Tuesday, 19 July 2016

2016 Season: Weeks 10 & 11

Amalgamated into one post for the simple reason that Week 10's racing for me consisted of Friday 8th July and that was it.  I spent the weekend in Cardiff not even thinking about horses (worryingly refreshing) whilst Smarty plied his trade first at Corbiewood and then at Pikehall.  He decided against heading to Allensmore (although you don't hear anyone there going off their nut about that...).

This is usually the part where I refer you to the Harnesslink report that I've written for the meeting, especially as I'm now more than a week behind schedule.  Only, I didn't write one for the first time this season.  A fact which has upset me so much that I had to apologise to some of last week's winners when I was at Corbiewood on Thursday night.  I felt as though I had done them out of their moment in the sun, although an article was published on Harnesslink celebrating the winner of the VDM Prep race (well done John and Sam Howard with Tyrion Hanover, and of course to Richard Haythornthwaite who got that winner at Corbiewood he was after).  However, Friday 8th July saw 8 races staged at the track, and it seems such a shame that seven of these were not covered.  I could have done it myself, but was advised by the editor that there was no need.  Seemingly if it's not big news, it's no news.  Try telling that to the people winning races for the first time in their lives as they approach the big five-oh...

So here goes.  This is the poor man's version of the Harnesslink report I would have written.  But seeing as I'm averaging between 250-300 views on this blog per week, with readers from USA, Canada, France, Australia, Ireland and the UK, it isn't that far behind.  After all, I'm here to celebrate everyone's achievements, no matter how small, because weekly racing is what feeds the big meetings and what keeps the professionals and amateurs in business.

The Friday night of racing saw a training double for John Nicholson who has already enjoyed plenty of success north of Hadrian's Wall this year; the first saw him steering Valerie to victory in a maiden event in which the mare came home virtually unchallenged by two lengths from Just A Little, who in turn was 11 lengths clear of Styx Locomotive and the two-year-old No Brakes who battled it out for third, with the former coming out on top by a neck.  Later on in the evening, son John Henry Nicholson took up the reins with Silver Alert who was an odds-on favourite following recent form, and again it was a case of coming home unchallenged as the field finished in a bunch behind, with veteran Grinnin CT beating Jennas Gold who had been parked two wide the full trip.

Ally Mackenzie isn't one to be outdone and he too notched up a training double for Trackside Racing Stables with son Stuart piloting both horses to victory.  The first came in the form of Kikis Virtue, a mare who had only finished outside the first three once in 12 starts, convincingly beating the in form Bayrigg Tonto and former juvenile champion ATM.  The second win was delivered by Starzapan from a 10 yard trail, making it two from two for the mare in consecutive weeks.  Burning Dust was second with Jasper Hill narrowly beating Mega Star for third.

Imogen Camden notched up her second win of the season when beating Yokalady who many punters felt would have run closer had it not been for a steady drive early on.  Richard Haythornthwaite went one better after his 4th place on Mega Star to take third with Millie May West.

He went even better in the feature race of the evening, the Vincent Delaney Memorial Prep race when winning comfortably with the imported colt, Tyrion Hanover.  Interference from Mikala Camden as the trailing field rounded the last two bends meant the little horse recorded a 12 length margin of victory, as the filly hampered main challenger Share A Smile.  Frankie Camden followed closely behind him, and the fillies were some distance behind them again.

Derek Delaney presents the trophy to winning owner John Howard (W Paterson/B Cardno photo)
John Allan returned to the winner's circle after a lengthy absence when steering San Diego to her second win in as many weeks.  The filly, who had won last time out for Brian Gilvear, came home ahead of Ayr Jubilee and Ayrosmith to give owner/trainer Willie Kyle something to smile about!

The final race of the night was yet another horse making it a back-to-back double;  Vyrnwy Smoke had notched up a comfortable victory the week before with Lauren Moran taking the hotseat.  This week it was her mother, Carol McPhail, looking to score her first driving win at the age of 48.  The horse bolted in with an 11 length winning margin from the eternally game veteran Kasbest.  Anniejoan stayed on for third.


