Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Looking forward to the 2018 season...


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.

AWARDS SEASON.
(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.

Three words:

GLUTTON.
FOR.
PUNISHMENT.

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)
That's enough about what has passed, and now it is time to look forward.

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.

#HereComeTheGirls


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,

#1 Groom

Sunday, 24 December 2017

2017 Season - Alternative Awards (A Year in Review)

As the year draws to a close and many of us begin to look forward to the challenges and adventures of 2018, I thought now would be as good a time as any to cast our minds back to some of the highs (and lows) of the 2017 season.  It's not that I have a tendency to live in the past (I leave that to everyone else) but more that I am about to immerse myself fully in the creation of awards presentation videos for the BHRC & STAGBI (and TROTBritain) awards event in February, which means for the next 5 weeks I will be watching a LOT of race videos from the past season and reflecting on the achievements of the award winners.

Whilst my heartfelt congratulations are extended to all of the official award winners, I feel there are some human and equine performances and achievements which have not been publicly recognised but which deserve to be mentioned, and as per last year this has led me to announce my own alternative awards (formerly known as the Sarah Thomas 'You Were Great!' Awards).  But first, let me talk you through who I voted for for each of the official BHRC categories and why I felt they deserved their respective accolades this year:

2YO Colt of the Year: MATTICULOUS (Hasty Hall-Another Mattie).  Impressive in all of his wins for both trainer/driver combo Joanne & Andrew Cairns and later formidable duo Alexis & Rocker Laidler, the half-brother to last year's Horse of the Year MIRACULOUS and full brother to the ill-fated but exceptional 2 and 3 year old TITANIUM became the third colt from the mare ANOTHER MATTIE to win the Vincent Delaney Memorial Final at Portmarnock.

2YO Filly of the Year: GREENHILL HANOVER (Bettors Delight-Artaffection).  This category was actually a walkover as Greenhill Hanover was the only nominee, however over the course of the season the 2YO Fillies division was in fact a wide open affair.  The Irish filly, ROBYN CAMDEN won twice in the UK (subsequently securing her BHRC Overseas Horse of the Year); BROWN EYED GIRL was also a multiple winner; there were credible performances from numerous other fillies also.  For me though, Greenhill Hanover seemed to improve as the season went on, winning her last 4 starts (heat and final of the Junior Welsh Dragoness at Tregaron, the Group 1 National Pacing Futurity at Tir Prince and the SHRC Futurity at Corbiewood).

3YO Colt of the Year: RHYDS ROCK STAR (Hasty Hall-Tonda Star).  Hailing from a family littered with champions, this horse started off the season winning in maiden and novice company and showed very little evidence of becoming the superstar that he graduated into by the end of the season.  He was, as we described him in the beginning, a horse who didn't win in style; that's to say, he didn't record flashy times or win by big margins.  But he sure knew where the winning line was and he seemed to always have his nose in front when it mattered in those first few races.  Early doors it looked as though he was going to stick to the handicap route, as SPRINGHILL GLORY took the honours in many of the early season stakes races.  When first venturing onto the 3YO scene he was well beaten and it wasn't until the end of July that he recorded his first win in 3YO company and it was only at Tregaron in August (in the heat and final of the Little Welsh Dragon - won by NO BRAKES) that he was beaten in his age category right up until Wolverhampton in October where his long season came to an end on a high.

3YO Filly of the Year: LYONS LEMEMAY (Lyons Danny-Lyons Montana).  This filly, in my opinion at least, was very hard done by not to win the official award and one can only speculate as to why.  Never out of the first 3 in her debut season, she was only beaten once in her age division by GREENHILLDEBATEABLE over the extended distance in the Group 1 National Pacing Oaks at Tir Prince on her final start of the year.  She recorded wins both on UK soil and in Ireland and for me she had this award sewn up when she won at Tregaron in the Little Welsh Dragoness heat and final where she notched up 2 of trainer/driver Michael O'Mahony's amazing 9 wins over the weekend.

Trotter of the Year: T'ES TROP FOOT (Little Crack-Hase Da La Meritee).  Whilst the 3YO Trotteur Francais filly EQUILEA DU HAUTY probably deserved this title for winning 5 from 6 starts including the £15,000 Le Trot Gold Final (racking up £18,000 in prize money this year), I would not be so hypocritical as to vote for a 3YO when I was quite vocal to some of the TROTBritain committee members about how little I enjoyed the 3YO series vs how much I enjoyed the aged trotting races.  I just love the old guard, the originals, the bombproofers who go about their business and provide thrilling finishes and this horse in particular was a delight to watch racing.  A winner of his last 3 starts of the season (from 6, due to a shortage of runners/races for these horses), he won on grass (Almeley), hard (York) and tapeta (Wolverhampton), making him as versatile as he is reliable.

Pacer of the Year: EVENWOOD SONOFAGUN (The Firepan-Im The Last).  If anyone reading this is a fan of National Hunt racing, you will remember a time when Kauto Star and Denman ruled the roost together.  During that period, you asked people which side they were on and they would be able to tell you immediately which horse they rooted for when they faced each other (apart from me, as I liked them both and anyway Neptune Collonges was racing from the same stable in the same races and I would always pick a grey in John Hales' colours as my favourite).  Evenwood Sonofagun and MIRACULOUS echoed this rivalry this year.  The pair dominated in their respective seasons, Gunner in the handicap races and Miraculous in the 4YO stakes races and indeed, the Free For Alls.  It wasn't until the Crock of Gold Final night at Tir Prince on 9th September that the pair went head-to-head, and although some warned us not to ignore the other contenders in the race (lest there be an Imperial Commander-type scenario when a relative outsider beat both Kauto and Denman in the Gold Cup after the media pegged it as a two horse race), the race became a duel to the wire between the two superstars.  All evening prior to the race if you asked people who they wanted to win, they were either Team Miraculous or Team Gunner.  The race turned into the fairest and perhaps most fitting outcome of all: a dead heat between the two.  And although Miraculous was a most worthy nominee for this award, which he won last year after a stellar 3YO campaign, I could not see past Evenwood Sonofagun who achieved so much in his unbeaten 2017 season.

