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 odd...it 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!
|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)...it 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!)