Wednesday, 18 March 2015

An update.

Another month has passed without me striking the keys of my laptop; I remain as sporadic a writer as ever.  However, rest assured that these past four weeks have not been spent idly.  Much has happened, both personally, with STAGBI and with the SHRC, and I am pleased to report that in the main, things have been positive.

Having met twice as a committee, and once with the members, the SHRC has begun to put in place plans for the forthcoming season.  If I haven't given an overview of the SHRC before, then here it is now:

The SHRC is a member-run club, with an appointed Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary/Treasurer and committee in place to: oversee the appointment of stewards/gate staff/office staff etc., establish a fixture list and raise money primarily for the racing held at Corbiewood (the other three Scottish tracks have their own committees/individuals running the show).  I am the current Vice Chair, having stood unopposed at the AGM (I am aware that I was not voted in, and therefore have my work cut out convincing the members, some of whom do not know me that well, that I am capable of standing up for what the members want at BHRC meetings and on a national level).  Our Chair resigned not long after the AGM, so we are currently without an official figurehead, however Alex Smith, a very well-respected individual and diehard harness racing fan, has stepped into the breach to fulfil the duties of the chairperson (having already been on the committee for a number of years).

We have already created a fixture list for the 2015 season, with a number of feature events at each of the individual meetings.  With this fixture list in place in plenty of time before the season kicks off, we hope to attract sponsors and give the owners and trainers a clear overview of the forthcoming racing.  We have created a raceframing panel, made up of Karen Kennedy (who has previously been responsible for taking entries and framing races, and holds a raceframer's licence), John Smart (my other half) and Les Donaldson, who trains out of Corbiewood itself.  We have planned two fundraisers to be held before the racing begins in order to raise money to stage some of the SHRC-sponsored meetings; these are a race night and stallion auction in April, and a bingo night in May (in order to expand the pool from which we dip into for money).  I was tasked with securing stallion services for the auction, a job which I got the impression was not favoured by many.  I am fortunate, having worked for STAGBI for a number of years, to know the majority of stallion owners in the UK and am of the belief that the worst someone can say is 'no'.  If you don't ask, you don't get after all.  I have been able to obtain the following stallions, something which I am quietly proud of:


In slightly less positive news, we heard that the annual two-day meeting held at Musselburgh, one of the jewels in the British harness racing calendar, will not go ahead this year.  Due to resurfacing on the National Hunt course, which we use, and the unavailability of the flat course, which will be in use shortly after the weekend that we usually race, the decision was made to cancel the meeting for 2015.  We have been assured that racing will recommence there in 2016, however there is a niggling doubt in the back of mind; once the continuity is broken, it is difficult to return to these types of things.  Especially when, despite many people's best efforts, the image of harness racing and the people involved in it is so negatively perceived by the general public, the Jockey Club, major venues etc.  As soon as the news went public, a number of tracks across England and Wales began vying for the available dates for that weekend.  It was felt that Scotland should keep those dates in Scotland, and initially Ayr Racecourse was approached to stage the meeting on a one-off basis.  Unfortunately the costs were such that it was not a viable option, however, undeterred, members of the SHRC have met tonight with Hamish Muirhead, the owner of the grass track at Haugh Field, a stone's throw from Corbiewood, to work together to stage a two-day meeting on the original Musselburgh weekend.  It must be noted that this potential meeting will not be as big as Musselburgh for a whole host of reasons, and it will not be advertised as a replacement for it; it is however a chance for Scotland to retain a traditional Scottish weekend.  Watch this space.

Jumping from SHRC to STAGBI now, over the weekend I flew out to Dublin with a fellow director to meet with the IHRA (previously known as the IHRC) to discuss their exit strategy in terms of taking back the administration of registering Standardbreds.  It is a move that, albeit divisional on the surface, is something that will in the long run benefit the sport and the status of the breed in Ireland, and therefore I felt that our role was simply to make the transition as smooth as possible.  Their success and trailblazing over there may have knock-on beneficial effects in Britain, which can only be a good thing.  To my Irish acquaintances that take immense pleasure in telling us we are getting left behind over here due to apathy and a lack of willingness to progress, all I can say is that the channels by which Ireland is able to progress are not necessarily available in the UK.  Comments such as these are damaging to the working relationship between the IHRA, BHRC and STAGBI, all of whom are working in the background to make headway together.

The final update I have to make is regarding the qualifying times for the hard tracks and grass tracks across the UK.  Prior to the BHRC meeting last Saturday (which I was unable to attend due to my prior engagement in Dublin), the qualifying times for the various tracks were as follows:

York - 2.12
Tir Prince - 2.14
Corbiewood - 2.16
Amman Valley - 2.18
Grass tracks - 2.20

I was genuinely horrified to discover the above.  Amman Valley's track record is 1.53.7; Corbiewood is a 3/8 of a mile track and has a faster qualifying time.  The proposal on the table at the meeting was for each of the times to be reduced by two seconds;  I emailed Roy Sheedy, Jim McInally and Kirsty Lee to put forward my opinion, which was that due to the track records and general week in week out racing times, that the three half mile (or close to half mile in AV's case) tracks should have a standard qualifying time.  SHRC members had already voted to reduce the Corbiewood time by the proposed two seconds - it was subsequently decided at the BHRC meeting to leave the grass track time as it is, with the stewards' discretion as to track and weather conditions to add time if necessary, reduce Corbiewood to 2.14 and to reduce the other three tracks to 2.10.  It was further decided that 2YOs would receive a four second allowance on top of the new times (previously six seconds).  I, for one, am happy that this is progression.

That's it for tonight folks, sink your teeth into that!

Over and out,

S Thom