Overseas Horse of the Year: WHITE FLAME (White Fire-Panne Ala Vodka).  Yes, that's right.  I voted for a coloured horse.  Let this be a timely and appropriate reminder to you all that I am both fair and impartial and despite my noted dislike of coloured horses (of any breed, not just Standardbreds) I voted for this horse because he was an impressive multiple winner when he ventured across the Irish Sea to race in the UK.  It was in fact his stablemate, 2YO filly ROBYN CAMDEN who took the title in this category and a worthy winner she is, but for me this horse just edged it.  He added a new dimension to the sport and incited heated debates about his ability which certainly lit things up.

Mare of the Year: RHYDS PASSION (The One Night Pan-Bouncie).  I was quite animated about this category on social media in the run up to the voting date and delighted to learn that this mare had won the award.  In the strongest of all of the categories, this mare tipped it for me based on some truly phenomenal performances at Musselburgh (Hurricane Pace Final winner), York (Blossom Kelly heat winner in sub two-minutes from the 10-hole) and Tir Prince (STAGBI Future Broodmares race).  Having started the season as a maiden, she finished second to another nominee, MELDOON, in the Welsh Classic Final at Tregaron, as well as recording wins at Aberystwyth and the spring fixture at Tregaron.  Takes some horse to win at those tracks all in the same season!

Young Driver of the Year: JOEL RICHARDS/LEE WAKEFIELD.  I'm going to have to split this award in two for the simple reason that I was equally impressed with both these two young men.  Joel's last win of the season saw him escalated from C Class driver status to B Class, when winning in very impressive style on board RING OF FIRE at Wolverhampton.  Bearing in mind that this was his first full season driving, and that he shares driving duties for his stable with his father, Bobby, and he doesn't get any outside drives, this made his multiple winning achievements all the more impressive.  As for Lee, at 15 he was one of the youngest, if not the youngest, driver to record a win in 2017.  He took the opening race at the two-day Aberystwyth festival on his driving debut - what a way to start! - when driving FOREST DRIFTER, and went on to record another two wins with the horse in following weeks.  I'm hoping to see him (and possibly sister Chloe) competing in the C Class Drivers race at Musselburgh in 2018.  Watch this space!

Best Drive of the Year: THOMAS MACKENZIE JNR & STARZAPAN.  Those who weren't there on this Thursday night (3rd August) at Corbiewood won't truly understand what made this drive so special; and indeed some of those who were there might not either.  In the preceding race, the mare's regular driver Stuart Mackenzie (son of trainer Ally Mackenzie) was involved in a hook-up which ultimately saw him unseated on the final lap, and for a long time Stuart remained down on the track as the loose horse continued for several laps without a pilot.  Stuart had taken a hard knock to the head and given many of us a fright; with Starzapan due to run in the final leg of the Oakwood Stud Mares Pacing Series immediately after the incident, Stuart's cousin Thomas was drafted in to take the reins.  Whilst the two branches of the Mackenzie family race independently of each other on a weekly basis, with their own separate training facilities and charges, when the proverbial sh*t hit the fan, the family came together and although the drive was a 'lead out and make all' kind of drive, there were people cheering the pair on at the finish who under different circumstances wouldn't have been that bothered as to who won.  I found it to be a rather poignant moment and that is why I'm awarding it Best Drive (and thankfully Stuart was back in the bike the following week for the final).

Astounding Top Supporter Award: This is one of my favourite awards of the year.  It stems from Astounding's victory in the York leg of the Inter Dominion Qualifying Series in 2015.  Caretaker Ron Caddies provided the day's best entertainment when screaming for most of the race at his charge, then almost dropping his mobile phone as he told me to ring his wife (who had no idea who I was), and then almost dropping his phone again when taking it back off me to tell his wife that Astounding had won.  I've never seen a man shake so uncontrollably when his horse has won a race.

This year the award returns to a previous winner; although there are technically multiple winners.  The 2015 winner was Kirsty Legrice (cheering on Sherwood Bluey at York); this year the winners are Kirsty Legrice, Simon Clarke, Dave Chan and the Millstream Stud Supporters Group for their performance at Wolverhampton when T'es Trop Foot won the final race under the floodlights.  As the field turned the final bend with roughly two furlongs remaining, the whole gang were stood behind me at the rail, all buzzing with nervous energy.  T'es hit the front and Dave [Chan] was the first to crack (admittedly at the time I thought a little prematurely) and began screaming at the horse, and driver Steve Lees.  Once he started, the rest of the group literally erupted and I found it difficult to actually focus on photographing the horse as the noise they were making behind me was deafening!  As the horse crossed the line I felt like we were celebrating winning the Hambletonian, and it was one of the most enjoyable winner's circle photos I have taken all year.

I would also like to dish out some 'Highly Commended' certificates to the team at Greentree Standardbreds (John Clark, Louise Davey, Marian Clark and others) for their performances at Appleby when Greentree Serenity won the Sunday Final and Corbiewood when she won at the end of the season; to Karen Kennedy for her performance when new purchase Evenwood Get Real (aka 'Larry') won at Corbiewood at the end of the season; and to Gerry Thomson for her performance when GDs Hazzard (aka 'Harry') also won at Corbiewood at the end of the season.  I genuinely think we should all take a leaf out of their books and scream at our horses like nobody's listening.  It would really make for an entertaining day at the races!


A Year in Review

Fear not dear readers, I'm not going to take you on a fixture-by-fixture journey of the 2017 season.  That's why I write a (kind of) weekly blog - to highlight the highs and lows each week so that at the end of the year I can whizz through my awards and give a general overview.  Here goes:

- Stoneriggs Mystery bows out
We finally had to say goodbye to one of the greats of our time, STONERIGGS MYSTERY.  A horse who has been at the top of his game for many years, he was the original maiden/novice/handicap route to FFA pioneer, a route which the next generation Evenwood Sonofagun has taken to his current throne.  Mystery has almost a cult following and will be sorely missed by harness racing fans up and down the country; his farewell after the Crock of Gold Final where he was stripped of his harness and led off the track by caretaker Kelly Peacock had me in tears and I didn't care.  It was the end of an era.  He has returned to his owner's home in central Scotland to live out his days.

