Friday, 20 January 2017

Happy New Year!


Wherever you saw in the beginning of 2017, I hope you had a blast!

So it's now the middle of January and I haven't posted for almost a month.  This time last year I was posting on almost a weekly basis with driver interviews from the drivers who frequent the racetrack in Scotland: Corbiewood.  It was part of an initiative I came up with to provide entertainment to racing fans in the UK, but also to introduce the familiar faces up North to a wider audience of non-racing fans in the UK and Ireland, and anybody reading internationally as well.  In the last 12 months my viewing figures in North America have gone through the roof (helped in the main by both Heather Vitale and Allan Schott, both of whom have read my blog and plugged it on their own sites - for this, I am very grateful.  You've really helped to build the platform that I'm working from!).  So for those of you newbies involved in racing in America and Canada who haven't read my driver interviews, please do take some time out to go back and get to know our drivers.  Each post follows the same pattern but each driver somehow made it their own with their unique answers!

Anyway, so the purpose of this post is simply to update you all and let you know I haven't disappeared off the face of the earth.  I'm still here!!  Time to use the perennial excuse of 'I haven't had much free time to write', which is as true as ever.  However, I've not been idle over the last four weeks.  Since returning from France I have been focussing on a number of projects which have eaten, and continue to eat, up my spare time.

The stallion grading system which I was working on during the summer required some additional info (as evidence of how each stallion on the active list met the criteria set by the Board [or didn't, as the case may be]) following the AGM.  Gwenan Thomas (STAGBI Administrator) had filled in much of the missing information but I have worked on the gaps and the list is nearing finalisation, subject to any discrepancies noted once it has been published.  I firmly believe that it's a major step forward in the promotion of the breed by assessing horse performance both on the track and in the breeding shed and highlighting those who have excelled at both aspects.  Undoubtedly it will be unpopular with members who feel that their stallion hasn't been awarded the grade they feel it should have, but the criteria are based on factual evidence not opinion, and apply across the board.  I don't feel that we can be fairer than that.

I have also made progress on a project to digitalise the BHRC record books.  I have access to the printed record books from 1970 to 2006, with the online database beginning in 2005 and running to the present day.  Using the records as I do, whether it be for a Hall of Fame application, an article or a stallion advert (or indeed, most recently to find evidence of race records for stallions for the grading system), I found it an inconvenience to have to search firstly for the relevant year's record book (having used the STAGBI online database to decipher the year of birth and age of the horse I was searching for, to then estimate which year(s) he or she had raced) and then for the information I was seeking.  I'm no stranger to research, having completed a module on the LPC in Legal Research when I was in uni which required me to source information from every conceivable location, including case law and statute material (very tedious).  I also love books.  But in this day and age we should be able to access information online at the click of a mouse or the touch of a button.  It's the era we live in.  As a comparison within our sport, the USTA and Standardbred Canada websites are so much further ahead in terms of their online database development; Harness Racing Australia's website provides a search function which allows you to pull up information on any horse registered in their jurisdiction...and even when I can find the 'English' button on Le Trot's website, I can search for any race, any result and any horse that I like and see the information almost instantly (depending on my wifi connection).  Some of these sites do require a bit of time spent in order to get to grips with the layout and how to find what you're looking for, but at least the information is readily available.

Smarty says I only need to digitalise from, say, 1990 to 2005, because (1) nobody is interested in anything further back than that.  He says I (2) create work for no reason.  He says it's (3) a massive waste of time.

(1) I'm interested in pre-1990.  In the last 3 months alone I have consulted the pre-1990 record books on numerous occasions to gather information for a variety of written pieces.  I also think that the pre-1990 days are what gives our sport its history.  Smarty has at least admitted that if the facility was there to look back through records from that era, he probably would make use of it.  Read that as definitely.

(2) Yes, I do create work for myself.  But right now I'm wasting valuable working time looking for information via the longest route available, not the shortest.  As I've learnt in my current 9-5, sometimes you have to invest time in something which may initially cause delay, in order to feel the benefit further down the line.  It's a concept loosely based on 'speculate to accumulate'.

(3) To quote Thomas Jefferson: "Determine never to be idle.  No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any.  It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing."

And that's not what I class as a 'waste of time'.

Having requested the permission of the BHRC Council to pursue this project, and the help of the BHRC office to input the data, I am a little disheartened that after being advised that my idea would be put before the Council at their meeting in December for approval, I am yet to hear back.  I appreciate that in the grand scheme of things to be discussed it doesn't feature particularly highly on anyone's agenda, but remember that when busying yourself trying to resolve a major issue, you should still be able to resolve a far minor issue (especially when a capable third party is offering to do the work free of charge) rather quickly with a 'yes' or a 'no'.  Nonetheless, I advised at the time I submitted the requests to the office that regardless of the outcome of the Council decision, I would pursue the idea myself without any assistance if necessary as an electronic database would suit me personally and is an investment for myself if nobody else.  So work has begun on that.