Week 11 kicked off with the traditional Thursday night racing at Corbiewood and this week we took our 2yo filly, Crosshill Ace, for her first ever race.  Having spent a bit of time off due to a cold, she was coming to the track to put into practice everything she had done in solo workouts, whilst getting the experience of being in amongst a race as an added bonus.  She was drawn 4 on the gate, which following the false start caused by the horse drawn 1 (which was subsequently moved to the outside), saw her get moved in to post position 3.  Still not the best of draws so her driver took her to the back of the field and she ran the trip out eventually finishing fourth.  I was delighted with her performance as she'd knocked 4 seconds off her PB in clocking 2.07.67.  Naturally, all eyes were on the winner, another 2yo filly, Victoria Camden (Mypanmar-Penn Kinki Touch) who had won in 2.05.9.  This shaved 9/10s of a second off the existing 2yo filly record set by Rhyds Topaz in 2010, and this filly now looks like a serious prospect for the remainder of the summer.

The rest of the evening's racing can be reviewed here.

Smarty, along with two other bookmakers, chose not to stand on Thursday night.  I can't speak on behalf of the others, but his reasons were a mixed bag of knowing it would be a struggle to break even or win his expenses, a stalemate between the club and the bookmakers regarding a stand alone fixture being run by the club at a different venue, and simply wanting to prep our horse and watch her race in the same way that the rest of our gang do every week.  What happened after that was quite frankly ridiculous.

I lost count of the number of people asking me why the bookmakers were not standing, or 'protesting'.  Firstly, I had no knowledge of any protest, and secondly, ask them!  They were all there (well, apart from one, who drove in to the track, said her piece, and left again).  Then when we went home...well, some people simply have too much time on their hands.  I literally heard it all on social media Thursday night, my favourite being that the bookmakers could have stood and either not priced up fancied horses at all, or priced them up and then refused to take bets.


I about choked on my cup of tea when that pearl of wisdom was cast into the mix.  Imagine if they'd done that?!  Smarty didn't build up his reputation as a bookmaker by not pricing up or knocking back bets.  And last time I checked, self-employed people could take days off whenever they like.

Or should I hurry up and get those charity registration papers completed ready for next week?!  Because turning up at ANY track in the country knowing that it's going to take an act of God (who most probably isn't real) to even win back your expenses of going there is nothing short of madness.  I wouldn't work for nothing, and I sure as hell wouldn't work AND lose money.

Matter closed.  Consider the goat absolutely butchered this week.  As someone said, 'you can't teach pork'.

From Cowboywood (aptly-named) we headed to Tir Prince for a bumper 10-race card, including the 3YO colts and fillies, the VDM prep races (split for colts and fillies), two Le Trot races and the Crock of Gold second qualifier.

I'm sure everyone's highlights from the night are different, and it was a night of plenty of action and good racing.  For me it was seeing Miraculous and Jessies Conquest dominate their 3YO races; two horses who were not only exceptional juveniles last year but have proven this year already that they are top class.  I cannot speak highly enough of Jessies Conquest in particular; she is effortless in everything she does.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: we all dream of breeding and owning a filly as good as her.  If she was mine, I would seriously consider sending her to America to race once the season is over here; she really is that good.

Jessies Conquest and Marc Jones winning (again!) (Graham Rees photo)

My other highlight came from the Oakwood Stud Grey FFA Race.  Last year this was won by Wellfield Ghost who beat Shades Of Grey by the narrowest of margins.  The judge's decision on the photo finish took a long time to be announced and the longer we waited the more driver Sarah [Allen] became convinced that she'd been pipped on the line by James [Haythornthwaite}, who was convinced he had got up just in time.  This year they faced each other again, alongside Cool Night Ayr, who was running for the last time for owners Simon Clarke and Kirsty Legrice (Millstream Stud) as he was heading to Ireland to his new owner Thomas Bennett that night, Ayr Hero, Blue Incredible and Coalford Chief.  With Shades being in such fine form following on from her win in a heat of the Famous Musselburgh Pace and her second at the same track in the FFA behind stablemate Brywinsmagicpotion, she was entitled to be a 1/3 shot.  Patrick Kane was driving Ghost for the first time, as regular driver Sarah is currently sidelined and other regular driver Andrew Cairns was partnering Coalford Chief.

