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 (  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

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

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