To read my tribute to Mystery, click here.

- Mares win big races
Greentree Serenity at Appleby; Rhyds Passion at Musselburgh; Meldoon at Tregaron.  Rhyds Nightlife at York; Equilea Du Hauty at Tir Prince.  Loriznitestar, Laneside Lotus, Starzapan; Shades Of Grey, Dontstoptheparty.  These are just to name a few.  I've loved every second of their success and long may it continue - here come the girls!

- BHRC Social Media Policy
This went down like a lead balloon when it was first announced in the spring, however to date nobody has actually been disciplined under the policy (which was also adopted in Ireland shortly afterwards).  However, at least one person has been targeted under the policy and fears from across the globe (mainly in the media sector) have been that the policy stifles free speech.  Whilst I considered examining the impact of the policy and potential contravention of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998 (areas of law I covered during my media law specialisation in university), I subsequently decided that there are more useful ways to spend my time.  And as it transpires, licence holders appear to remain free to write very bold and negative statements on social media platforms without fear of any retribution, so any concerns expressed by individuals in the media were unfounded and life has continued as normal...

...or has it?

Something I have noticed in recent months on social media is an intolerance of opinions which break from the status quo (aka 'negative opinions').  Anybody who expresses an opinion not commonly held by those who write on particular threads is immediately (and unfairly) branded as a troublemaker, know-it-all or someone who makes snide remarks.

Whilst growing up I was taught that if you haven't got anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all.  I strive to live by that principle (but I may not always be deemed to get it right).  So this is not a defence of people who deliberately seek to pick holes, criticise without construction or belittle the efforts of others.  It is however a plea to those who feel that their opinion is always right to remember that opinions are subjective; that constructive criticism is just that: constructive; and that voicing concerns publicly is far better than going behind your back to undermine you.  We cannot all agree all of the time, but we must be wary of falling into the trap of ostracising individuals who do not share our opinions and ideals.

Being different is what makes us great.

- 2017 for Sarah
That's right, I have taken a leaf out of Ryan O'Neil's book and started talking about myself in the third person.  Kidding, it drives me mad when he does that.

There's only one racing highlight for Team Crosshill/Smart as we only managed one win all season (Cassius Clay, Murdock Weekend @ Corbiewood).  We had some nice placed runs from both Cassius and Ace, but nobody remembers the seconds and thirds.  We waved goodbye to three team members during the course of the year (Wild Bill Hickok, Crosshill Costa and Eternal Flame) and our expected foal in the spring didn't materialise so we've kept numbers down in single figures for the first time since I met Smarty.  We are, however, expecting two foals in the spring which (all being well) would take us back up to double digits again (oops): a Hasty Hall and an Arts Conquest.  Keeping everything crossed for two healthy babies next year!

This blog somehow got shortlisted in the final three in its category at the World Trotting Conference Media Awards, although ultimately was nowhere near professional enough to win.  Two of my three photos entered in the Hoof Beats Magazine photo competition were selected as Editors' Picks and published in their printed publication and on their online version.

I discovered that I appear to be the lovechild of Clare Balding and Matt Chapman when going Facebook Live for what became known as 'Paddock Cam' at Musselburgh, and again twice at Vincennes in Paris at the International weekend.  I would love to do more stuff like that, but I fear I've already made a lot of people pretty sick of me just with this blog alone, so videos of my actual face accompanied by my annoying Bristol/Somerset/Essex/London accent and my complete ineptitude to operate my phone during such videos would probably be the final nail in the coffin.

I'm STAGBI President now, for the next two years.  I'm currently working on my legacy, or kickstarting what I hope will be my legacy.  I'd like to be able to make a difference.

Anyway, that's enough from (and about) me.

All that remains now is for me to say a massive THANK YOU to every single one of you who reads this blog, whether it be each post religiously as soon as I publish them or just dipping in and out of what look like the best ones every now and again.  The only person who ever seems to comment directly on the posts chooses to remain anonymous (and actually be quite needlessly negative with a big wooden spoon) however plenty of people express their thoughts on social media and when they see me in person so I am really grateful for the feedback (yes, even you Noreen, and all that trouble you gave me during the whole of October).

We'll probably just carry on next year as we did this year, unless any of you choose to start a petition to get me to stop.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I hope you have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!  See you on the other side :)


Over and out,

#1 Groom

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Meet the Dandridges

"Who are the Dandridges?", I hear you ask.

I'll tell you who they are.  They are a rare breed of people; people who encountered harness racing one day.  And then kept coming back.  Time and time again.  Just to watch.  Not to take part, but just to watch.  In a sport which is forced to admit that it caters primarily for those who compete, what made Melanie and David Dandridge decide to come back, when time allows, to watch?  What do we need to do as a sport to get more people like this through the gates at tracks?



Well, I asked them.

Tell us a bit about you both.
Right OK here goes...David has worked on farms and previously ran his own contracting business, he has driven lorries and now drives buses.  I grew up on a farm in a rented cottage, my parents weren't farmers but I was hooked on the lifestyle.  I worked with horses doing stud work and in hand showing and I now work in a school.

We trundle around the country at every chance we get from Musselburgh to Allensmore; Tregaron, Lampeter, Boughrood, Almeley,York, Presteigne and Aberwystwyth; the two of us in our car which we call 'Doonbeg' with a little harness racing sticker on the back!

How did you first come across harness racing?
We first came across the sport whilst visiting relations in Kinmel Bay.  We saw Tir Prince and my eyes lit up; I was intrigued but sadly it was the wrong time of year and the racing wasn't on.  A year later in 1998 we moved to North Wales from Buckinghamshire with our (then) two young sons and I kept badgering David to take us to Tir Prince.

We went to the odd meeting and enjoyed it and then in 2002 we went to Tregaron and we were hooked!

What is it about the sport that attracts you to keep coming back?
The racing is fantastic; it's interesting, we like the people and the different tracks.  We like looking at the breeding although we are no experts but find this interesting.  We don't bet just purely enjoy the racing.

