Thursday, 29 September 2016

2016 Season: Week 20 - The Murdock Weekend

Welcome to Corbiewood's biggest annual two day fixture: the Murdock Weekend.

Named in honour of Joe Murdock, whose family sponsor the high grade final on the Sunday in his memory, the event entered its tenth year this year and was pitched as being bigger and better than ever.

The pinnacle of the first day of racing was the Victor Carson Memorial Final, in memory of my friend George's uncle who passed away.  George managed to qualify two for the final, with GDs Baby finishing second in the first heat to I Can Dream (Grant Cullen) and Valentine Camden second to Porcelain Seelster (James Haythornthwaite) in the fifth heat.  Porterstown Keith (Stephen Cairney) was the surprise winner in heat 2, Indie Hanover (Richard Haythornthwaite) ensured the Fletchers had two runners in the final alongside their grey filly when winning the third, and the 10-year-old Country Jetstream (Andrew Cairns) also made the final when winning the fourth heat.  With five heats and only eight eligible for the final, the five race winners were joined by the three fastest losers; Ystwyth Valley, third behind Porcelain Seelster and Valentine Camden in the fastest of the five heats, qualified for the final but subseqently was withdrawn.

I stood and watched the final with Ally and Stuart Mackenzie.  Ally and I tend to agree on most things and in this case it was that Porcelain Seelster had everything to do from the back, but was the standout best horse in the race.  Everything went her way and she was a comfortable winner with a length victory over stablemate Indie Hanover, giving the Fletchers a 1-2 in the final and brothers James & Richard Haythornthwaite the same.

Porcelain Seelster (Camluck-Pantecostal-No Pan Intended) & James Haythornthwaite (Bill Cardno photo)
In the two maiden and novice events on the day it was two English raiders in the form of the roan Hasty Rocket (William Greenhorn) and Madison Camden (Grant Cullen) who landed the spoils.  The Dark Rum FFA, featuring 4 top Scottish horses, the Irish-owned and English-trained Tarawood Messi and the Welsh-owned, English-trained Meadowbranch Josh, went the way of the Haugh Field Trophy Final winner Dreamfair I Say and Brian Gilvear.  This was the horse's first start at Corbiewood, a track only a couple of miles away from his stable.

Dreamfair I Say (Dreamfair Vogel-Today I Say-Todays Man) winning the Dark Rum FFA (Bill Cardno photo)
Unfortunately, the day was tarnished by an unfortunate accident in the FFA in which Meadowbranch Josh shattered his pastern and was subseqeuntly, sadly, put to sleep.  The 9-year-old gelded son of The Cammissioner, out of the top mare Churchill Queen, was purchased by Trevor Morgans as a yearling during a visit to Meadowbranch Stud.  Although bred in Ireland, over the years he became known as the Welsh Free For Aller and gained a lot of support from Welsh spectators when competing at the highest level against the country's finest.

His career began in 2010 as a three year old, where he was a runner up on his debut at Tir Prince.  Less than a week later he notched up his first victory at Trevor's home track of Aberystwyth in the hands of Jason Podmore, who trained him throughout his inaugural season and recorded one other victory that year.  Their partnership continued into 2011 despite the horse returning to the coast to be trained by Trevor, as Jason remained as his pilot.  In 2011 he only had 7 starts, with another two victories to double his lifetime tally.

In 2012 Josh recorded his biggest win to date.  Following a win at Leominster earlier in the season, he won his heat and then went on to win the final at the Tan Y Castell meeting staged at Aberystwyth.  This was a popular 'home' victory for the Morgans family, and the last win of the season for Josh who subsequently spent some time with Patrick Morris who had become Josh's regular driver earlier in the season.

The following year was a stellar year for Josh, as he notched up no fewer than 7 victories.  With a winning 'prep run' at Leominster, Josh headed to Appleby where he won his heat and went on to be runner up in the Spring Handicap Final, a major handicap final at one of the 'jewels in the crown' fixtures in the British season.  He followed this up with back-to-back wins, including once again at Aberystwyth where he won a heat at the Ceredigion meeting, another of the 'jewels in the crown'.  From here he had to step up and face the big boys.  In his signature plucky style, he won his first ever Free For All, a heat of the Crock of Gold at Tir Prince, and although unplaced in the final (in 2013 the format was heats and finals on the same night) he went on to win the FFA at the Tan Y Castell fixture on the Aberystwyth track on his next start.

In 2014 he added another 7 wins to his tally, with five coming in his first seven starts of the season (including 2 at his favourite track, you guessed it, Aberystwyth!).  Having earned his lifetime mark of 1.57 flat at York in his final victory of the 2013 season, he went on to repeat performances of 1.57.7 at both Amman Valley and York in 2014.  In 2015, he recorded four wins from his first five starts, including a Crock of Gold heat (in 2015 the format became heats during the course of the season with the final later in the year) and the inaugural leg of the Standardbred Sales Co. Battle of the Big Guns at Appleby.  He won a second heat of the Crock of Gold before finishing sixth in the final.

In 2016, Josh joined the Laidler stables and recorded four victories on four different tracks.  The first came at the spring meeting at Tregaron when partnered by this season's leading driver, William Greenhorn.  After finishing third in the Battle of the Big Guns at Appleby, he travelled south to the new track at Monmouth where he won the Doonbeg Flying Mile OPH.  A fortnight later he travelled to Scotland to race in the first ever Famous Musselburgh Sprint over five furlongs where he blitzed in in 1.26.2.  His final victory came at the inaugural harness racing meeting at Newcastle Racecourse (Gosforth Park) on Friday 9th September, his last run before the fateful race at Corbiewood on 17th September.  Josh was definitely a horse for 'firsts', and his victory at Newcastle came out of the blue to all but his most loyal supporters.

From 82 lifetime starts, winner of 29 races with earnings of over £18,000.  His lifetime best was 1.57 at York, with his record set at 1.59.8 at Tir Prince and 1.57.7 at Amman Valley.  He boasted a 35.37% win rate and a 53.66% place rate.  He was Wales' FFA star and he will be sorely missed by more than those closely associated with him.
Meadowbranch Josh winning the first leg of the Battle of the Big Guns at Appleby, 2015 (Graham Rees photo)
Meadowbranch Josh winning the FFA at Monmouth, 2016 (Graham Rees photo)
Meadowbranch Josh winning the Battle of the Big Guns leg at Newcastle, 2016 (Jayne Ward photo)
On the Sunday, following a night of drunken antics involving far too much karaoke and some questionable dancing (Jackie Campbell - you should take up a career in contortionism, the shapes you can pull aren't even normal), I headed to the track to declare Ace in the SHRC 2YO Futurity Fillies division.  Smarty had instructed me to remain in the office until the draw was done, telling me that declarations would close at 12:30pm and the draw would be done by 1pm.  Having arrived just after midday, I waited until 1pm before asking the secretary when the draw would be done.  I was told that it would happen once all horses had declared.  When I asked what time declarations closed, I was told it was when all horses had declared.  Not sure that's how it's supposed to work.  I was left scratching my head at that one, I'll be honest.  Anyway, the draw eventually took place; we were in race 6, which had started off with 4 runners when the card went to print, but was reduced to 3 following some bizarre starter/stewarding decisions the day before when Crosshill Azalea broke on the gate in her first ever run.  Knowing full well she was running the following day in order to be eligible for the Sire Stakes meeting at Tir Prince the following weekend, they chose to make the filly requalify after breaking in only one race (the club rule is horses must requalify if they break in two consecutive starts at the track).  Therefore, not only did she miss the SHRC Futurity, but she was also forced to miss the Sire Stakes.  One can't help but wonder if the outcome of the break on the Saturday might have been different had the trainer's face been a different one.

