Thousands of people were at the Leamington Fairgrounds to place their bets and welcome harness racing back to Windsor-Essex.

Essex County Warden and Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain said the attendance gives him optimism the industry can make a local comeback.

"It's great, just tremendous. What a day," he said. "When you see that crowd ... everyone you talked to  never dreamed that there would be so many people out to see harness racing back here in the town of Leamington. It certainly gives a lot of hope to the future for horse racing down here in southwestern Ontario."

Sunday was the first full racing day since Windsor Raceway closed last year.

Don Leschied, vice president of the group that convinced provincial authorities to allow the racing, called response "overwhelming."

"We [had] thousands of people today. As a matter of fact, we've had to delay and expand the intermission between races to give people a chance to wager," Leschied said.

Ontario Harness Horse Association General Manager Brian Tropea called the day "rewarding." 

"I know the trials and the tribulations the group went through to get four days of racing for this year, and it's been 18 months since live racing happened in this area of the province, so it's been tremendously stressful," he said.

There will be will three more race dates in Leamington this year.