As you are not connected directly to anyone involved in the sport, what do you think could be done to make it more 'user-friendly'?
I think the grass tracks are more of a niche market so only people connected in the sport in some way seem to go, whereas at the cinder tracks [Tir Prince, York etc.] it seems to be more public-enticing.  Tir Prince for example attracts the holiday makers because its location helps.  I think most people want the race package of betting, drinking, making it a social event, and harness racing is a little low key for them and perhaps not glamorous enough.  People want more for the children to do also.

What do you think is the main thing holding the sport back from attracting new spectators, like yourselves, who do not wish to compete?
We think what holds the sport back is a lack of marketing.  The sport is not on TV and people don't know what it is.  I tell someone we're going to watch the harness racing and they ask 'what's that?' or 'is that what the gypsies do on the roads?'.  The lack of advertising is a major thing, even getting it out there by taking the sport to agricultural shows, or even getting it on TV in some way.


What have been the biggest challenges you have encountered in following the sport? 
The weather is the probably the biggest challenge, as it results in meetings being cancelled.  We work so our days off and holidays are based around the sport, cancellations obviously affect this.  Also finding some tracks can be difficult as the signposting is not always good or directions are unclear so we play 'follow that lorry'!

If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be?
I wouldn't change anything about the sport, we are hooked and love it the way it is!

That said, it would be good to have the paddock easier to look at the horses so that the general public can look before the races at the horses parading up close.  The current impression given is it's a poor man's sport.

What do you think promoters/the governing body need to do to attract more people like yourselves?
A magazine would be good or a page in Horse & Hound, this might change the image the majority of people have about the sport.  Get it in the media with some articles about owners, trainers, tracks, horses etc.

Why not incorporate a harness race at more Thoroughbred racing venues?

Also maybe an app which has the horses, trainers and drivers on it?

How easy do you find the promotional material to access in order to find out more about upcoming fixtures?
We find it easy finding out about upcoming fixtures etc. as we go on various websites so it's no problem for us but before we had Facebook a year ago it was not easy to know if a meeting was cancelled or changed so we had to rely on what was announced at meetings or just turn up and hope for the best.

Do you think that negativity on social media has a damaging effect on the sport?  Or is fair to allow participants to voice their concerns on a public forum?
Everyone has a right to their opinions, I don't think it puts people off the sport, we read them and find it interesting.  We are also rally fans and you get positives and negatives on their sites in exactly the same way.  I don't think it matters or affects the sport at all.


If you've been Thoroughbred or greyhound racing, what are the differences and similarities?
We have never been greyhound racing, it doesn't appeal to us and even though Chester Racecourse is not far from us it's too busy and we don't fancy it at all.  We've been to point to points but for us you can't top harness racing.

Do you find the cost of going harness racing reasonable/value for money/too expensive?
The cost of racing is good; children go free and 10+ races for £10 works out at a pound a race or less so it's good value on that front.

Would you consider purchasing a horse and becoming owners?
We really would love a horse and would take great pleasure in that.

As you are new into the sport, would a syndicate or shares in a purposely-created Owners Club be the best way in?
That is a brilliant idea because on a budget you know there are no scary extras which are associated with horses.


What is harness racing in the UK's unique selling point?  How do you think it can promote itself in the open market for family attractions?
The unique selling point would be the drivers on sulkies and the excitement and closeness of the horses to the start car.  Also the speed the horses pass the crowd at.  The only way to draw in Joe Public is by having stuff for children to do.

As members of the general public, what elements would you change to make the experience of the spectator better? Pre-race interviews with drivers/trainers perhaps?
The interview thing is good but sometimes the PA systems aren't so good and you can't hear very well. Tir Prince is bad for that.  But a lot of my friends go to Chester Racecourse and really they go for the drinking, dressing up, socialising and betting; they pick horses by their names and are not really into the horse side of it or knowing who the jockeys are. 

That said, it would be great to meet horses and learn more about the trainers, drivers etc. and a demonstration on tacking a horse up, more interaction with the people and horses in the sport.  My work colleagues wouldn't be impressed going to watch in a field for example as they like the whole package associated with racing.  I have spoken to people who have come to watch for the first time and they don't seem to stay for the whole event but leave quite early so I think more variety and interaction may keep people there.

Thank you Melanie and David for taking the time to answer more than a few questions, and for putting so much thought and effort into your answers.

I think they have raised some interesting topics for further discussion between those within the sport who have the ability to make changes.  I urge anybody in a position to bring about positive change to consider what part the general public has to play in the furtherance of our beloved sport - the time has come for us to recognise that they are our target audience and not a forgotten byproduct.

Over and out,

#1 Groom 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

2017 Season: Week 25 - Corbiewood wraps up the season

Before I dive into the season closer at good ol' Corbiewood, I must dedicate this entire post to a woman who has given me HELL for the past few weeks for the simple reason that I had not, at each time of meeting, written a lengthy post about the success of her mare, Tarawood Joy, at what turned out to be the final meeting of the 2017 season.

This one's for you, Noreen.  Ahhh, what's the story?!







With the scheduled final fixture at York on the Saturday cancelled due to a lack of entries, Corbiewood was a stand alone meeting with a bumper entry.  The nine-race card kicked off with Peter McAllister's Mooreside Watson winning the first low grade heat in the hands of my favourite dancing driver, Willie 'WD40' Drysdale (disclaimer: it's only me that calls him WD40, but as with this blog, I'm hoping it takes off).  Tarawood Joy, who I may not have already mentioned belongs to Noreen Bennett (and her husband, Charlie), won the second by a nose from the popular Yokalady.  Corbiewood favourite, K And M Redpandana, more easily known as 'Matt', took the third for Team Cassells, having won the week before.

Evenwood Coolsting recorded his fifth win of the season when winning the first of the two high grade heats, with a really gutsy performance from one of my favourite mares in the entire country, Red Emerald, to finish second and well clear of the field.  Another wonderful mare, Greentree Serenity, won the second of the two heats in an impressive 2.02.28 to give driver Andrew Cairns his second win of the day.