I ran across from the joint in time to see Ghost lead out in his usual manner; having made every post the winning post in the final at Aberystwyth a couple of years ago I know as well as most that this horse likes to lead from the get go and Saturday night was no exception.  With Shades sitting in third and Coalford Chief sandwiched between them, Patrick looked as though he was struggling to hold the horse somewhat in front.  I found myself talking out loud giving him driving advice: 'don't choke him Patrick, let him roll'.  Heading down the back straight for the second time he was opening up in front and Shades looked to be making no headway in passing Coalford Chief and that's when the people around me starting saying 'the winner's in front'.  At that moment I knew it was safe to start cheering them home and as they stormed up the home straight nothing was coming near him.  He was as convincing a winner as he's ever been and clocked a nice 2.00.3 for his troubles.  I didn't know if Rachel [Sydenham] had made the long journey up from south Wales but I did know that Annette [Wilson] wasn't there so I figured the duty fell at my feet to get in that photo as one third of 'Roy's babes'!

The top grey on the night: Wellfield Ghost & Patrick Kane Jnr (Graham Rees photo)

Derek & James Delaney, Oakwood Stud, presenting owner/trainer Roy Sheedy with his rosette (note my safe distance from Ghost's head, and Patrick trying to hold him still!)
I've not seen Roy [Sheedy] run many times in the time I've known him but he came bouncing down the track to meet his horse, who I was struggling with while the steward tried to scan his microchip. Ghost is a bit of a git when it comes to holding his head and I've heard horror stories of bleeding ears and mild concussion (for Rachel, not the horse!) over the years.  How Rachel managed to contend with him on a daily basis I'll never know!  I had to dodge five or six serious side swipes which had the power to floor me!

My favourite quote of the night came from Patrick when he shouted over, 'Hey Roy, he's got some gate speed!'.  Yes, he really has.

Here's a link to the race, courtesy of our media specialist on the SHRC Facebook Admin Team, Elizabeth O'Neil:  https://www.facebook.com/scottishharnessracingclub/videos/646628448845341/

Michael O'Neil & me enjoying the racing at Tir Prince
Smarty and I had to miss the meeting at Wolsingham on Sunday as we were at a family wedding, the eldest daughter of our very own Jockey.  There's not many good reasons to miss racing but flying the flag for the Smart family is one of them!

Smarty & me at the family wedding on Sunday
The Gaffer & me

'Father of the Bride' (and he even had boxers to prove it!), The Jockey & me
So it's onwards to Corbiewood on Friday evening for the second of the Scottish STAGBI Future Broodmares Races, and a new event for the 'OAPs', the 'Veteran Derby', for horses aged 10 years and over.  You'd think there wouldn't be that many around, but if everyone who has one enters then the race will be over-subscribed.  Word is one of my favourite horses, Colonel Mustard, will be venturing up for a shot at being the top OAP, and if that's the case then expect a selfie with my main man in the next post!  We will hopefully be taking our filly Ace as well for her last run before she heads to the Breeders Crown All American Fillies on August 2nd.  Fingers crossed we get a good run!

Before I head off, and although I'm in danger of finishing this poor goat off for good, can I just take a minute to draw your attention to the farce that has been the objection to Evenwood races (due to be staged on Sunday 24th July near Bishop Auckland - BE THERE) being staged at York Harness Raceway.  The date was granted some time during the winter with no objections.  The only other meeting on that date is at Amman Valley, south Wales, thus serving an entirely different circuit of horses.

The committee then advised the BHRC that they wished to stage the meeting at York, with the consent of owner Mick Welling.  May I add that this was his sole involvement in the venture - hiring out his venue.  The BHRC then decided that this could, and would, not be allowed.  Hmmm.  Have the date.  No, don't have the date.  You can have the date, but only if you stage it somewhere other than York, because it will have an adverse effect on a fixture 2 days later in another country.  The people of the north east are not being very well served by their governing body if you ask me.

