Thursday, 13 October 2016

What defines a horse's nationality?

Saunders Beachgirl (Beach Towel-Jenny Lobell-Oil Burner)
Vain In Spain (Artsplace-Open Plains-Western Hanover)
Crosshill Ace (Cams Card Shark-Vain In Spain-Artsplace)

Q: What do these three horses have in common?

A: I own them.  And, more importantly for the purposes of this discussion, they are all American-bred.  Their sires have never stood in the UK.  They were all conceived in the USA.

However, two of them were born in the UK.

Beachgirl and Ace were both imported in utero, some 20 years apart.  Their places of birth are Wales and Scotland respectively.  Does this make them British?

For the purposes of stakes racing, no.  Crosshill Ace was not entitled to run in the Sire Stakes this year, and but for the creation of the Breeders Crown All American Fillies, she wouldn't have been entitled to run in the Breeders Crown either.

Neither of them are registered with the United States Trotting Assocation ('USTA').  Neither of them have freezebrands.  And yet, we refer to them as 'Yanks'.  If we were to export Crosshill Ace back to America, she would be deemed to be a British import.

So is a horse's nationality defined by it's country of birth?

Saunders Beachgirl nor Crosshill Ace can be described as British due to their breeding.  Yet they would not be described as American (certainly in America at least) due to their country of birth.  Which one prevails?

As we're in the UK, we'll say that pedigree wins and in this example, Beachgirl and Ace are as American as Vain In Spain, who has the USTA registration and the freezebrand to go with the American breeding.

Saunders Beachgirl - American, British or Britmerican?
Vain In Spain - definitely American!  Not Spanish...
Crosshill Ace - American, British or Britmerican? (Bill Cardno photo)
Tarawood Messi (Arts Conquest-One Meg Mile-Cole Muffler)
Porterstown Road (No Pan Intended-Sara Loren Rd-On The Road Again)

Taking pedigree out of the equation, here we have what appears to be two Irish horses.

What makes them Irish?

Tarawood Messi was bred in Ireland and is owned by an Irish man.  Porterstown Road is trained in Ireland, therefore he resides in Ireland for at least 6 months of the year (if not more).  But is this enough to make them Irish?

The reason I ask is that before long nominations will be invited for the British Harness Racing Club ('BHRC') annual awards.  One of the categories is 'Overseas Horse of the Year'.  Last year's winner was Meadowbranch DJ, winner of the Inter-Dominion Qualifying Series, bred and owned by Meadowbranch Stables and trained by William Flanagan.  The only obvious criteria for the award being that the 'overseas' horse, in this case an Irish horse, must have raced in the UK at some point during the season.

Whilst discussing potential winners of the various 2016 awards with Smarty we arrived at the 'Overseas Horse of the Year' award.  My initial suggestion for the winner seemed obvious: Porterstown Road.  Winner of the Crock of Gold 2016, he would appear to be the most accomplished 'Irish' horse to have raced in the UK this year.

Then it got complicated.  Trained in Ireland by Geoff Dunne, the horse is in fact owned by the Executor of RGB Webster (formerly Robert G B Webster).  Formerly Mr Webster, and now his Executor, reside in Wales.  Therefore he is British-owned.  This raised the question of whether or not he is deemed to be an 'overseas' horse.  Is the fact that he is trained in Ireland sufficient for him to be classed as an Irish horse?

Looking back at the Beachgirl/Ace theory of pedigree, Porterstown Road was bred in America by Hanover Shoe Farms.  His registered name with STAGBI carries the suffix 'USA', which denotes that he was in fact born in the USA, like Vain In Spain.  He is, to all intents and purposes, American by nationality.  For the purposes of the BHRC awards, being American bears no relevance.  Horses are eligible in each category regardless of whether they are American or British, or to a lesser extent, Canadian, Australian or from New Zealand.  So pedigree makes no difference in this instance.  Being American does not aid his claim to be classed as an 'overseas' horse.  When Porterstown Road lined up in the Crock of Gold Final, he was deemed to be 'an Irish raider'.  Is this simply because he is trained in Ireland and therefore had to travel across the Irish Sea to race that night?

It could all be as simple as that.  Despite the fact that he is Welsh-owned, the fact that the horse resides in Ireland for the duration of the season may be sufficient for him to be classed as 'Irish'.  Even though he's American.

Porterstown Road - driven by an American in Ireland... (Graham Rees photo)
Porterstown Road - driven by an Irishman in Wales... (Graham Rees photo)

But then I remembered Tarawood Messi.  Up until the end of June this year not only was he Irish-owned, but he was also Irish-trained.  Formerly by William Flanagan and more recently by Geoff Dunne at the beginning of this season, he was as Irish a horse as you could get.  Bred by Tarawood Stud, he is still owned by Charley and Noreen Bennett who, despite appearing to spend most of their time in the UK, do actually live in Ireland.  However, from July onwards of this year the horse has been trained by Joanne Cairns and living in England.  He races most regularly in the UK and not in Ireland.

Again looking back to the Beachgirl/Ace example, Messi was born in Ireland.  His sire was standing in the UK at the time, making him a British stallion despite being imported from America (I know, it gets really confusing).  His dam is also an American import, living in Ireland.  Place of birth makes him Irish.  Having Irish owners makes him Irish.  Being trained by an Englishwoman in England...well that's where the waters are muddied.  When finishing fourth in the Crock of Gold Final, Messi did not have to cross the Irish Sea to compete.  In fact, in all of his placed runs in top company this year, he has not had to cross the Irish Sea.  Therefore, can he be classed as an 'overseas' horse?
Tarawood Messi - driven by an Irishman in Ireland.  Simple! (Nadina Ironia photo)

Tarawood Messi - driven by an Irishman in England.  Not so simple...