Having not had a decent draw since she qualified, and having also not been in front during a race since running in qualifiers, I had everything crossed for the pole position.  Although with everything that had been going wrong in the week or so leading up to the meeting, I wasn't holding out much hope.

Luck has to change at some point, and on Sunday 18th September, my luck changed.  Crosshill Ace was drawn 1 on the gate, Littlemill Jo was drawn 2 and 2YO filly track record holder and Breeders Crown champion Victoria Camden was drawn 3.

Before I go into a blow-by-blow account of my own horse's race, I should mention the heat winners and qualifiers for the Joe Murdock Memorial Final.  The first heat went the way of the Tony 'more panic than Yannick' Allan-trained Lyons Pass (William Drysdale), who set a blistering first half pace from on top to come home a length clear of the strong-finishing Loriznitestar (Grant Cullen).  Mega Star (William Greenhorn), the horse who got loose during the final at Brough at the end of August, took the second heat ahead of the plucky 11-year-old Diamond O'Neil (Andrew Cairns).  Greenhorn had a tough call to make as the regular driver of both horses but got it right this time, giving him yet another winner on his quest to become the UK's Champion Driver for the first time.

Tough racemare Starzapan (Stuart Mackenzie) notched up her fifth win of the season when finishing three quarters of a length in front of Dontstoptheparty (Brian Gilvear) in the third heat; and making up the octet for the pinnacle of the day's racing, the final, were Robhall (Grant Cullen) and Camden Massino (William Greenhorn).  Robhall also recorded his fifth victory of the season when taking the fourth heat.

The exciting prospect Live In Star (Grant Cullen) made it two wins in as many weeks, propelling himself into Open Class company next time out as he won the Novice event, finishing ahead of New London Hanover (Gordon Gilvear) and JMs Macy Hallstar (William Greenhorn).  I firmly believe you will hear the names of all three next season as they progress through the racing ranks.  Live In Star is a three-year-old son of World Record Holder Doonbeg, out of the good racemare Live In Beauty, herself a two-time STAGBI Future Broodmares winner at Corbiewood.  Sadly she was lost before the start of the season; however in Star, breeder and owner Bobby Miller has continued the family line.

The last three races on the day were the SHRC Futurity Fillies Division, Colts Division and Murdock Final.  For the first time in its history, the Futurity was split between colts and fillies, with the winner of the trophy being the 2YO with the fastest time.  This had been due to the total number of horses entered at the final payment stage being greater than the maximum number of horses allowed in a race; with voluntary and compulsory withdrawals before the day, the fillies were 3 in number and the colts were 4.  As the card had been published with the races split, they remained separate.

Rather than me provide a written report of Ace's race, here's the video (hopefully):

As you can see, she won, and comfortably.  Our friend Scott Schwartz who we met at Pompano in February asked Smarty what type of racing it was that he was watching in the video.  I think he was unimpressed.  Scott - what I say to you is that we beat what was in front of us on the day.  That's all anyone can try to do!

I was over the moon with the result, and with her performance.  All summer long we have campaigned this filly at the highest level and despite giving it her all every time, she's either been beaten by bad draws or better horses.  That day was our day in the sun.

The colts raced straight afterwards, and I just managed to catch the end of the race to see Share A Smile win for owner Margaret Ferns, trainer Hamish Muirhead and driver Hugh Menzies.  You might recall that Share A Smile, or Smiler, travelled alongside Ace to Portmarnock for the VDM.  They were the only two Scottish horses to compete that weekend.  I was delighted to see him pick up the colts division.
Share A Smile (Pro Bono Best-Raise A Smile-Grinfromeartoear)  (Bill Cardno photo)

As I'd led Ace off the track, Greenhorn had told the Gaffer and me that he hadn't driven the race to time but to tactics, and as Ace had gone 2.07.8 he fully anticipated that the colts would go faster and we would not receive the trophy.  I stood and watched the connections of Smiler in the winner's circle with Karen Kennedy and the trophy and assumed they had won it.  Shortly afterwards Karen emerged from the bar carrying the trophy, informing me that the colts race had only gone 2.09.3.  In addition to the perpetual trophy, I also received a trophy to keep and a rosette to add to mine and Ace's colourful collection.
Crosshill Ace (Cams Card Shark-Vain In Spain-Artsplace) (Bill Cardno photo)
I watched the final sat on a picnic bench up near the stables, intending to take my numbercloth back to the office but distracted by Michael O'Neil buying me celebratory ice cream and being weighed down with trophies.  From my viewpoint, behind the 8 horses as they stormed down the home straight together, I was able to call the eventual winner about 100 yards out.  In running, despite being 4 wide and painting the standside rail, Brian Gilvear timed his challenge to perfection to drive Dontstoptheparty to a resounding victory.  The following pictures illustrate just how thrilling a finish it was, with all 8 competitors finishing within 4 lengths of each other (the first 5 home finishing three quarters of a length, a head, a neck and a neck apart respectively).

The closing yards of the Joe Murdock Memorial Final (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)
Dontstoptheparty (nearest the rail) charges home under a well-timed drive from Brian Gilvear (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)
Four lengths split the field at the finish (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)
Ron Caddies and Logan Fowler (right) lead Dontstoptheparty to the winner's circle (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)
Members of the Murdock family joined the Gilvear family & friends in the winner's circle to present the Memorial Trophy (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)
Dontstoptheparty cheered home by the bumper crowd at Corbiewood (Bill Cardno photo)

Before I sign off on this lengthy (but hopefully enjoyable) update, I would just like to take a moment to reflect upon the career of another horse who sadly raced for the final time at Corbiewood over the weekend.  In a startingly similar turn of events to the previous day, Hawthorns Maggie also shattered a pastern and was subsequently, very sadly for all concerned, put to sleep.

The 8-year-old daughter of Coalford Art out of the mare Dot Comm began her career in the hands of William Kyle and San Pondo Racing as a juvenile in 2010.  From two starts at 2, she maintained a 100% win record, winning both the heat and final of the Corbiewood 2YO Futurity, staged a week apart.  She continued her winning form, kicking off her three-year-old season with another win at Corbiewood.  Her form transferred to the turf, where she was a runner up in her heat in the Appleby 3YO Grass Championship before finishing third in the final.  In 2012 she changed hands, trained by the Paterson family for Robert Govan.  Winning highlights in this season included the STAGBI Future Broodmares Race, having reached the minimum age to compete (4), as well as numerous placed efforts.  In 2013 she won the Joe Murdock Final, as well as her heat on the day.  Although luckless in 2014 and 2015, she ran consistently and provided untold experience for her young driver, Gregor Paterson, picking up several places along the way.

It was in 2016 however that she came back into form, with wins at both Appleby New Fair meeting and the Ceredigion Festival at Aberystwyth.  In doing so, she competed in two prestigious handicap finals in the UK grass season amongst top company.

From 109 starts, she won 11 times and recorded a 37% place rate across her long career.  A firm favourite in the Paterson stable, she will be missed by many.