The Evenwood breeding came to the fore again, with the Impractical Jokers-inspired LARRY (aka Evenwood Get Real) scoring his first career win on his second start for new connections, Karen and Mark Kennedy.  Cue a lot of OTT shouting on the stable bend from Karen and me...that's why Larry seemed such an appropriate name!

Andrew Cairns didn't spend long out of the winner's circle (and neither in fact did I, having been in for a photo with both Greentree Serenity and Evenwood Get Real), when partnering GDs Hazzard in the novice event.  If I thought Karen and me could shout, I had to think again when I heard owner Gerry Thomson cheering her boy home.  He was unfortunately involved in an unsavoury incident at York the week before and there were concerns from the camp that he would carry that in his mind going into his next race, but fortunately that was not the case and he bounced back in style to win by 7 lengths in 2.05.31.  Cue another photo op for this writer.

By this point Andrew Cairns may as well have started laying foundations for a new house in the winner's circle, as he wasn't long in heading straight back into it with Noreen Bennett's Tarawood Joy, who held off a strong challenge from Yokalady to win the Watson Bell Memorial Trophy Final.  Here come the girls and all that (both winner and runner up are mares, and we all know how I feel about mares winning in mixed company).

In the LPD Demolition Final, it was Indie Hanover who came to the fore to win for driver Richard Haythornthwaite who had borderline begged his parents (trainer Teresa and driver Alan) to keep going one more week to be there for this particular meeting.  The winner of his heat, Evenwood Coolsting, finished second, with James Brown (partnered by our very own Jockey) in third.

Incidentally, at the beginning of the meeting as I was running around trying to hand out photos to people who had ordered them after York, I took a call from someone with an American accent asking what time the racing would finish that day.  I thought no more of it until, during the course of the day's racing, I spotted four strange faces wandering around the bar.  Fuelled by a bottle of Bud, I struck up conversation just before the penultimate race and found out that they were in fact the people who had called me earlier in the day.  They were staying in Edinburgh and had been collected by a taxi driver who had recommended visiting Corbiewood as something different to do.  Take a bow, Brian 'Nova' Kilgannon, for this sterling PR work!

Hailing from Colorado, they had not experienced harness racing before, so this was really an interesting introduction to the sport.  In the absence of the sponsors of the final race, Karen [Kennedy] and I arranged for them to go into the winner's circle and present the trophy to Team Haythornthwaite.  That is the kind of personal experience we can guarantee at good old Corbiewood!!

Guests from Colorado present the trophy to connections of Indie Hanover
And I managed a selfie with our new American friends!
Little did we know that this would be Corbiewood's final meeting of the season, and indeed the season closer in the UK, as entries were short of the required number to stage a meeting on Sunday 22nd October.  As sad as that may seem, for me the season finished on a real high, as I haven't laughed so much or cheered so loud or run around so madly in a very long time.  I was exhausted when it was over and my face ached from smiling too much but it was SO. MUCH. FUN.

And that's what this sport is.  Underneath all the bickering and in-fighting and politics and attempts to bring about professionalism (that may or may not work), what lies at the heart of this sport is that it is fun.

I'm not going to go on some teary-eyed ramble about why I love it so much because, after 3 years of writing this (potentially) pointless blog, it should be pretty clear now why.  But after just one afternoon of racing, on a cold Sunday afternoon in central Scotland, I can tell you it's because of the Noreen Bennett's and the Gerry Thomson's and the Karen Kennedy's and the Marian Clark's and the four people from Colorado who have no idea what's going on but suddenly have a trophy thrust into their hands to give to 3 total strangers whilst someone takes their photo and every weekend from May to October, in every corner of this little island we live on, this happens and no matter how tired I am from travelling up and down the country, I want to see as much of that as I can.

Roll on 2018!

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Thursday, 16 November 2017

York & Brightwells Sales 2017

Camden Stud Standardbred Sale @ York Harness Raceway

 


Brightwells Standardbred Sale @ Builth Wells

Lot HORSE Price Buyer
(NS = Not sold, NF = Not forward)
11 LADY ELLA 200 P Davies
12 SPRINT AHEAD (USA) 1000 A Jones
13 VOCIFEROUS 1300 K Young
14 BRYWINS VELVET 2600 E Wozencroft
15 MYSTIC RIVER 3200 C Wadhams
24 DOUBLE FANTASY NF NF
25 BLACKFIELD BUTTON NS NS
26 IB COYOTE NS NS
27 FIRE STARTER NF NF
28 CHECK ON TOM 800 T Davies
29 YSTWYTH VALLEY 800 J Duggan
30 YSTWYTH DELLILAH 650 G Ball
31 OAKWOOD CISCO 600 L Gething
32 ANNIEJOAN 1000 J Wright
33 PRUDHHOE BAY 3000 R Evans
34 SAUNDERS MACH 3 2000 M Bevan
35 AYR SUPERIOR 600 J Wright
41 CHECK ON DANCER 1200 B Timmins
42 EASY TARGET NS NS
43 BRYWINS JOHN ALLEN 800 D Clark
44 BRYWINS VAVABEACH 800 C Morgan
45 MAHOGANY ABBY 1800 P Manning
46 MAHOGANY AMBER 1300 C Wakefield
47 MAHOGANY ASH 2400 P Anderson
48 IB ON ICE NF NF
49 OAKWOOD MAESTRO 14000 G Power
50 OAKWOOD IN IT TO WIN IT 10000 A Flower
51 OAKWOOD STARCAM 28000 Meadowbranch Stud
52 RHYDS DRAGONFLY 13000 C Fletcher
53 RHYDS SEEANDBESEEN 16000 C Fletcher
54 RHYDS REBEL 6200 TBC
55 STATESIDE TROOPER 3000 A Price
56 STATESIDE ICON 35000 J Foody
57 ROGUEANNA NS NS
58 CHINATOWN ALI NS NS
59 CHINATOWN FANTASY 1200 C Bevan
60 CHINATOWN BELLE 1050 J Connors
61 AYR ELEGANCE 15000 A Dickinson
62 AYR VICTORIA 3100 W Grievson
63 IMADEUCE 4000 TBC
64 TWOFORTEA 9000 TBC
65 EVENWOOD SHARPSHOT NS NS
66 OAKWOOD COSMO 7000 M Walsh
67 OAKWOOD ENCHANTED 5000 M Walsh
68 RHYDS SALSA 7500 E Joyce
69 RHYDS FIRST EDITION 7500 L Jones
70 STATESIDE VOGUE 10000 G Power
71 STATESIDE PIN UP 6200 G Dowse
72 MANHATTAN GANGSTER 650 H Langford
73 BARLEY MO 2000 B Nicholson
74 TAKEMETOTHELIMIT 6800 D Gibbons
75 JUSTANOTHERGUY 5200 W Cooke
76 IB NOTORIOUS NF NF
77 BRYWINS BEACHALIBI NF NF
78 BRYWINS MYBEACH 1000 G Allan
79 CARAMASARA 1900 W Grievson
80 BRYNLLO CADI NS NS
81 GARTHS BEACHWAVE 1800 A McCoy
85 JUICY WIGGLE NS NS
86 REAL YANKEE 2000 T Thomas



At York, from 52 entries there were 49 sale lots forward.  Of these, 24 were sold through the ring.  The total sale value came to £135,350 with an overall average of £5640.  In the yearling section, there were 28 entries with 19 sold for a total of £124,550 making a yearling average of £6555.

In 2016, 24 horses were presented for sale; 20 were sold.  The total sale value was £116,400.  The average price across all horses forward was £4850.  The total sale value of the yearlings was £111,650.  The average yearling price was £5,876.  Therefore the averages in 2017 are higher than those from 2016, showing a continued increase in the value of horses sold at the Camden Stud Sale.

At Builth, from 60 entries there were 55 sale lots forward.  Of these, 47  were sold through the ring (78% sold).  The total sale value came to £249,150 with an overall average of £5301.  In the yearling section there were 41 entries with 33 sold for a total of £229,400 making a yearling average of £6951.50.

In 2016, 51 horses were presented for sale; 44 were sold.  The total sale value was £254,490.  The average price across all horses forward was £5784.  The total sale value of the yearlings was £226,250.  The average yearling price was £7542.  The averages in 2017 are slightly higher for the whole sale (with some of the broodmares selling for very strong money) however the total value of yearlings sold and the yearling average has decreased.

One interesting thing to note was the purchases from the leading owners for the past two seasons (Claire Fletcher, 2016 and Raymond Huschka, 2017).  In previous years although both owners have purchased from UK sales, they have also ventured across the Atlantic to purchase at Harrisburg.  At York, the Huschkas purchased the two highest priced yearlings for the Laidler team (Horatio Camden and Christy Camden, totalling £43,000), whereas at Builth, Claire & Shane Fletcher purchased two colts from Rhyds Stud (Rhyds Dragonfly and Rhyds Seeandbeseen, totalling £29,000).  Neither camp purchased from the American sales this year.

I personally view this as a MASSIVE thumbs up for British breeding at the moment.  Whilst Camden Stud and Rhyds Stud continue to record strong sales (with Rhyds Stud offering their first crop of new stallion See And Ski's yearlings - which appeared to be well received), Oakwood Stud, Ayr Standardbreds and Stateside also recorded good sales prices, with Stateside Icon topping the sale at Builth (£35,000) and Oakwood Starcam (£28,000) being the highest priced filly sold at Builth.

We sold Cliff (Crosshill Costa) at York and he came straight back up the M74 to Stirling with Sandy Cassells - great news for me as Sandy's daughter Hayley sends me regular photo updates of his education and he has settled in perfectly!  We avoided any accidental purchases and after last year's bonanza spending from my dad, he also avoided buying any more horses!  He can wait patiently for his Hasty Hall foal out of Frisco Frisk (Rogue Hall), and I'm waiting rather impatiently for my Hasty Hall out of Vain In Spain (Artsplace) and my Arts Conquest out of Coalford Tracey (Coalford Laag). Can't it be April already?!

With sales season now over, I can start looking forward to awards season (arguably my favourite time of the year!!).

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

2017 Season: Week 24 - York Sale Day



Extract taken from #1 Scottish Groom, 2017 Season: Week 18 - Tregaron:

"Whilst on the track I spoke to Steve [Lees] and his son, Stephen, and told 'little Stevie' that he'd need to work hard to be as good a driver as his old man, who'd won the race with a horse who scraped into the final by the skin of his teeth.  Little Stevie pointed up to the commentary box and said 'that's where I want to be, up there not out here'.  Duly noted young man.  We will get you on the right path to be a commentator.  I mean, surely we all know someone who could help out a budding young commentator?! *cough* Darren Owen *cough*"

I spoke to Darren at Corbiewood on the Sunday of the Murdock Weekend regarding the above conversation and left the ball firmly in his court.  On a day marred with incidents both during the sale itself and the racing, when twelve-year-old Stephen Lees stepped up to the mic to call the three-runner Northern Trading Ltd Novice Pace, I went into a bit of a meltdown.  I wasn't the only one, as little Stevie's sister's boyfriend, John, desperately tried to fire his phone up quick enough to record it (as Kellie wasn't there).  A flat battery sent him into a panic, but thankfully Marcia Thompson (off of Equine Products UK, who basically keeps giving me free hats and her own coat to wear because I don't dress appropriately for the weather) was on hand to film the commentary (and thus miss the race as she stood with her back to the track facing the commentary box).  You can watch the video here:



It's one thing sitting in the comfort of your own home in front of your close family commentating on videos you have watched over and over, but it's something else altogether commentating on a live race in front of a large crowd in a new environment.  A three horse race can be very difficult to make sound interesting (particularly when, as in this case, one horse dominates a race as Springhill Calaburn did) but Stephen did a fantastic job and the round of applause he got at the end was thoroughly deserved.  I genuinely think he can go far if he sticks at it, because he's good already.  And there are a lot of people rooting for him, because he is one of us.

Twelve-year-old Stephen Lees Jr in the commentary box at York Harness Raceway
I don't wish to detract from the racing and the achievements of those who participated and won, however this was the highlight of my day by a mile.  Unfortunately during the course of the afternoon there were multiple incidents which left a bad taste for those who stayed after the (eventful) sale into the afternoon's racing.  I'm not going to dwell on them.  Suffice it to say that there was a distinct lack of organisation running throughout the entire day and after the penultimate race (when pacing fans began to leave) I was bombarded with connections of horses searching for rugs, trophies, rosettes, prize money and indeed, the hard-to-miss (except on this occasion) 'Racing Manager'.

Anyway, here are my noteworthy performances from the racing:

Cassius Clay - our boy clocked a PB of 2.00.6 when finishing second to the electric Coalford Mystery who followed up on his win at Wolverhampton with a 1.59.7 performance in the Daniel Welling Memorial.  This turned out to be Cassius' last run of the year as the Gaffer swanned off on holiday to Salou the following week and we weren't allowed to race him at Corbiewood in his absence.  Booooo.  He'll hopefully be back next year for some more fun (and hopefully more firsts than seconds!).


 Coalford Mystery - as above.

 


Plan B - ran a stormer to return to winning ways after finishing second the week before at Wolverhampton, however owner Jean Fell was absent as her and the family were at the Horse of the Year Show, so it was a depleted turnout in the winner's circle but at least this time the gelding was on his best behaviour to pose for the camera!



Anna Diem - this gorgeous chestnut mare was trained by her owner Emyr Edwards in the earlier part of the season before moving to trainer/driver Mike Evans' yard solely in order to race in this event, having not raced since 2014 (she is not eligible for the Trotteur Francais races staged by Trot Britain so there are very few racing opportunities for her).  She made the effort worthwhile for connections when winning the BHRC Prakas in style.



T'es Trop Foot - another trotter who impressed when winning the George Button Snr Challenge trophy, making it three wins on the bounce on three different surfaces (grass at Almeley, tapeta at Wolverhampton and hard at York).  Stablemate Sun Gahn finished second so I had both boys in the winner's circle to celebrate the connections' 1-2 in the race!


Starzapan - I love a mares race and I particularly love a STAGBI Future Broodmares race, and this one did not disappoint!  Having finished second in the mares race the week previous to Shades Of Grey, Starzapan went one better to record her lifetime mark of 2.00.7, bearing in mind that she has rarely left Scotland, with this being her first run on a hard track other than Corbiewood.  I was delighted for connections, Trackside Racing Stables, but particularly the First Lady of Corbiewood, Mig MacKenzie (mother of owner, Ally MacKenzie) who grabbed my arm on the way out of the winner's circle and declared that she was so happy she didn't know what to do!  That's what racing does to people!




Ontop Shouder Cuda - having owned his dam, Orders (Real Desire) for a short time, I have always had a soft spot for this horse and he did not disappoint when clocking 1.59.6 to beat superstar 4YO and joint Crock of Gold winner Miraculous by a neck to take the Camden Daniel Top Class Pace.


One more week of racing to go, with the scheduled penultimate fixture at Corbiewood on Sunday 15th October becoming the final fixture due to a lack of entries on the 22nd.  I missed the meeting the day after the sale due to a lack of enthusiasm (brought on by the tiredness of a 4am start to get to York, and not getting home until 11pm - I think I can be forgiven for that!).

The sale write up will feature in a joint post alongside the Brightwells sales results in order that a comparison can be easily drawn between the stats from both sales (including comparisons with last year's sales also).

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Friday, 3 November 2017

2017 Season: Week 23 - Wolverhampton Charity Meeting

That's right eagle-eyed viewers, you will have spotted that I have skipped straight from week 21 (Murdock Weekend) to week 23 (Wolverhampton).  That is because week 22 was meant to feature a fixture at Tir Prince on the Saturday night (including the British Pacing Classic for aged pacers) and a meeting at Corbiewood on the Sunday.

Only, Tir Prince was called off on the Friday before the Murdock Weekend (bit of a sore point amongst some; we had intended to take Cassius down had he made it to Grade 1 during the weekend, which he did, but I won't lose sleep over the mammoth round trip in the lorry, no sir-ee) and despite several people's best attempts, the British Pacing Classic was abandoned rather than moved to Corbiewood (even though CW was the only other track to tender originally for the race, and also the only other hard track staging a meeting on the weekend of the scheduled race at Tir Prince).  Word was there were only 2 entries for the event at Tir Prince and they were happy to get their money back rather than come to Corbiewood to race.  Their loss.

So in reality, the only point of interest from the entire weekend was that 7 of the 8 winners (of mixed races) at Corbiewood on the 24th September were mares (Crown Royal, Thornton Bronte, Dynamic Ace, San Diego, Lady Mary, ATM, Sureamsomething).  In the only race won by a gelding, a mare (Yokalady) was second.  Four of the aforementioned eight mares were runners in the Oakwood Stud Mares Pacing Series which was deemed a huge success (not just by me), and I found these results encouraging for potential entrants in 2018 (when I hope to organise the series again).

Fast forward six days and Corbiewood broke with tradition to run on Saturday 30th September to allow Wolverhampton a clear date on the Sunday.  A quick shout out for Rab 'Ranter' Wilson driving I Live To Party to victory, with his other horse Crown Royal (driven by Brian Gilvear) finishing second.  A casual two-horses-in-the-winner's-circle occurred thereafter.

WOLVERHAMPTON

This was a charity meeting to raise money for Leukaemia Research and St James' Hospital Leeds, a cause close to all of our hearts as Jacqueline Gill (née Wilson, daughter of the aforementioned 'Ranter') was treated for the disease and has now, thankfully, been given the all-clear.  I was asked to be the official photographer, which I clearly didn't think through as it was a 5 hour drive there, a 5 hour drive back, and there were 15 races in between.  Suffice it to say that I was pretty tired at work on the Monday!