I do not know the answer to this one.  I will be contacting the BHRC to ask them to clarify the criteria for the award, NOT so that any horse can be excluded, but so that guidance can be given to the clubs and committees of whose members will be voting on the award winners.  I can just picture the Scottish Harness Racing Club (SHRC) meeting now when the nominees are announced: "but that horse isn't overseas because it's trained here".  I like to have an answer for those who pipe up.

Turning to horses within the UK, more specifically those in England, Scotland and Wales.  What makes them English, Scottish and Welsh?

Place of birth?
Owner's country of residence?
Trainer's country of residence?

Let's look at some examples.

First up, the ill-fated Meadowbranch Josh.  The reason I want to start with him is because in 2015, when he entered the Inter-Dominion Qualifying Series to compete for a spot in the Inter-Dominion Series in Australia, he was described by the BHRC's Australian Media Consultant as an 'Irish raider'.  I took umbrage with this, as I have a tendency to do with things that really shouldn't be of such significance to anyone, because the horse had been owned by a Welshman since he was a yearling.  Yes, he was born and bred in Ireland; by a stallion standing in Ireland out of a mare who has lived in Ireland for most of her years.  But his home was in Wales and at the time of the event he was trained in Wales.

In my epitaph for Josh on this blog, I referred to him as 'Wales' FFA horse' (or words to that effect). Even during the 2016 season when he was being trained by Rocker Laidler in England, he remained a Welsh horse in my eyes.  I am not alone in this view.  I would argue that in this instance, his Welsh owner made him a Welsh horse.

Meadowbranch Josh - winning in Wales, driven by an Englishman (but trained in Wales)
Meadowbranch Josh - winning in England, driven by an Englishman (and trained in England).  But still Welsh? (Jayne Ward photo)
Continuing with that theme then, let's look at Stoneriggs Mystery.  This may be a slightly contentious one but I believe I am slightly more impartial than many Scots would be in this scenario.  Mystery is English-bred.  However, following 3 runs in his 3YO season owned by his breeder, from the age of 4 to the present day he has been owned by a Scotsman.  In 72 starts in the UK, he has only been trained by two different individuals: Alexis Laidler and Sheelagh Lord; both English trainers.  I know that he spends his winters in Scotland with his owner.  When he races at Corbiewood he is welcomed home like a hero.  But does that make him Scottish?  To me, he doesn't 'feel' Scottish.  Not in the same way Josh 'felt' Welsh.  Being Scottish-owned doesn't seem like enough to make him a Scottish horse.  If anything, he seems to me to be English.  And I can only deduce from that that it's his trainers that cause me to come to that conclusion.

Stoneriggs Mystery - Scottish or not Scottish? (Graham Rees photo)
Stoneriggs Mystery - racing around Corbiewood; Scottish or not Scottish? (Bill Cardno photo)

The most interesting one of all though must be Brywinsmagicpotion.  Conceived in the USA, born in Wales, owned by a Scotsman and trained all his life in England.  What nationality is 'BMP'?!  Based on the Beachgirl/Ace theory, in the wider sense he is British, not American (despite not being entitled to run in British stakes races as a juvenile).  Based on his pedigree, he IS American.  To Americans, he's British.  Still with me?!

So we'll say he's British (although I think I'm going to coin the term 'Britmerican' for American-bred horses imported in utero and born on British soil).  Born in Wales, that would make him a Welsh horse.  After all, he carries a well-known Welsh prefix in 'Brywins'.  Purchased by Scotsman James Gammie, he has remained in the same ownership from the beginning of his racing career in 2010 to the present day.  Yet, despite having a Scottish owner, he has never raced at Corbiewood, the sole hard track in Scotland.  He's raced at Bell's Field and Musselburgh, but they are once-a-year fixtures.  His connection to his English trainers causes many racegoers who are not familiar with his owner to believe that he is English-owned as well as trained.  Indeed, many Scottish racegoers themselves would class him as an English horse.  Yet, these same people would think of Stoneriggs Mystery as a Scottish horse.  Is that because he races at Corbiewood on occasion?  Who knows...
Brywinsmagicpotion - winning in Scotland, but is he Scottish? (Bill Cardno photo)
Brywinsmagicpotion - pictured winning in Ireland with his English driver, English groom, Scottish owners, a Scotsman living in Wales and an Australian.  I need to lie down in a dark room... (Nadina Ironia photo)
It's not easy to define a horse's nationality.  To the wider world, all the horses in the UK are British, and all the horses in Ireland are Irish.  To the people here, a horse's nationality is subjective.  I know of Scottish owners who have English trainers training horses bred in England, who deem their horses to be Scottish.  Smarty said to be Scottish you must race regularly on your 'home track' at Corbiewood.  Star [She's Some Deal] raced nowhere else other than Corbiewood last year, but I'll still think of her as Welsh, because I'm Welsh.  And even though we now live in Scotland together, we'll always be Welsh.  Although, her mother was Irish-bred and her father was imported from the USA so is she really Welsh?!
Shes Some Deal - by an American stallion (standing in the UK, so now a British stallion) out of an Irish mare, born in Wales, living and racing in Scotland with her Welsh owner who also lives in Scotland, driven by a Scotsman (Bill Cardno photo)

Over and out,

#1 Groom

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