Hawthorns Maggie winning her heat at Aberystwyth, July 2016 (Graham Rees photo)
That's all folks.

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Stand behind your man, Scotland!

I know from experience (and by experience, I mean watching Braveheart) that the Scots respond well to a rallying cry for support.  Here it is Scotland:

The BHRC has just today updated its statistics on the leading owner, trainer and driver tables.  With only 10 fixtures remaining across the UK in the 2016 season, here are things as they stand (taken directly from the BHRC website -

"Leading Horse
Currently MIRACULOUS tops the poll by number of wins sitting on 8, with victories in the Grass Derby at Musselburgh, the Barney Joyce 3YO at Portmarnock, the Breeders Crown at Tir Prince and the BHRC Pacing Derby – setting track records at Portmarnock and Tir Prince along the way.

On his heels with 7 wins each are Mikey Camden, Sports Trick, Jessies Conquest and Rhyds Mystique.

Leading Owner
Claire Fletcher has 26 wins, from stars such as Sports Trick, Porcelain Seelster, Indie Hanover and Shades of Grey.

Raymond Huschka follows in second with 19 wins, with charges including Mikey Camden, Evenwood Sonofagun and Happy Hands. A little bit of work to be done for Mr Huschka to be Leading Owner for the third consecutive year.

Leading Trainer
Closely contested at present, Teresa Haythornthwaite has 38 wins and William Laidler has 36. The Haythornthwaite team may well end a 10 year run of a Laidler leading trainer.

Leading Driver
William Greenhorn currently has 42 wins. William ‘Rocker’ Laidler follows in second with 34 wins.
Will be an interesting few weeks at this late stage in the season to watch how the wins stack up and the lists change."

This is where you come in, Scotland.  Now is the time for us to stand behind our man: William Greenhorn.  Last year, Grant Cullen pushed Rocker to the penultimate meeting of the season before Rocker knew for sure that he was retaining his title.  Despite being runner up on the national scene, he was a comprehensive champion in Scotland, with almost twice as many winning drives as the second placed driver (William Drysdale).

Before anyone gets on their high horse, this is not about not supporting Rocker; I have known him and his family for a few years now and would like to think that we're friends.

THIS IS SIMPLY A LIGHTHEARTED POST (with a serious undertone, hint hint).

When the Australian tour party were visiting Corbiewood at the beginning of August, I overheard one say to another, "that Greenhorn is supposed to be quite good.  His father told me so".  Bill Hutchison happened to be stood with them, and said "ah yes, but remember most fathers will say that".  He was right: parents are biased.  Which is why I stepped in, as an unbiased third party (at the time Greenhorn hadn't driven for me) and told them that he was on course to become the Leading Driver for the season.  That in itself seems impressive enough.  What I then pointed out was the remarkable fact that Greenhorn doesn't have a stable behind him.

What I mean is, Rocker has been training as a public trainer; Mick [Lord] has Sheelagh [Lord], Andrew [Cairns] has Joanne [Cairns], Alan, Richard & James [Haythornthwaite] have Teresa [Haythornthwaite].  You get the gist.  William Greenhorn doesn't have that.  He has catch drives.  Lots of them.  They become regular drives, but he's not fielding a stable of his own horses in addition to the drives he picks up.  He's a 100% freelance driver.  Even when wife Joyce was training [Artisan], Greenhorn could barely get a drive on the horse for C Class drivers wanting a go.

The end of the season is drawing closer, the leader tables are getting tighter.  Scotland, I am calling on you to step up and help the man out.  I've provided him with one of his 42 wins.  Maybe you can help him find number 43, 44, 45 and so on.

Let's get ourselves a Scottish champion!

William Greenhorn & Greentree Shorty (Bill Cardno photo)
William Greenhorn & Sureamsomething (Bill Cardno photo)
William Greenhorn & Ayr Escape (Bill Cardno photo)
Lining up for the Famous Musselburgh Pace Final (far right) (Bill Cardno photo)
William Greenhorn & Pan For Gold (Sarah Thomas photo)
William Greenhorn & Crosshill Ace (Bill Cardno photo)

Interview with William Greenhorn, Dec 2015 -

Over and out,

#1 (patriotic adopted-Scot) Groom

Edited to add:  Shortly after this was published, Wull G contacted me to advise that the BHRC have not accounted for 3 additional wins which he notified them of some weeks ago.  Therefore at the time of posting this he was 11 wins clear.  Nothing changes - we must all stand behind him!  Let's give this a big push to the finish (although he needs to focus on the prize, going on lads days out to races for his brother's 30th (40th) birthday will not result in winning drives!!)


2016 Season: Weeks 18 &19

With August behind us I thought things may begin to slow down a little; alas that has not been the case.

The first weekend of September saw us heading down the M74 and M6 to Tir Prince to compete in the BHRC 2YO Futurity Fillies division with Crosshill Ace.  This was due to be her penultimate run and I was praying for a decent draw, bearing in mind we were up against Rhyds Mystique (7 wins from 8 starts, her only defeat coming in the VDM Fillies Final when finishing sixth) and Greenhilldebateable, the Well Said filly who denied us victory in the Breeders Crown All American Fillies back at the beginning of August.

Of course, in light of my recent run of bad luck, and the fact that no horse owned by me ever gets a decent draw (Shes Some Deal had to wait until she was SEVEN to be drawn 1 on the gate, having begun racing aged 3), Ace was drawn 4 of 4.  The track had suffered from torrential rain earlier in the day which made it very sloppy, and despite driver Steve Lees' best efforts we came away third.  Having settled at the back early, Ace passed Rhyds Voodoo at the half; looking tired at the six furlong marker I thought she was going to fade to the rear of the field, however she rallied and finished stronger than expected.  Once again, it was not to be for us this time, with Mystique & Greenhilldebateable lengths clear ahead.  Nonetheless, as a team we were not too disappointed and definitely not deterred going back up the road.

The following day we were for Haugh Field, the grass track a stone's throw from Corbiewood, owned by owner/trainer Hamish Muirhead.  With Stevie taking a week off to prepare for Musselburgh the following Saturday, we went without any horses.  Smarty was bookying and for the first time I was being subbed out to clerk for Bernard McGovern (BMG), aka CW Regular.  Aside from the fact that I had to tell him off for littering and clear up after him at the end of the meeting, we seemed to get by alright.  A few inexplicable technical difficulties were overcome with relative ease and eventually the rain eased off (after the start of the day had seemed so promising, with me hiding under the umbrella for shade from the sun).

George Carson, whose name you will have noted before in my blog (provided this isn't your first time here) had a tremendous start to the day, with Country Major winning the first of the low grade heats in the hands of Willie Drysdale, followed straight away by a win in the second heat with Valentine Camden, driven by Grant Cullen.  Our good friend Gregg Dunbar then went on to win later in the day with his homebred, GDs Warrior, making it a successful day for the North Lanarkshire brigade who had ventured across to Stirling.

Shortly after Val's [Valentine Camden] heat, George's mother Annie came to me and told me she hadn't known that they owned the horse.  After the epic trip down the country and back up during which we collected Val and my old mare Smokey, George told Annie that he was simply training the horse for Emma Langford, so as not to annoy her with the truth that he'd bought another horse.  When she challenged me about it, it came back to me that George had said 'don't tell my mum about this' during the journey home.  In my tired state, I think I got confused as to how he was going to hide a 16hh gelding from his mother, considering his stables are opposite his house and his jog track encircles the whole site...but never thought to question it!

