drivers. One winter, he looked at which racers won and identified different attributes they had in common. He then assigned points to the different attributes, such as whether they won their most recent races or whether they were from the area, and added up all of the points.
“I guess I’m a statistics nut that likes to see what works and what doesn’t,” Leinonen said.
He said he’s able to guess the winners of more races correctly with his rating system, but he never made that much money betting on the races. The tip sheets, which the fair sold for $1, haven’t been made since Leinonen stopped making them a few years ago. He said they were popular among people who bet on the races.
“A lot of people just don’t trust themselves or like to have someone else to blame if it doesn’t turn out right,” Leinonen said.
A few years ago he stopped creating the tip sheets, after having done it for around 13 years. He said the commitment, which often kept him up until 2 or 3 in the morning, became too much. Now going to every race seems like too much of a commitment too, he said.
Leinonen plans to attend the races Sunday, but he doesn’t think he’ll go to all of them this year.
“It’s been fun. I enjoy it because I like horse racing, but like I said, enough is I guess enough,” Leinonen said. “There comes a point when you can’t keep going on and on and on.”
Paul Koenig can be contacted at 621-5663 or at: