Firstly, may I wish anybody who reads this a very Happy New Year :)
(I am led to believe after today that it may be more than just one person, as somebody approached me at the races to tell me how much they'd enjoyed my previous blog).
2015 is already shaping up to be a very different year for both me personally and Team Smart. I am starting the year unemployed, for the first time since leaving university in 2011, but I am not disheartened as there are opportunities galore and something will soon come along. In the meantime I am back working as clerk for Smarty on the racecourses and point to points, having spent today at Musselburgh and plans to return there on the 16th and Haydock on the 17th. The rest of my time seems to be filled up looking after all the horses, with four yearlings stabled, our newest acquisition on boxrest and the remainder dotted around the fields surrounding Allanton.
Anyway, enough of the boring stuff. The reason I felt compelled to write tonight is due to a night out I had on Saturday just gone. The biggest difference I have found between the harness racing scene in Wales and the harness racing scene in Scotland is the centrality of the people involved. During the 'off season' in Wales, I was only able to see my two best friends, Emma and Rachel, once each due to living over an hour and a half away from each of them (and free time on the weekends was hard to come by with hunting and working part time for STAGBI). Arranging a night out with my friends up here is somewhat less difficult. The first reason for this is that all of my friends live in or near the Stirling area, so I am able to see them all in one go. The second reason is due to the fact that when arranging a night out, there is only one possible place for us to go (not because there is literally nowhere else to go, but because there is only ever one place we want to go) - McQues, in Bannockburn. It's like an unofficial harness racing HQ. It's kind of like...home. It feels the same way my 'local' pub in Wales always felt, like you could fall asleep on one of the benches and nobody would mind. I'm yet to do that though, and I have no immediate plans to do so either.
On Saturday I went out with a group of people that to outsiders would look like a very strange bunch to throw together. My friend Nicola actually commented on it the following day - you think it shouldn't work, but it does. The reason it does is because we all share one common interest - harness racing. It's not like saying you enjoy the same TV shows as your friends, or you all enjoy reading. We all enjoy something that consumes our day to day lives. We don't just go racing every now and again for a day out if the weather is nice; we go every time there's a meeting on because there is very little else we'd rather be doing. Every single one of us sat around the table on Saturday night spends hours every day, even during the off season, doing something that is directly connected to harness racing. There were six of us in total; three over the age of 35, and three under the age of 25. A mother and daughter combo, two with young children, two not long out of high school, a random Welsh lass who ended up the night being nicknamed 'Big Bird'...it really shouldn't work, and under any other circumstances I'm sure it wouldn't.
Our shared obsession is so strong that whilst having a competition to see who could drink a jagerbomb the fastest, racing puns and comments didn't take long to rise to the surface. Lauren took the first round and victory was declared to Ladyford Lad (the horse she rode to victory at Appleby in 2013 in the first saddle race for a number of years, and subsequently a number of other saddle races in Scotland). By the time the second round came along I'd noticed she was removing the shot glass before necking the drink, which is the equivalent of her being a gate horse and the rest of us going off 20 yards, however I still beat her. Carol, her mother, was disqualified for not finishing in one go. Round three saw Lisa drink some of the energy drink before Lauren returned to the table in order to try to beat her, which resulted in another DQ. Karen won round three, although I lodged a stewards enquiry as Nicola (designated driver for the night) was accused of driving the start car too slowly and giving Karen an unfair advantage drawn wide on the gate (by this point it wasn't making much sense). Carol fell (failed to finish her drink in one go a second time) and as her shoulder touched the ground she wasn't allowed in the re-run. If anybody on the neighbouring tables had overheard any of this, they'd have worried for our mental health. At some point later in the night when Lisa misread a 'pull' sign on a door for a 'push' sign, I felt the need to shout 'pull them up drivers, pull them up'. Simple things, and all that...
All of this resulted in a lot of laughing, and one of the best nights out I think I've ever had. There were very few people in the pub that night, but it didn't matter. I barely registered anything going on outside of our circle. Come the start of the new season we'll be rivals on the racetrack again, but even that doesn't stop us piling in to each other's winner's photos. Rivals we may be, but we all enjoy sharing the joy of victory with our friends. To help pass the time until the season starts in Scotland on May 14th at Haugh Field, we've decided to make our nights out a monthly thing. Roll on 31st January for round two of our 2015 'season' ;)
Next time you hear from me will be after my return from a weekend trip to Wales this coming weekend, where I'll be staying at the newly-appointed BHRC Chairman's farm, Wellfield Stud. Roy Sheedy is an old friend, although it's his groom and my actual friend Rachel that I'm going to stay with, along with my new friend from up here, Annette. Harness racing has no concept of distance.
Over and out,
Top Scottish groom (on my yard at least),