After Val had won at Bells Field, I'd tried to call Emma to let her know but ended up having to text as there was no answer.  I'd told Annie I was trying to contact her, and Annie had assumed I was simply ringing the owner who hadn't been able to make it to watch her horse race.  Annie was far from impressed that George, his father Gilmour and I had chosen not to tell her that she was in fact a part owner in the horse!

Just before the low grade final the commentary was lost due to a technical fault, however the finish to the race was still exciting as four horses crossed the line within a length of each other.  Val just managed to hold off Mega Star by a neck, who in turn was half a length clear of Yoka Lady and ATM who dead-heated for third.  I was supposed to be clerking for BMG and hadn't put the runners for the high grade final into the computer, but completely neglected my duties to run onto the track for the winner's photo.  The rain after race two had thwarted my plans to photobomb the heat winning photo, so I wasn't going to be denied this opportunity!  I now have printed copies of every winning action photo and presentation photo of Val to give to former owner Emma next time I see her, as I know the sale was a sad one.

Oh and by the way, Annie wasn't shouting at me after the final when she was clutching her trophy!!

Valentine Camden winning the Jimmy 'Knocker' Rennie Final @ Haugh Field (Bill Cardno photo)
Before I leave the slightly soggy turf of Haugh Field and take you on the journey to the inaugural meeting at Newcastle Racecourse on the all-weather dirt track, I'd just like to give a mention to the Haugh Field Trophy Final winner, the plucky chestnut Dreamfair I Say.  Bred, owned and trained by John Gilvear and driven in all 13 lifetime starts by Brian Gilvear, the five year old son of Dreamfair Vogel, has (at the date of publication) won 6 races on all three available surfaces in the UK - sand (Wolverhampton), turf (Haugh Field & Musselburgh) and dirt (Tir Prince & Corbiewood), as well as on a variety of different-sized tracks including 3/8 (Corbiewood), 1/2 (Tir Prince), 1 mile (Wolverhampton) and 1m 2f (Musselburgh).

Dreamfair I Say winning the Haugh Field Trophy Final (Bill Cardno photo)
Less than a week later and we were heading to Newcastle Racecourse to the first ever harness racing fixture at Gosforth Park.

In the build up to the Friday night fixture, I'd probably had the week from hell.  On the Wednesday, Smarty rang me in work to tell me that Young Stephen (Stevie) had had an altercation with a fence which had injured his leg and would render him a non-runner for the meeting at Musselburgh on the Saturday (as well as potentially the remainder of the season), which was to include three televised harness races prior to the Thoroughbred card.  On the Thursday night, I finished work early in order for us to head south to Sedgefield to attend what we deemed to be 'the wedding of the year' between Watson Harrop Jr, a larger-than-life character who hails from one of the most well-known families of horsemen in the UK, and his beautiful bride Sherelle Wilson.  Unfortunately, we firstly suffered a flat tyre just over an hour into the journey.  After some difficulty changing the tyre in a dress and a suit (I was in the dress, not Smarty), we were forced to head back, at which point the car gave up altogether and we were left stranded on the hard shoulder of the M74 for over an hour as it got dark.

So on Friday we travelled to Newcastle with Gilmour (George's dad) and Gregg Dunbar, with GDs Warrior on board in the trailer.  Despite being tasked with selling York Sale catalogues (I still have a small number available for anybody wanting one), I was still able to enjoy the racing which was essentially 8 races with 8 great finishes.

The first race was a battle to the wire between father and son Alan and Richard Haythornthwaite on board My Left Foot and Tommy Camden respectively.  It was the latter who got up in the shadow of the post to win by a neck for owners Shane & Claire Fletcher.  Not to be outdone by the male members of the family, Alan's sister Pam Haythornthwaite took the next race, the Grade 5 to 9 pace, with her very own Charlie Pan ahead of William 'Rocker' Laidler and Rhyds Solution.

The sole trot race of the evening was won by the in-form Sacha Of Carless, making it four wins in six starts for the Dave Taff-trained Trotteur Francais.  At the date of the meeting, all of his wins had come on the hard tracks, with defeats at both Aberystwyth and Tregaron.  This time owner John Foy drove the horse himself in the absence of Steve Lees, with the intention to head to Mussleburgh the following day.  Taff followed this up with another win in the fourth, this time with his father's horse, Sams Teatime partnered by Grant Cullen.

The next race went the way of Ontop Shouder Cuda and Patrick Kane Jr, one of two winners on the night for the Kane/Teeboon driving and training duo.  They followed this up with a win the Grade 1 at the end of the evening when Soldier Stanley made it back to back wins after his victory at Tregaron a fortnight earlier.

The remaining two races on the card were wrapped up by Rocker Laidler.  No Stoppin broke his maiden tag when winning the Maiden & Novice combined event with a comfortable three length victory from Anna Wallace and Blue Au Revoir, a mare who has come back from injury to compete and had won the weekend previous at Wolsingham.

In the highlight of the night, and as subsequent events have unfolded, more poignant a moment than many could have imagined at the time, the Standardbred Sales Co Battle of the Big Guns race was won by Meadowbranch Josh.  Wellfield Ghost partnered by Grant Cullen took up the running early on, much to the grey gelding's delight as a noted front runner.  With less than a furlong to go, the field began to close in on the leader and as they hit the line, the first four home were split by less than a length.  Meadowbranch Josh got up by a head to win from the gutsy grey mare, Shades Of Grey, who in turn beat Crock of Gold runner up Lyons Mischief by a short head.  Wellfield Ghost was half a length away in fourth, gallant in defeat.

The fixture was well supported in terms of runners and indeed, spectators.  Constructive criticism has been passed to the committee, including the options of either beginning the meeting earlier in order to finish racing before nightfall, or beginning later to allow those working until 5pm to attend and using the floodlights which are in place on the course.  The crowd would also need to be coralled somewhat into a more central area so as to add to the atmosphere.  Otherwise, there was little to fault.

I sincerely look forward to going back next summer, and hopefully with a couple of runners as well!!

Before I sign off on this one, I would just like to mention the three races at Musselburgh which I had hoped to be a part of with Stevie, before he decided to destroy himself.  In the build up to the event we were advised that High Street bookmakers William Hill would be accepting bets online and in their betting shops as Racing UK were going to be live streaming the three races on their channel.  On the day, due to other commitments, Smarty and I were unable to attend the track so paid for a 24-hour subscription in order to be able to view the racing.  At post time for the first race, coverage on Racing UK was still being shown from Chester; the Gaffer rang me from our nearest town to double check when the first race was due to go off as he was in our local William Hill shop and there were no odds displayed nor was the race being shown on any of the screens.  He said he was going to Coral to have a look and I didn't have the heart to tell him that seeing as Hills were the ones taking online bets, they would be the only bookmakers likely to be showing the races live.

As the afternoon progressed, it transpired that Racing UK were not showing the races live (they did however show them around 6pm as replays on the channel, which we missed due to not knowing they would be on then and also because we had the horses to sort out for the evening).  Some William Hill shops were taking bets, others had no idea about the races at Musselburgh.  The whole thing descended into a mild level of chaos.

Nonetheless, thanks to the power of social media we were able to get the results relatively contemporaneously and eventually, through a friend of a friend of a friend (and the wonders of Facebook Live) we did see the third and final race, albeit the camera was honed in on the big screen throughout.

Not only did I not track down photos from Newcastle, but I've also been unable to track down photos from Musselburgh as well.  So I'm afraid you will all have to suffer line upon line of words with no photos to break up the monotony.  For what it's worth however, the winners from Musselburgh were Lyons Premier and Grant Cullen in the first, Sacha Of Carless and John Foy in the second and Wellfield Official and Andrew Cairns in the third.  Dave Taff trained the first two winners and the runner up in the third race [Lyons Eryl Hall], and one unlucky punter showed me his treble betting slip which would have come in had Eryl Hall and Official switched finishing places.  Such is the luck of racing!

I was at Corbiewood on the Sunday primarily selling York Sale catalogues so didn't really pay much attention to the racing, although I was acting groom for George Carson and was able to work with a filly we bred, Crosshill Azalea (aka Jenny) before the racing.  She qualified nicely and I must admit I felt quite proud seeing her on the track.  She looked like she might shape up to be a nice three year old.

Crosshill Azalea (Mypanmar-Saunders Beachgirl-Beach Towel)
Anyway, I'm going to let you go because you deserve a medal for getting to the end of this.

Next up will be the review of the two-day Murdock Weekend at Corbiewood...

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

2016 Season: Week 17 - From Corbiewood to Kilnsey [the remake]

I've now resorted to recycling last year's post titles.

From Corbiewood to Kilnsey was a post I wrote last year about what felt like our busiest few days (click here to read) of the 2015 season, where we took in four different tracks across six days.

Well, this year we did it all over again.

After a slightly lacklustre 'Week 16' (difficult for anything to compare to Week 15's visit to Ireland and all that entailed), I had just about recovered enough for the six-day marathon of racing in Scotland, then Wales and then England.  Fear not dear readers, you haven't missed one of my posts (re Week 16 - Tir Prince and Bells Field).  There isn't one.  Time restraints, memory failure and (honestly?) no desire to write about it.  I was so exhausted across the course of the two days that I didn't really enjoy the racing.  All I could think about was sleep, which still to this day evades me.

Therefore we find ourselves at Week 17.

The Thursday night at Corbiewood before Tregaron saw the first three races go to Corbiewood-based trainers; Stuart 'The Yank' Mackenzie notched up a driving double in the first two events, on the Mark Kennedy-trained Styx Locomotive followed swiftly by the David 'Buster' Moncrieff-trained DKs Happy Dream.  The third race went the way of Bono, trained by Alex 'Big Eck' Taylor and driven by Grant Cullen.  The fourth went to one of the contenders for SHRC Horse of the Year, Vyrnwy Smoke, on this occasion partnered by ex-professional footballer Sean Kilgannon.  Race five was won by old favourite Diamond O'Neil, owned by my friend Rachael Ayres and trained by John Kemp of Musselburgh.  The final event was won by Corbiewood front-end specialist Stoneriggs Banner, owned and trained by William Moore.  Willie was someone I 'knew' before I'd met him, as many years ago he sold my former boss, Colin Bevan, a horse by the name of Free Contender.  Jock, as we knew him, was a real character who eventually went to Merthyr, and the last I heard he was terrorising the residents by escaping amongst the houses near his field.  Not a surprise, seeing as he used to stage Houdini-esque stunts at the yard before letting other horses out and having a good snoop around their stables (and feed bowls!).

I must admit, I missed the last three races as I was in the car park chatting to Nicola Mackenzie and her daughter Caragh about a forthcoming horse show in October.  A lady by the name of Laura, from Highfield at Howe (, contacted STAGBI a number of weeks ago and was directed to me by administrator Gwenan Thomas due to the facts that firstly, I live in Scotland, and secondly that I have made efforts since before becoming a STAGBI director to promote Standardbreds once they have finished their racing careers (note, not as an alternative career to racing.  I know as well as any person that they are bred for a primary purporse, and that is racing).  Highfield Equatrian at Howe is an equestrian centre in Giffordtown, Fife.  On the weekend of Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th October the centre will play host to a major showing event; the event is to include ridden and in-hand showing classes for Standardbreds.  Naturally I have gotten involved in this, providing rosettes on behalf of STAGBI and also personally sponsoring the trophy for the champion.  The reason I spoke to Nicola and Caragh about the event is because a couple of weeks ago they purchased Jasper Hill from Savannah Nicholson (of the Musselburgh-winning Cochise and Nicholson family fame).  Caragh and Jasper are currently sitting their saddle test together to prove to the stewards that they are competent and able to compete in the saddle race at York Harness Raceway on 8th October.  Alongisde racing, Jasper has also been learning to jump and has also taken part in a couple of showing classes already.  He is becoming quite the all-rounder!  One of the best parts of their story is that Caragh is only 14 years old.  She is so enthusiastic about everything her and Jasper do together and I wanted them to know about the Standardbred classes at Highfield.  They have confirmed that they will be attending, as will jockey/driver Lauren Moran who is considering taking the afore-mentioned Vyrnwy Smoke just to support the event!

On Friday morning we were up before sunrise to get ourselves ready to head to Tregaron for their revised-format two day fixture (down from three days previously).  Due to horrendous traffic from Warrington all the way down to Llangurig, we rolled into the field 15 minutes before the first race.  We were able to pitch up before the first race however we then encountered a tech problem with the computer which can only be fixed by our good friends at RDT (Racecourse Data Technologies Ltd).  Tregaron is notorious for no phone signal (or so I thought) so we ended up borrowing some equipment off some friends who weren't standing.  We finally got the show on the road just before the second race!

So the biggest highlight for me from the Friday at Tregaron was completely unrelated to racing.  My friend from school, her husband and her nine-month-old son who I haven't seen since Christmas were at the meeting.  Gone are the days when I arrive at a race track and head straight for the beer tent; for a large chunk of the afternoon I was camped out on the hill with Becca, Dale and baby Albie, who was doing his best to pick winners everytime his dad held the race card in front of him and told him to choose a horse to back!  The weather was lovely and it was nice to be able to catch up with my friends whilst watching the racing together.  Unfortunately we didn't think to take any photos, which is a shame as I'm not sure when I'll see them all again (hopefully Christmas this year!).

In terms of my racing highlights, three races stood out particularly for me.  The final three races on the card, the Junior Welsh Dragon 2YO Colts, the Standardbred Sales Co Battle of the Big Guns and the Strata Florida Handicap Final were a fantastic culmination of an exciting day's racing.  Johnny Camden, fresh off the back of his Breeders Crown success in the hands of Dexter Dunn, was a worthy winner this time piloted by Steve Lees, the 2015 Tregaron Leading Driver.  Trainer Dave Taff had the colt looking phenomenal and he was every inch the champion.  Lyons Comet was a notable third on his racing debut, trained and also driven by none other than Mr Taff himself.
Johnny Camden (Pro Bono Best-Pans Culottes-The Panderosa) (Graham Rees photo)
In the next, Steve Lees saw his fortunes reversed dramatically when Coalford Tetrick appeared to stumble as the field lined up behind the starter.  Tetrick hit the deck, and Wellfield Ghost who was drawn inside on the second line went straight over the top of Stevie, somersaulting driver Huw Thomas straight into the middle of the track.  Ghost took off after the field who were pulling up into the first bend, before completing a lap and a half of the track riderless when pulling himself up down the back straight.  Stevie took a long time to get himself up off the ground, having scrambled off the track out of the way of Wellfield Ghost on his solo run, but thankfully was back driving the following day.

In the re-run of the Battle of the Big Guns, it was Ayr Majesty who came out on top in a thrilling finish with Richard Haythornthwaite taking the drive as Patrick Kane Jnr took stablemate, and half-brother, Ayr Regal's reins in the race.  Majesty hadn't won since June 2015, however has competed credibly in all the major Free For All's and high grade handicap races between now and then, picking up plenty of prize money along the way.  It was nice to see him winning.

Ayr Majesty (Daylon Alert-Ayr Queen-Albert Albert) (Graham Rees photo)
Richard Haythornthwaite (Irfon Bennett photo)

Richard's luck didn't take as dramatic a turn as Stevie's had taken and he was able to follow up his FFA success with a popular victory in the Strata Florida Final on board Richard & Sarah Allen's Elysium Thunder.  I can't recall if I've mentioned it before, but Sarah Allen is currently on a sabbatical from driving due to expecting her second child.  Elysium Thunder had finished second in the first heat behind the Irish filly Meadowbranch Milli, one of three horses qualified by John Richardson.  In the final she was partnered by Richard's brother, James, while JR took the drive on Kickass Katie.  The two brothers went head to head towards the finish, with JR in third behind them and Alan Haythornthwaite (father of Richard and James) chasing them down in fourth on Itsmycheck.  In the end the judge had to split them, with Elysium Thunder overturning the result in the heat to win by a short head.  A fantastic victory for a family steeped in racing, training a homebred horse (and we all know how much I love things like that!).

You know, it's only now as I write this that I realise how close Alan, James and Richard came to repeating the feat achieved by Nathan, Jed and Bret Strickland a few weeks back at Allensmore.  They became the first father and two sons to finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the same race.  Imagine if that had been the case in a major handicap final?!

L-R Kickass Katie & John Richardson (3rd), Itsmycheck & Alan Haythornthwaite (4th), Meadowbranch Milli & James Haythornthwaite (2nd), Elysium Thunder & Richard Haythornwaite (1st) (Irfon Bennett photo)
Elysium Thunder (Southwest Art-Prus Petite-Hopping High) (Graham Rees photo)
Sarah Allen, Richard [Haythornthwaite], Poppy & Ruby Cairns and Emelia Allen (centre) (Irfon Bennett photo)
Owner/trainer Richard Allen & Elysium Thunder (Irfon Bennett photo)
An interesting note for pedigree fans (and old school harness racing fans *cough* Smarty & Watson *cough*), the maternal grand dam of Elysium Thunder is none other than Black And Silver, winner of the 1988 Tregaron Classic Final.  Driven by Mick Lord, and owned and trained by Sarah's father, Brian Mould.  As my father always says, 'breeding will out'.

On to day two of the festival.

There were two main highlights for me on the second day, one of which is probably only the highlight of one other person's weekend.  But before that (because I will ramble on), I was particularly pleased to see Arts Pace Hill winning the Little Welsh Dragon 3YO Colts.  With the absence of superstar Miraculous, the race was more open that it would have been with his inclusion.  Some punters favoured the Haythornthwaite stables' Partyatthespa, a horse who beat Miraculous as a 2YO and had already notched up a win in the Ceredigion 3YO Colts division.  Others fancied Arts Pace Hill, who had perhaps disappointed slightly when third behind Miraculous and Newtown Rock at Portmarnock on VDM weekend, but for those of us who had seen him win at the new 5/8 track at Binchester, we couldn't discount him at all.  I told as many people as would listen to me that Arts Pace Hill (owned & trained by Jody Foody) was as impressive horse on the grass as I've seen; most chose not to listen, but I spotted Danielle Mather going to collect after the race as I headed back to the bookies to pick up my winnings as well.  There's a lady who 'knows'.  She knows I don't drag myself up and down the country not to spot things like APH going two minutes on a grass track...

Arts Pace Hill (Art Colony-Bad Jeans-Royal Mattjesty) (Graham Rees photo)
Evenwood Sonofagun was an impressive winner of the Tregaron Classic Final, giving owners Raymond & Frank Huschka their second major handicap final with the horse following on from his win at Bells Field the weekend before, making it four wins on the bounce for the four year old gelding by The Firepan.  However, it was another horse in the final that was the ultimate highlight not only of the meeting but of the full season (despite it not being over yet) for me.

Introducing Wellfield Earl.

I hear you muttering to yourselves, 'what has Wellfield Earl ever done to be someone's seasonal highlight?'.

What hasn't Wellfield Earl done is what you should be asking!

The 8 year old gelding by Village Connection out of Wellfield Ellie (Master Scoot) first came onto my radar back in 2013.  On my annual visit to Wellfield Stud to stay with the then-groom, Rachel Sydenham, we took Wellfield Earl and Wellfield Official out on a hack.  Earl, aka Early Bird or Early Wurly, decided at one point to try to ditch me on the road, so didn't do much to ingratiate himself with me.  However, later that season he went on to win the final at Cilmery, the fixture for which I was a committee member and promoter.  Back then the handicap system was such that he jumped from a Grade 1 to a Grade 5, and arguably he was going to find it very difficult to compete at that level.  Nevetheless, he went on to win three races in 2015, proving that he had raced himself up to the standard to still be competitive.
Wellfield Earl and me out hacking in 2013
However, 2016 is where he has really come into his own.

As soon as I realised that he had qualified for the final in the fourth heat of the day on Saturday, I knew that history had been made.  Wellfield Earl became the only horse in 2016, and possibly in recent years (or indeed, ever) to qualify for the final at all four of the major grass track meetings in the UK.  Having won his heat at Appleby in May, he went on to be fourth in the final.  He then headed to Musselburgh, where he won his heat and was seventh in the final.  A week later he finished second in his heat at Aberystwyth, thus qualifying for the final where he was unplaced.  Finishing second at Tregaron, again qualifying for the final, was incredible.

What's more, having looked up his race report on the BHRC website, I have just learnt that he has qualified for no fewer than SIX handicap finals this season.  In addition to the four major meetings, he also qualified in second place for the Camden Stud Spring Handicap Final in Tregaron at the beginning of May, as well as winning his heat at Boughrood the week before this meeting, arguably the fairest grass track in the country.  It certainly sorts the wheat from the chaff.

Try telling me that's not impressive.

You can't.  Even if you did, I wouldn't believe you.

What turned out to be rather amusing was that I armed owner/trainer, and BHRC Chairman, Roy Sheedy with this information prior to the final.  The highlights from Tregaron were subsequently aired on Welsh language harness racing TV show, Rasus, the Monday night following the meeting.  Roy had been interviewed and relayed this fact as though he had figured it out for himself!  I spoke to him a couple of days later and made sure he knew I was aware of his plagiarism!!

Earl & me after qualifying for his fourth major grass handicap final of the season (a sEARLfie!)
From deepest, darkest west Wales we headed back up to Scotland for a 'day off' (I went into my work to catch up!).  It wasn't much time off before we had to head to Brough at Appleby on the Bank Holiday Monday.  I travelled down in the lorry with the Gaffer and our sole runner, Young Stephen.  Heading to the meeting we had no idea who was going to drive him; with the Jockey still on the sidelines following his lawnmower-meet-hand incident, and Willie Drysdale unable to attend, we were a little stuck.  Hardly sounds it, but William Greenhorn, who had driven Ace for us in Ireland, already had a drive in the race, as did all other drivers we considered asking.

At the last minute, Andrew Cairns became available and he was tasked with driving Stevie.  Drawn 3 of 3 on the gate in his heat, he lost his head (again) and broke at the start, so badly that he found himself at the back of the field.  I was stood with Andrew's four daughters, and had pretty much given up watching the race, when Sally (Andrew's eldest) said 'there Dad goes'.  In one move he went from the rear of the field into second and settled in on the rail.  As impressive as it was, I still felt that the horse was going to tire coming home having used all that petrol to get himself back into the race.  But he didn't.  He found himself boxed somewhat as Rocker [Laidler] and Merrington Checkm8 challenged the leader, All Fired Up and John Nicholson.  Heading up the home straight I could see Andrew looking left and right to see if there was room to sneak up the inside of the leader, and when the gap came Stevie motored.  It was a little late, as after a lengthy wait for the judge to call it, All Fired Up had held on by a nose from Stevie, who in turn beat Checkm8 by a nose.  Disappointing to be beaten by a nose after breaking so badly at the start, but we were delighted to be in the final.

Leading up Stevie before his heat (Elizabeth O'Neil photo)
After a minor tack change (approved by the stewards and announced to the public by the commentator), I sent Andrew and Stevie out onto the track and walked up to the hill to find Smarty.  I couldn't believe that Stevie was the betting favourite for the final, which seemed to add more pressure on us.  I had convinced myself he was going to put in a stupid mistake at the start again; drawn 3 of 3 on the gate, the other two gate horses went off like scalded cats in a speed duel for the best part of a lap.  Once they had finally settled into Indian file, Andrew tipped Stevie out down the back straight and breezed past the front two horses.  At this point it kinda looked sewn up, even if I say so myself, with Stevie sitting 3 or 4 lengths clear in front heading for the bell.

And then there was a crash in the back field.  From the photos it looks as though All Fired Up (John Nicholson) stumbled and possibly hooked up with Mega Star (William Greenhorn), although not sure if perhaps Mega Star simply ran into the back of the fallen horse.  Greenhorn was sent somersaulting through the air and his horse ran off loose; James Haythornthwaite appeared to be unseated from Hawthorns Maggie (although the stewards did subsequently allow them in the re-run).  The race was stopped on safety grounds.

John Nicholson with the fallen All Fired Up on the inside of William Greenhorn and Mega Star

Mega Star unseats Greenhorn as James Haythornthwaite & Mick Lord try to avoid a collision

Mega Star takes off leaving his driver behind
The main thing to note is that every person and every horse was able to walk off the track in one piece.  Nonetheless, I was disappointed on a personal level because everything seemed to be going perfectly for Stevie.  And in my heart of hearts I knew it was too much to ask for that to happen in the re-run.

Bearing in mind that the front horses in the first running of the final had used up a lot more energy first time round what with the back markers all gearing up to make their moves when the crash occurred, despite Stevie's efforts he looked a tired horse as Mick Lord and Next Generation hunted him down within the final quarter.  He faded coming home to finish second.

At the time I congratulated the winning connections in person and on social media, but I am still bitterly disappointed for our team.  We have a lot of faith in the horse, despite his attitude problem on the track, and felt that he was due a big win to prove to everyone else what we already believe.  Nonetheless, we came away with a horse in one piece and that remains the most important part of racing.

The following day Smarty and I headed to my favourite meeting of the season, Kilnsey Show.  People think I'm joking when I say this but I am being serious.  It's in no way the best racing of the season, but everyone taking part wants to win and there's a huge crowd all enjoying having a bet and cheering on the horses.  My personal highlight from the meeting this year was seeing the two-year-old filly Rhyds Voodoo and Richard Haythornthwaite winning a maiden.  Sam [Howard] (the trainer) and I subsequently discussed our shared love of Kilnsey the following weekend at Tir Prince when Voodoo and [Crosshill] Ace faced each other in the BHRC 2YO Fillies Futurity.  Remember this is the trainer of Tyrion Hanover who won the richest 2YO pacing event in the UK and Ireland only a few weeks back, talking about how much he loves Kilnsey Show, where it's at least three-and-a-half laps for a mile and the crowd stand on straw bales to get a better view!

I should also give a special mention to Next Generation, who after having won heat and final at Brough the day before, went on to win heat and final at Kilnsey within 24 hours.  That's impressive!

And there you have it, a whistle-stop tour of the UK from the perspective of an avid harness racing fan.  I was exhausted by the end of it, but right now I can't remember what it feels like NOT to be exhausted!!

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

2016 Season: Week 15 - The Vincent Delaney Memorial Weekend

That about sums it up.

Although it wasn't the happy ending that Smarty and I had secretly hoped for with Ace (third in her heat on the Saturday, and a strong-finishing fifth in the final on the Sunday), it was a happy ending for the owners of IB Coyote and Tyrion Hanover.  Both horses are trained by their owners (and families), something which I regularly proclaim to be the true heart of harness racing in the UK.

IB Coyote & Dexter Dunn winning the Diamond Creek VDM Fillies Final (Graham Rees photo)

Tyrion Hanover & Richard Haythornthwaite winning the Ladbrokes VDM Colts Final (Graham Rees photo)
As top driver Mick Lord said in the bar in Tir Prince one night, the gap between amateur and professional trainers is closing, and the results in both divisions of the richest 2YO pacing event in the UK and Ireland were a testament to that.  The Murphy family put their trust in the World Champion driver, Dexter Dunn, who won convincingly on the homebred IB Coyote (Share The Delight-Jill And Jones-Hasty Hall).  She became the most precocious Share The Delight in the UK and Ireland, as the stallion's offspring had somewhat disappointed excepting a few stand out horses (most notably Llwyns Delight, Cilmery final winner 2016).  I remember Jill And Jones winning the 'run off' of the Little Welsh Dragoness at Tregaron in 2009; after winning her heat on the Friday, she went on to be third in the final.  The other heat winner, the Smart family's Lyons Anita, was unplaced in the final.  Majestic Rosa came out on top.  The organisers then decided to stage a run off the following day between the two heat winners and the final winner; seemingly a format adopted in the USA at the time.  The Smart's chose not to race Anita, and in the run off, Jill And Jones turned over the previous day's final winner to take the title.

All five of her victories in the UK came on the grass, with a win at Boughrood (arguably the fairest of the grass tracks in the UK) and four at Tregaron, including a stayer's race over an extended distance.  Her daughter seemed quite at home on the hard track at Portmarnock, though perhaps inherited some of her mother's stamina to come with a strong finish to land the spoils on August 14th.

