HAPPY NEW YEAR!!
I know we're well into February and I know that the title of this post is looking forward to the forthcoming season but I must quickly look back somewhat in order to explain my hiatus from writing.
|(Stuart Morris photo)|
My favourite time of the year, and also, possibly, my least favourite. The former because it's an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of equines and humans alike - with highlights from the SHRC Awards event being Horse of the Year EVENWOOD COOLSTING, the entire MacKenzie family coming up to collect for Leading Owner TRACKSIDE RACING STABLES and Driver of the Year, WILLIAM GREENHORN; and highlights from the BHRC, STAGBI & TROTBritain Awards event being the entire Laidler & Huschka team coming up on stage to collect the award for Horse of the Year EVENWOOD SONOFAGUN, celebrating the STAGBI Future Broodmares winners (Loriznitestar, Laneside Lotus, Greenhill Lilian, Rhyds Passion, Shades Of Grey & Starzapan) and Phil O'Neill's borderline infrasound tones during his interview with Darren Owen when collecting the awards for TROTBritain's Aged Horse, Aged Horse Trainer & Aged Horse Driver of the Year (Sacha Of Carless, John Foy & Phil himself).
The latter simply due to the increased workload I put myself under. I know, I know, I choose to do it. Every year I volunteer with the same enthusiasm, and every year around halfway through the preparations I regret it. Only one week ago I vowed to do no more and focus on my personal goals for the season. Yet here I am, about to outline not only the ideas and ventures proposed by others within the sport, but also the ideas and ventures that I myself have begun working on.
|Trackside Racing Stables collecting the SHRC Owner of the Year trophy (Bill Cardno photo)|
|Team Laidler & Huschka collecting the BHRC Horse of the Year trophy for Evenwood Sonofagun (Stuart Morris photo)|
Social media is currently alight with debate surrounding some of the proposed changes and ideas for the forthcoming season; featuring both positive and negative output from licence holders and regional club members alike. Let's take a look at what the 2018 season has in store:
GREENTREE STANDARDBREDS MARES' PACING SERIES
This one is my baby. The series started up in 2017 at Corbiewood following a brainstorming session between Smarty and I in the car travelling down the M6 ("lucky b*stards") as to how we could combat the reduced number of mares races on offer from STAGBI to the regional hard tracks. Corbiewood is very fortunate to have a pool of horses available to race and the fixtures to accommodate them on a weekly basis; so it made sense to offer a series to the quality mares who normally would race in mixed company. The inaugural series was named after the main sponsor, Oakwood Stud, and became a really competitive affair with the Gilvear family's DONTSTOPTHEPARTY winning the £1000 prize in the final on August 10th.
For 2018 we have a new sponsor, Greentree Standardbreds, and the series remains largely unaltered. Mares are now required to race in at least one of the first three legs (run as open preferred under the National Handicap System) and at least one of the second three legs (run as open preferred based on monies won in the series) in order to be eligible for the final; this is to combat the reduced numbers in the latter three legs last year once mares had accumulated sufficient monies in the earlier legs to secure their places in the final. As the series ran last year with 11 mares (rather than the initially required 12), this year the minimum number of entries has been reduced to 11 (whilst the maximum remains at 12). The race dates are provisional at the moment due to a potential additional fixture which Corbiewood has requested in between the proposed dates which would require the races to fit in with an updated fixture list however the series will be run from the middle of June to the beginning of August as per last year.
BHRC & STANDARDBRED SALES COMPANY STAR MAKER SERIES
We don't know who the driving force behind this series was but WE LOVE IT as a concept. Details are still being finalised by the BHRC but what we do know so far is that it will be a series aimed at up and coming horses around the UK, with a grand final for the heat winners to be staged later in the season. I'll revisit this once the details are published!
PETER WALLACE MEMORIAL RACES, EVENWOOD @ BINCHESTER
Details can be found HERE.
It is known across the entire country that Peter Wallace loved his racing. It is also known across the country that his wife Carolynne and daughters Anna and Katey have sought to achieve so much in his memory in such a short space of time since their tragic loss. These races, to be staged on the UK's best five eighths of a mile track, are a truly fitting tribute for the north east to stage in his memory.
I was at Binchester in 2016 when racing was first staged there and couldn't believe the quality of the track that the organisers had been able to source. In 2017, we returned and as we were early (it doesn't happen often) I took the opportunity to walk to track and I was amazed at the impeccable standard of it; it was like a bowling green.
I sincerely hope that with prize money like this on offer, and with the meeting being staged to remember one of harness racing's true enthusiasts, the track will get the nationwide recognition that it deserves. A BIG WELL DONE to Ronnie Ralph for getting this up and running - I can't wait!
GROUP 1 & 2 RACES
Darren Owen, recipient of the 2017 BHRC Special Contribution award (watch video here), claimed in his acceptance speech that he is, essentially, just a commentator. Well, here's one example of why he is so much more. Last year Darren assigned Group 1 status to numerous races in the BHRC calendar, and this year he is working on this again (and involving the general public by asking for suggestions and ideas) to enhance the existing Group 1 scheme and introduce Group 2 status to further races. I'm trying to ensure that Corbiewood doesn't miss out on a slice of the pie, so with a little bit of luck we'll at least be seeing one or two Group 2 races at Corbiewood in 2018 (is it too much to ask for a Group 1?!).
BREEDERS CROWN 2YO GRADING HEATS @ CORBIEWOOD
It's been 8 years since the Breeders Crown was last staged at Corbiewood, and many thought it would never return. Whilst the main event will still be staged at Tir Prince in 2018, the organisers have at least tipped their hat to the Scottish owners and trainers who have continued to support the event since it left Scotland, and this year will see 2YO prep races being staged at Corbiewood in July (as well as Portmarnock, Ireland, and at the venue of the full event, Tir Prince in Wales). Long may this continue!
NEW VENUES IN THE MIDLANDS & WELSH BORDERS
Joanne Taff (Micklewood Stud) and Sue Young (Stateside Stud) have been sharing the news on social media in the past week about a new site near Cannock, Staffordshire, where it is hoped a fixture can be staged this year. It will be a grass track, probably a half mile but potentially room for a 5/8 (like Binchester). They are currently waiting on a date to be granted by the BHRC so I will follow this up nearer the time.
Wales & West have also confirmed a new grass track venue near Leominster; a much needed boost in light of the loss of the tracks at Walton and Allensmore.
A NEW SERIES AT CORBIEWOOD?
It's not top secret, but it's also not been approved by the committee yet so I won't be divulging the details of this until I get the go ahead and start seeking sponsorship and nominations. If you're wondering what it might be, look to Woolworths for inspiration...
Unfortunately, not all the news heading into this coming season is good. As mentioned above, the grass tracks at Allensmore and Walton will NOT be staging harness racing going forward. In a major blow to the North East, and indeed the wider country, York Harness Raceway was once again offered for sale and owner, Mick Welling, has confirmed to the BHRC that at present it will not be able to fulfil its 2018 fixtures. As a result, these dates have been put back out to other tracks to apply for. At the time of writing, the track has not been sold, however for the timebeing harness racing at York Harness Raceway (and also the annual Standardbred sale) are off the cards.
Not all of the projects that I have been/am involved with have gotten off the ground either. This is something I'm getting more and more used to though, so I'll just keep dusting myself off and working around the wall instead of trying to go through it!
Rest assured folks, I and many others are working on a whole host of different things to try to make the 2018 season the best yet. Stick with me and I'll keep you updated about the various projects happening across the UK in the build up to the first meeting of the season on May 5th at Tir Prince.
Over and out,