For the first time since I began going harness racing 'full time' in 2008, the first meeting of the season at Tregaron has been cancelled. On Sunday 1st May I should have been stood in a field in west Wales, probably in waterproofs, enjoying a 10-race card. Celebrating 8 years since my first race meeting working as a groom. Celebrating 2 years since I left Wales for bonny Scotland. The weather forecast was not deterring us from the near 700-mile round trip; I've stood in worse this winter at point-to-points, which I don't enjoy half as much as a trot. Instead I was pottering around at my stables, recovering from a desperate day at a point in Skipton the day before (we won't be back there next year). Adverse weather forecasted for the Sunday coupled with preceeding days of heavy rainfall forced the committee to cancel and look to postpone to a later date (the meeting has been rescheduled for Sunday May 15th).
Not quite as surprising was the cancellation of the Bank Holiday meeting at Amman Valley the following day. The meeting hasn't actually been staged in all the years I've been involved in the sport. Even with the absence of York (due to stage NO fixtures in 2016), AV were unable to attract enough entries to secure a card. No wonder, when you consider the pool of horses available at the beginning of May in Wales, and the close proximity of Tregaron and Amman Valley.
Harness racing has returned however, in the form of the Wales & Border Counties meeting at Amman Valley on Saturday 30th April. The main reason they have been able to get up and started is because their Association stages one fixture per weekend and has a pool of approximately 100 horses, most of whom will race on a weekly basis. There is no competition from tracks to draw a sufficient number of horses away from another in order to be able to stage a meeting. Wales & Borders meetings don't get cancelled due to lack of entries.
I don't know about anyone else, but right now I'm needing that first fix of racing to make me fall back in love with the game. It's a long six months from the end of one season to the start of the next, and as is the case every year, the politics of the sport take over and you begin to wonder if it's all worth it.
I can't remember if I made you aware at the time or not, but I stood down as the SHRC Vice Chairman around August time last year. At a members meeting where my decision was conveyed, I gave the reason that it was for 'personal' reasons. The job was probably more hassle than it was worth, as with the absence of a Chairman (who resigned 5 days after the AGM where he'd put himself forward for the position) the blame for things seemed to always lie at my door. The real reason I stood down though was because on the preceding weekend I was called into the stewards' room after racing, where I was faced with six stewards. Amazing firstly that there were six stewards at a meeting, but also slightly alarming that it takes six full grown men to speak to me. I was told that I was not allowed to make criticising comments publicly about the quality of stewarding at the track because I was the Vice Chairman of the club. I should direct my concerns to the appropriate people (already tried that - to no avail). So I figured if I couldn't make public criticism of stewards because I was the VC, then I would stop being the VC. Then I could make comments criticising them. I'll not have my Article 10 Freedom of Expression right, enshrined in European law and protected to the highest level by all the courts in the land, curtailed by six men in a shed on stilts. And I will not be intimidated either.
I further ingratiated myself with certain people by taking a stand at the penultimate meeting of the season at Corbie when wading into Mayhem-gate (Brywins Mayhem not allowed to race as at the time of entry was not in the care of the person claiming to be the trainer; upon investigation, another 5 horses entered to race were of the same status, and despite intervention in one case by the BHRC Vice Chairman following notification by myself, other horses were allowed to run. It was an example of victimisation at its worst). It was due to this debacle that the Regional Steward position became vacant, and also due to this and the stand I took that I decided to apply for the position. A background in law, coupled with an ingrained sense of fairness, meant I thought I was a suitable candidate; furthermore, at the time nobody else wished to do the job. It later transpired that Craig Stevenson, an active member of the MFDA committe and also one of the handicapping panel, had also applied. I offered to withdraw my application as in all honesty I don't need the extra work but was told to wait and see who the SHRC would support (having been told they could assist the BHRC in the application process, something Smarty and I fought for at BHRC committee meetings).
Despite my credentials, and the glaring fact that the BHRC needs to encourage young people to take up the 'boring' roles within the sport and shake off its image of being the 'old boys' brigade', my application was ripped to shreds at a Council meeting. An attack was made upon my character so harsh and unfair that upon learning about what had happened, I was brought to tears. I am quite frankly ashamed and embarassed that I could allow myself to get so upset over the words of someone who barely knows me, but I was not offered an opportunity to defend myself. Instead, my publicly written criticisms and comments were provided as evidence of my incapacity to fulfil the role as a Regional Steward. My application was going to be rejected on the grounds that I put my money where my mouth is and stood up and criticised where criticism is due.
However, the BHRC were not aware that I was aware of this. So after making my fellow SHRC committe members aware of my decision, and the reasons why, I withdrew my application from the BHRC. They had the offer of my help; they chose not only to not take it, but to undermine my character. Behind my back. This then paved the way for Craig to seemingly cross the t's and dot the i's by going through the mandatory interview, and the role was his.
Apparently not. The BHRC appointed an existing BHRC steward (and subsequently new SHRC Chairman, and starter), Fred Hay. No interview, no consultation with the old (or new) SHRC committee. You've gotta love democracy.
My time with the SHRC also came to an abrupt end when the committee were unceremoniously booted out the door for blowing nearly eight grand last season, leaving the club with not a huge amount of dosh to play with for 2016. We had identified ideas for fundraising, and also areas where we had got it wrong in 2015, but a coup had been arranged behind closed doors and out we went in favour of the original committee who the members had wanted rid of in 2014/15. Short memories.
I was asked to rejoin the 'new' committee by the new Chair and Vice Chair; I declined. I'm not designed for politics. Firstly, I'm clearly too critical. Secondly, I'm too honest. Thirdly, I live with a bookmaker, who IS actually only involved in the sport to make loads of money and give nothing back, and whose ideas for the sport are only designed to assist him in this aim (I don't know if you can see the sarcasm dripping from the statement through your computer screen).
And that's just the crap that's been going on that I'm directly involved with. I've not even mentioned half of the other stuff going on which has made this winter one of the longest I've endured. I've not even got a horse to train this summer; I don't intend on having one either. I'm reluctant to keep paying my licence fees to a governing body so insistent to remain on its crash course. Blatent disregard for those who fund the sport out of their own pockets is the dish of the week, and I'm tired of being served it.
Watch this space, but right now Florida is looking like a far better option.
Tir Prince kicks off the season on Saturday 7th May, and I'll be there with my fingers crossed that the sight of Stoneriggs Mystery hopefully bagging his first FFA of the season will be enough to remind me why I fell in love with this great sport in the first place.
Over and out,