The Howard family spent a small fortune in Harrisburg last autumn when purchasing four yearling colts.  Of these four, two progressed through the early training stages to make the racetrack.  Of these two, it was Tyrion Hanover (Somebeachsomewhere-Tiz To Dream-Grinfromeartoear) who made the journey across the Irish Sea to contend for the title, having won the VDM Prep Race at Corbiewood five weeks earlier.  I couldn't be happier to see them win in all honesty, as John, John James and Samboy are harness racing people through and through.  Last summer they were trawling the North East grass circuit with the handicapper Wearvalley Mattie, picking up wins at Scorton and heat and final at Kilnsey Show.  They will turn their hand to training any horse!  It was also great to see Richard Haythornthwaite in the winner's circle.  He's come a long way from the days where I was his so-called 'agent' and we had to discuss the merits of some of his slightly dodgier answers to my interview questions for the BHRC calendar (the aim was not to put off any eligible young ladies by allowing him to across as a bit worked, because he's no longer single!).  Well done Richard.  I knew people would catch up with me eventually when it came to believing how good a driver you are.

There were more than just those two happy endings though.  Last year's VDM winner Miraculous returned to the track to win the 3YO colts race in style.  Part owner Dave Beadle appeared to have switched allegiances when seen sporting a 'Tyrion Hanover' baseball cap late on on the Sunday afternoon.  A brief discussion resulted in him gifting his share of the horse to me.  This was witnessed by part owner Arnie Flower.  No going back now Dave!

Coalford Tetrick also set a new track record when winning the 4YO colts race.  I actually missed the race because I was in the back of the Porterstown lorry interviewing Aaron Merriman at the time.  When we emerged (relieved to see that people hadn't gone home) I jokingly said that it didn't matter that I'd missed a race because nobody would ask me about it.  Within two minutes I had a call from a friend in Wales seeking clarification as to the result because there were conflicting reports on social media.  Typical!

As the picture states, Ireland is also "where strange tales begin".  If you know me, you know I have  tendency to befriend strangers.  My motto is that at some point, all of our friends were strangers to us.  You have to speak to people otherwise you'll never know if (or what) you're missing out.  We've already touched upon the story of how I came to own a part share in Miraculous (Dave will probably never speak to me again), and the driver interview with Aaron Merriman which came about thanks to a group of people who'd had too much beer agreeing that it was a good idea (which it actually was, as it transpired).  Then there's the 'squeal off' that my good friend Michael O'Neil and his aunt Sandra decided to stage in the 'dance tent'.  Michael was so loud at it that when I went to the toilets IN A DIFFERENT BUILDING I could still hear him.  Bearing in mind that's through a wall, open space and over the top of loud music.  He's going to be easy enough to find in a crowded place, that's for sure.
Big Burd & Boots on tour in Ireland
I also befriended a security person who provided the best one liner I have ever heard in 27 years on this planet.  The guy's name was Oliver Patrick something.  I found out his middle name because I was telling him that for the first 18 years of my cousin's life, I thought his name was Oliver Patrick Saer because he was born on 17th March (St Patrick's Day).  It was only on his 18th birthday, when I wished him a 'Penblwydd Hapus' via social media and addressed him as Oliver Patrick, that he messaged me to say 'you do realise that my name is Oliver Marcus, right?'.  Awkward.  His name may not even have been Oliver Patrick something, he could have been lying.  Lord knows I've told enough people my name is Beverley and I work at Longleat Safari Park carrying out autopsies on dead lions (you should always have a fake name and cover story in case you get talking to crazy people).  Anyway, security man Oliver Patrick something came out with 'I'm half County Mayo, and half County Meath...I'm more inbred than a sandwich'.

Say. It. Out. Loud.

Well I found it hilarious anyway.

A barman also asked for my empty glass whilst I was stood chatting to Oliver Patrick something (along with Michael O'Neil, who he aged at 29 and would have let into any club he was working at) and I begrudgingly handed it over.  This instigated a fantastic Braveheart impersonation, as Oliver Patrick something shouted out "YOU CAN TAKE MY GLASS, BUT YOU'LL NEVER TAKE MY FREEDOM".

Again, hilarious.  This guy needs to be on stage.  More inbred than a sandwich, brilliant.

I also met Heather Vitale for the first time.  Tom (Dexter Dunn's cousin and top NZ harness racing trainer - if he's to be believed) decided to tell Heather, after reading maybe two lines of an obscure post on my blog, that I was an amazing blogger.  I then went all fan-girl and somehow we ended up dancing Reggae Reggae style in the dance tent.  A lot of things may have happened between those two wholly separate scenarios but I have a mind addled by drink and quite frankly, I string together memories in what I deem to be the most logical order.  They are highly unlikely to have happened so seamlessly, knowing what I know about my ability to 'float' from group to group.  The following day I told Heather to get in the middle of the track for the winner's photo after Tyrion Hanover won the VDM Colts Final, not realising she was mid-Facebook live to the world.  I recovered it well anyway.  Then she went on to tell everyone I'm an amazing blogger.  Seriously people, read this crap before you put your name to such glowing reviews.  It's borderline ramblings of someone who doesn't see anybody other than her boyfriend for long stretches of time.  And there's only so many one-way conversations you can enjoy with the horses and dogs before you wish somebody would just disagree with you for a change (I have awfully agreeable animals).

Other highlights of the weekend included gatecrashing the Gala Dinner with Smarty (encouraged by the wicked Eddie Mather) on the Friday night, and then trying to pay the taxi driver in sterling so as not to break a €50 on the journey home; the Polish taxi driver who did nothing but swear and tell us how stupid we were for voting out of the EU (we didn't, technically), the Irish taxi driver who knew a friend of a friend from the racing and who was semi-convinced to come racing on the Sunday (although I never did see him there) seems as though we spent a lot of time in taxis.  We didn't.  We both just have a habit of making use of short periods of time to get to know people.  We're an incredibly nosy couple.
Ace in her weekend residence in Ireland
Also, I'd just like to say yet another massive THANK YOU to William Greenhorn who stepped up to drive Ace for us when our original driver was unable to make it across to Ireland.  He was given all of about 4 hours' notice on the Saturday but just got on with the job and I am eternally grateful to him for bringing my baby back to me in one piece in both the heat and the final.  Perhaps this won't be the last time the 2016 Leading Driver-hopeful gets to drive her!

Michael [O'Neil}, William 'Wull' Greenhorn & me after Saturday's racing
It was, once again, delightful to catch up with Steve and Stephanie, to see Dexter and Tom again after the now infamous car journey from Edinburgh to Tir Prince (north Wales) and to meet Aaron Merriman and Heather Vitale.  My only regret from the weekend was that I didn't have the opportunity to meet Sydney Weaver.  I've read a lot of her articles and am now a follower on social media so get to see all of her wonderful photos as she goes from one harness racing adventure to the next.  It would still have been lovely to speak to her but I noticed she was one busy lady across the course of the weekend.  Maybe one day, somewhere else, we can meet.

I don't know what else to say really.  If you weren't there, I'm not going to tell you what happened moment by moment.  It's a different experience for each and every person who was there and if you missed out, then make sure you don't miss out next year.  I've given you a very small insight into the bizarre adventure I went on, from a 3am start on the Friday morning off the back of 3 hours sleep, on a road trip with Bob 's'appenin'?' Craw and Smarty, across the Irish Sea on a ferry with a trucker's breakfast and a pint of Strongbow, to running around a race track in a nice dress and my stable boots because my feet were in agony from the day before.

A thoroughly enjoyable weekend away, for sure.  I look forward to next year's adventure!

Over and out,

#1 Groom (who was kinda off duty this particular weekend because Smarty wanted to do the job!)