FORTUNATELY, through the good work of the committee, an alternative venue has been secured and racing will hopefully go ahead.  I'll be there.  I suspect those who objected and those who upheld the objection will not.  With all the women in politics taking the top jobs now, perhaps it's time to consider that option for leading the harness racing forward.  Just don't look towards me, I'm too much of a loose cannon on this 'ere blog of mine.

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

2016 Season: Week 9 - Wales, the greatest country on Earth!

There is a reason that Aberystwyth is regarded as one of the four jewels in the harness racing crown, and on the weekend of 2nd and 3rd July it cemented itself as one of the firm favourites with owners, trainers, drivers and spectators.  It remains the best fixture for offering the whole package for those of us travelling from away - the nightlife in Aber itself only acts to compliment the two days of fantastic racing.  I cannot commend the committee highly enough for their efforts in securing sponsorship which meant that every horse was racing for a minimum first prize of £700, from maidens all the way up through the handicap.

Before we made the long journey south to my homeland, the Smart clan ventured to Corbiewood last Thursday night with our maiden, Cassius Clay.  Having finished second at Musselburgh less than a week before, I fancied his chances knowing that the run would have brought him on.  He was drawn 4 on the gate with the Gaffer driving himself, as the Jockey remains on the sidelines with his injured hand.  He assures us that he will be back driving within a fortnight; we're winding him up saying he may not have a horse to drive.  He might think we're being serious, as the boss man came home a relatively easy winner on his big horse, securing his first driving win in 16 years (the last being at Musselburgh).  It sounds as though he's not been the best of drivers, to go that length of time without a win, but for the last 16 years he's only had a handful of drives and usually on occasions where our stables have fielded 2 runners in the same race, with the Jockey taking the first choice.  He has however been the driving force behind the training of the horses, and I for one know that we wouldn't get very far without him (literally, because he drives the lorry).

Cassius Clay and William Smart (Bill Cardno photo)

A summary of the racing from Thursday night can be read, as per usual, on Harnesslink (http://www.harnesslink.com/UK-Ireland/Fwd--Article234567).  My only additional comment from the night would be to highlight the performances of John Howard's two 2YOs who raced: Tyrion Hanover and Rhyds Voodoo.  They both put in very noteworthy performances to finish second in their respective races, and with Tyrion returning this coming Friday for the VDM Prep race, I believe he has every chance of taking home the £1000 for first place.  Like his namesake (yes, I am a GoT square, the theme tune is my ringtone, I would quite happily run away with Jon Snow), he's on the small side, but he has an impressive turn of foot and staying power.  I'm watching him closely.

After the excitement of Thursday night, we hit the road for Aber on the Friday.  Our main aim was to get ourselves in the Pier before the Wales v Belgium game kicked off and we made it with about five minutes to spare.

What a game.

One of the best games of football I have ever watched, in a place bouncing with atmosphere and amongst people who were enjoying the game as much as I was.  It was a moment to be more proud than usual to be Welsh.

I'll not dwell on the celebrations that kept me up until 4am, but suffice it to say my groom skills which had been requested on Saturday by Mr Dunbar were not up to much.  Thankfully I wasn't actually needed as he seemed to have asked about 4 people to help (hedging his bets - wise move).

Aberystwyth was what Aberystwyth always is - brilliant.  The weather finally came good on the Sunday afternoon and the quality of racing was second to none.  Following just one week after Musselburgh meant that those of us who attended both meetings were completely spoilt in the short space of time.  I wrote the following article for Harnesslink and the BHRC and cannot stress enough (as I did over the phone to the Chairman who shared my sentiments) that the meeting, and the fixture at Musselburgh, had both done so much to showcase the sport and demonstrate that hard work really pays off.  They are two examples of racing at their best.


