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What you won't want to miss at this year's Maryland State Fair

Picking out what to do at the Maryland State Fair is never an easy task. Sure, you want to check out the pigs and the cows (and maybe even the more exotic critters, like the llamas), the giant pumpkins and the perfect Christmas trees, the carnival midway and the museum, the Exhibition Hall and the quilts, the corn dogs and the cotton candy, the …

Get the picture? There's a lot to do here, and chances are you've only got a limited time in which to do it.

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So here are a few suggestions, a handful of shouldn't-miss fairgoing experiences guaranteed to bring smiles to the faces of even the most nitpicky fairgoer. Some are new for 2015, some are older than the fair itself. But all are key to why, over the years, the Maryland State Fair, now in its 134th year, has earned its reputation as the "11 Best Days of Summer."

Racing

Before there was a state fair (or even before there was its predecessor, the Timonium Fair), there was horse racing at or near this spot in central Baltimore County. And while the racing dates at Timonium's 5/8 -mile track have been whittled down considerably over the years, the century-plus tradition continues today through Sunday and Sept. 4-7 (which includes Labor Day). Post time is 1 p.m. daily, and the Thoroughbreds would be honored if you placed a bet or two on them.

But racing at Timonium this year doesn't stop with horses. The inaugural MY Maryland Mule Races will feature head-to-head elimination contests around an oval loop; post time for the mules is whenever the Thoroughbred races are finished on Sunday, approximately 5 p.m.

Riders ages 3-16 can saddle up for pony races (sorry, no wagering) at 10:30 a.m. today and after the Thoroughbreds have finished on Saturday.

Of course, true racing fanatics won't want to miss the perennial faves, the Swifty Swine racing and Swimming Pig shows. Trust us, these porkers put on quite the show. Races are set for 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. daily on the midway, near the Farm & Garden Building.

Chainsaw Performance Art

You probably don't want to try this at home, or with your mother watching, as here's something that makes running with scissors look positively safe. In as little as 60 minutes, sculptor Marty Long, snarling chainsaw in hand, will transform a log into a detailed piece of art. He's been known to produce bears, eagles, Maryland Terrapins, Baltimore Ravens, or whatever else comes into his mind. (Think of it as a far more refined and socially acceptable variant on "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre").

Performances/demonstrations are set for 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily, with an additional 5 p.m. show on weekends. If you're really impressed with what Long does, you can bid on his creations at auctions set for 6 p.m. Sept. 2 and Sept 7, with proceeds going to the Maryland State Fair Scholarship Fund.

Ravens Week

OK, it's only three days long — so sue us (or the fair). But those three days, noon-8 p.m. Sept. 2-4, promise serious fun for Ravens fans, including appearances by former players (might Ray Lewis show up, to dance along the midway and among the livestock? We can only hope!), a meet and greet with Ravens cheerleaders and a 7 p.m. viewing party for the Sept. 3 game against the Falcons.

Then, on what is being proclaimed as Baltimore Ravens Day at the fair — Sept. 4 — the team's Super Bowl trophies will be on display and there'll be a photo session featuring Ravens alumni (and maybe current players?) 4 p.m.-7 p.m., followed by a pep rally.

All this takes place at the Maryland State Fair Ravens Village in the Maryland State Fair Park, in front of the museum building. Purple, black and gold clothing is optional, but highly recommended.

Music music music

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Music is always a big part of the Maryland State Fair — remember when Justin Bieber showed up, a few years back? — but things are really getting amped-up for 2015.

For this year, not only are a pair of big-time concerts in the offing — that would be R5 and Bea Miller at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 4 and Fifth Harmony at 8 p.m. on Sept. 5 — but a Latino Music Festival is being celebrated at the fair on Sept. 6.

The evening of hit tunes from south of the border will feature performances from Bachata Plus (6:30 p.m.), Mr. Pelon 503 (7:20 p.m.), Alex Sensation (8:10 p.m.) and Baby Rasta and Gringo (9 p.m.).

Tickets for the R5/Bea Miller concert are $20; $40 for the Fifth Harmony concert. The Latino Music Festival tickets are $35. All three concerts will be held on the racetrack infield.

Plus, as if all that isn't enough, a steady stream of local bands — including the Crawdaddies, Dave DeMarco Band, Head Rush, Rob Fahey and the Pieces and plenty more — will be playing throughout the fair's run at the Carolina Carports Free Stage in the Maryland State Fair Park.

Food

No one should go hungry at the Maryland State Fair, especially after a visit to the always-mouth-watering Maryland Foods Pavilion and Maryland Dairy Bar, Be prepared to feast on all manner of Free State delicacies, including crab cakes and soft crab (of course), ice cream, fresh fruit and (although you might have to venture out to the midway to find these) Berger cookies.

But for some serious (and competitive) eating, check out the Roma Sausage Eating Contests, sponsored by Baltimore's own Roma Gourmet Foods. Two odes to gluttony are scheduled, for noon Saturday and 3 p.m. Sept. 6, in front of the Cow Palace Milking Parlor.

And here's the best new of all: Contestants will be picked from among fairgoers. So eat a light breakfast those mornings, just in case.

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