Jacqueline Gill and post-race interviewer Thomas Bennett at Wolverhampton
First of all I have to say a MASSIVE thank you to Chloe Wakefield for her organisation skills in the winner's circle; I have been lumped with the task (without properly being asked) of handing out rosettes at York numerous times this season as I am already in the winner's circle waiting to take photos, however when I saw the sheer size of the trophy table at Wolverhampton (rosettes, trophies, sashes, flowers) I didn't know how I was going to manage (having volunteered to help the organisers).  Fortunately for me, Chloe had been asked to do the job and she did it with a huge smile on her face all day; completely in control of what prizes were for what races and who they were going to throughout the entire day (which meant I was free to take far too many photos of everyone!)

Chloe (right) with winning groom Abbie Cairns after race 4
So...highlights.  You know there are going to be a fair few in amongst 15 races.  First of all, the saddle race which kicked off the day.  Predictable? Yes; Enjoyable? Also yes.  I'm a big fan of John Barley and I know the trainer and jockey both very well.  Plus my brother was in the winner's photo, after the owners and me all shouted at him to stop hiding on the sidelines!

Charlie Price & Caenwood Dafydd parading in the paddock ahead of Lee Price & John Barley, and Lauren Moran & Ladyford Lad
Ladyford Lad (aka Gilbert) smiling for the camera as he heads to the start
John Barley an easy winner of the saddle race
Cardigan Flash Man followed up on his two wins the previous weekend at Corbiewood with another convincing win in the second race, which seemed to lift owner Alf Swinbank's hangover marginally when he entered the winner's circle.  This was the first of three consecutive driving wins for Andrew Cairns, who partnered the trotter Bora Bora De Seg in the Silver Le Trot and the Bousfield family's Genetic in the Maiden for a quick treble.

Jaimie Davies and Quality Art won the fifth, in a highly competitive and wide open affair.  Next up was the super grey mare, Shades Of Grey, making her third career visit to the winner's circle at Wolverhampton when taking the STAGBI Future Broodmares race in a close finish from the Scottish mare, Starzapan.

Shades Of Grey powering away at the start with James Haythornthwaite at the reins
Ghengis Pride returned to the winner's circle for the fourth time this season with driver Alan Haythornthwaite quick to follow son James' example in the previous race; other son Richard wasn't long in joining the party when winning the next race on 3YO trotter Emirat Du Levant, making it three different Haythornthwaite wins in as many races.

Steve Lees started his run of winners in the latter part of the day, kicking things off with a win on board Millstream Stud's Rhyds Merlin in the ninth.  Steward Bob Lee had spent much of the day being shouted at by me, with the line 'BOB ARE YOU IN OR OUT?' being used on more than one occasion as he dithered in the middle of a photo opportunity with his back to the camera congratulating connections.  On this occasion he was most definitely IN, being mildly accosted by Stevie in the process!

Millstream Stud and connections celebrate victory

The two-horse 3YO race between colt Rhyds Rock Star and filly Greenhilldebateable was, as expected, won by the former and was his tenth win of the season setting him on course (in my opinion) to be voted BHRC 3YO Colt of the Year.  This was organisers Shane and Claire Fletcher's second winner of the day and thoroughly deserved for two people who support race tracks up and down the country, as well as work tirelessly to get the event at Wolverhampton off the ground each year.

Coalford Mystery, a former Scottish-trained horse with the unfortunate record of taking 22 runs to win his first race, surprised those who knew him in his previous home to romp to victory in one of the easiest wins of the day in the Novice with Stevie Lees on board.  Arguably the only horse who could be deemed to have won easier would be the winner of the C Class Drivers race, Ring of Fire, in the hands of teenager Joel Richards who was escalated to B Class status after this win.  He later remarked that he couldn't hold the horse in the closing stages of the race, and the 4YO son of Doonbeg was indeed a VERY impressive winner with an electric turn of foot passing the stands.

Joel Richards & Ring Of Fire win the C Class Drivers Pace
Joel's mum, Debra, collecting the flowers
The three-horse Battle of the Big Guns was unsurprisingly won by superstar 4YO Miraculous, fresh off the back of his Crock of Gold victory at Tir Prince.  Tarawood Messi put in a strong performance to finish second ahead of Ayr Majesty.

Miraculous heading to victory...again!
The gorgeous roan (and runner up) Tarawood Messi
The penultimate race saw a fourth winner for offspring of Doonbeg when Lakeside Paddy came home in front for David Bevan, trainer of saddle race winner John Barley (also by Doonbeg).  And the final race of the evening, under the floodlights, gave Stevie Lees his third winner on the day when T'es Trop Foot provided Millstream Stud with their second winner in the Gold Le Trot.  This was probably my favourite winner of the day simply because as the field turned for home with 2 furlongs to go, the supporters of the winner erupted into cheers and they kept it up the full way to the finish.  It's hard not to get caught up in that kind of emotion!

Connections of T'es Trop Foot celebrate victory in the final race
At the end of proceedings, Andrew Cairns and Steve Lees were tied for leading driver, with 3 wins and a second apiece.  Bob Lee (who loves a photo opportunity) presented Andrew and Steve's son, Stephen, with the trophy, which Andrew let Stephen keep (at least until the start of next season!).


All in, the auction which was staged between races 7 and 8 raised just shy of £10,000 which will be added to the funds raised by Jacqueline's friends who have run numerous half marathons this summer (raising £4000 in the process).  I think that is a phenomenal figure and something which the BHRC should ensure is publicised by the receiving organisations.  Harness racing is the subject of many misconceptions in the wider public, but when it comes to giving, as demonstrated when raising funds for the Great North Air Ambulance after driver Logan Fowler smashed his hip in an accident at Appleby, or for the family of Peter Wallace to purchase mobile defibrillators for use at harness racing tracks, harness fans are second to none at it.

Jacqueline Gill has also asked that I mention how much she appreciates everyone's love and support during what has been a very difficult time for her and her family and friends, and a truly heartfelt THANK YOU to you all.

Well I say, 'here's to you Jac!'

Well done to all involved on a very successful event!

Over and out,

#1 Groom

P.s. unless you hadn't figured, what with me being the official photographer, all of the photos in this particular post are my own!