It was great to see in-form horses like Llwyns Delight, heat and final winner at Cilmery only 10 days prior to this meeting, and Mikey Camden, who had won three of his last four starts with the remainder a second, all in handicap heats and finals, running to their best.  Sun Glasses Ron continues to fly the flag for arguably one of the best stallions ever to have stood in the UK: Stoneriggs J R.  I previously made an application to have him entered into the BHRC Hall of Fame as his racing exploits were the stuff of legend and in this son he continues to be in the forefront of peoples' minds.  If you haven't read the piece, you can find it at http://www.bhrc.org.uk/racing/hall-of-fame/horses/Stoneriggs-J-R/

Sun Glasses Ron & Gareth Price win the Travis Perkins Classic Final (Graham Rees photo)

Mikey Camden & Rocker Laidler win the Park Lodge Classic Final (Graham Rees photo)
Jessies Conquest continued her already successful campaign to become the top 3YO filly following on from an incredible year last year which culminated in her BHRC 2YO of the Year 2015 award.  Speaking to Marc and Jenny Jones you can really tell how much the success of their homebred filly means to the whole family.  For those of you who don't know, the filly is named after their daughter Jessie, who was born with Down's Syndrome.  Jessie is the life and soul of the party and fast-becoming a star of harness racing just like her equine namesake.  Nearly every horse has a 'back story', and this one is one of the most heartwarming.

Jessies Conquest & Marc Jones win the 3YO Fillies race (Graham Rees photo)

It was also great to see Roy Sheedy and Rachel Sydenham back in the winner's circle.  Rachel left Roy's yard after 9 years back in the winter to venture into Thoroughbred racing.  Although this is still what she does as her 'proper' job, she can't resist the temptation to go racing with Roy on her 'weekends off'.  Wellfield Ruby showed great toe to win, having won 10 days prior to the fixture at Cilmery.  Yankee Landa seems to be doing alright.

I'm almost 100% sure that I've missed out some very interesting and important details from the weekend, however this post is now 10 days behind schedule thanks to a very busy work and home life and I'm conscious that people are reading the blog and not seeing anything new!

Before I head off, I just want to touch on the dangerous aspect of harness racing, which not many of us think about regularly but which is ever-present, although hopefully rarely-encountered.  A couple of weeks back I was reading through Maureen Lloyd's results from a Wales & Border Counties meeting.  This is something I do on a weekly basis, as I have a vested interest in a horse named For One Night Only (a half-brother to Shes Some Deal) and a general interest in a number of horses which have made the move from BHRC to WBCRA racing.  The results stopped abruptly with the notice that racing had been abandoned following an accident.

It was then clear to see from the numerous posts on Facebook that a horse had tragically been lost following the accident, something which none of wish to ever encounter.  I expressed my condolences at the time as the owner/trainer/driver is a friend of mine.  I also read that two other drivers in the race had been taken to hospital.  Monitoring this situation over the course of the following two or three days, it transpired that one driver, Janet Thomas, had broken her back.

I have never driven in a race before, and I highly doubt that I ever will.  But I have a lot of friends who do and the thought of that happening to them fills me with dread.  I have never met Janet, although I know of her through working at STAGBI and also keeping an eye on the results from that area of racing.  I felt compelled to pass on my best wishes, so sent flowers with our thoughts and hopes for a speedy recovery.  Janet messaged us shortly after this to let us know she was out of hospital and hopefully on the road to recovery.

Janet Thomas in the driving seat
A lot of you reading this will never have heard of Janet.  Some of you can safely say you've never even heard of some of the horses that race with Wales and Borders, let alone the drivers.  But at the core, the people who race 'on the other side' are the same as those of us who don't.  Just as Smarty and I found in Florida that we were fundamentally the same as the people who train and race around Pompano Park five nights a week.  We are all driven by a love of harness racing.  We all give up our free time, our money, and at times our sanity to shovel shit, wash tack, brave the elements to get our horses exercised.  We make long journeys to race meetings, trips to the feed store or the vets.  We wander around fields and tracks looking for that lost shoe, chasing horses who won't be caught.  We get our toes trodden on, our arms pulled, our faces headbutted.  Our clothes get dirty, our cars get dirty, our houses get dirty.  And yet we keep doing it, day after day, month after month, year after year.

To outsiders, we're all mad.  So remember, we're all in this together.  Spare a thought for Janet who took the hit this time and let's all keep our fingers crossed that nothing like that happens again any time soon, or better still, ever again.

Over and out,

#1 Welsh Groom