Then there's the *shameless plug alert* BHRC & STAGBI joint awards dinner on February 25th at Daresbury Park Hotel, Warrington.  I am eternally grateful for Kirsty at the BHRC office for taking the leading role on organising this as I found it a touch overwhelming last year, which has in turn freed me up to work on the photo and video presentations and the running order of the event with Darren Owen, one of the UK's leading Thoroughbred commentators but also a fantastic ambassador for harness racing.  His level of professionalism on racedays and at non-racing events is second to none and he has a wealth of experience and knowledge to lend which I know is appreciated by all who work with him.  I'm sincerely looking forward to working alongside him at the awards event, in whatever capacity that may be.

So that's another thing I'm currently working on in my free time - photo and video compilations.  Due to the sheer number of awards on the night, most presentations only consist of photos which means the workload isn't too great.  It's actually a lot of fun putting them together, the only hard part being sourcing the original videos.  My plan is to publish the videos on my Youtube channel after the event so that people can watch and share them as a momento of their successes in the 2016 season, so watch this space!

I've also invested in a GoPro camera, something I declared as mildly ironic on my Twitter considering I don't personally participate in any extreme activities.  I'm taking my inspiration from Ms Vitale here a bit, and also Ryan Macedonio.  There's a really personal side to harness racing which doesn't shine through in results on a website; there's the people and the horses behind places, earnings and records which make up the rich tapestry of the sport.  So I'm away to start filming all of that.  A little dinky camera will make it easier for me to sneak up on unsuspecting people and then bully them into talking to me; they won't know if I have a camera hidden in my pocket ready to get brought out and shoved in their face for high brow questions such as 'do you have lucky pants you wear whilst driving?'.  I will become the master of surprise.  Or mistress...

Speaking of which (Ryan Macedonio, not pants), I've somehow only just come across Ryan's most awesomest TrotCast podcast (SUBSCRIBE SUBSCRIBE SUBSCRIBE) and I am borderline obsessed.  I LOVE finding new ways to follow racing globally so this is my favourite thing for January so far.  I downloaded as many of the previous podcasts as I could to listen to in the gym and now find myself laughing out loud in public all the time.  My favourite episode (probably just because I know the people in it) is the British and Irish invasion of Pompano Park for the Amateur Drivers tournament back in December.  Aside from the fact that I'm listening to familiar voices (whose faces I can picture), it sounds as though everyone had so much fun taking part and on more than one occasion I couldn't contain my laughter, which resulted in a few funny looks from other people in the room.  Word is Ryan is considering coming to Portmarnock for the VDM in August so I'll be keeping my eyes peeled so that I can shake this man's hand for his highly entertaining, and at times thought-provoking, work!  I'd also like to give a small shout out to Richard Haythornthwaite who, in the absence of a Scottish driver in the travelling party, told the world about Corbiewood.  It was nice to know that the band of merry men (and women) north of Hadrian's Wall had a voice Stateside!

So that's where things are at with me right now.  Last weekend was spent near Newport with Wellfield Stud's former groom, Rachel Sydenham and Scottish amateur driver Annette Wilson.  Rachel left Wellfield to take up a position as head travelling lass at Thoroughbred trainer Rob Stephen's yard, which is literally right next door to Wellfield.  The groom's accommodation is opposite the entrance to BHRC Chairman Roy Sheedy's training establishment so I ventured across the road to call in for a cuppa and a chat briefly with Roy and his father.  I was treated to (yet another) tour of the stables, in which I met his two homebred two-year-old colts, Wellfield Wizard and Wellfield Warlock, who are currently being broken in by Roy and his old man (who is well into his eighties), as well as his racehorses which are wintering well before they come back into work ready for the summer's racing.

In a week's time I will be in the south of Ireland for the road racing meeting at Skibbereen, Co Cork.  It's something I've followed avidly on social media for a number of years but never seen in the flesh, so this is an opportunity to tick something else off the bucket list.  I've already spoken to a couple of friends down there who are willing to assist in a couple of features for this 'ere blog so again, watch this space.

And before I go, just another teaser for upcoming projects - I've been working on a proposal during the winter which will hopefully bring something new and exciting to Corbiewood in the summer.  I have the support of the SHRC committee and the backing of an external sponsor, so the next phase is to get the club members (owners, trainers and drivers) on board.  I really hope I can pull this off, and if so, expect a ridiculously long write up about it on here and Harnesslink and probaby Twitter and maybe Youtube and definitely Facebook and maybe even Instagram.  Seriously, I have a social media addiction.

Anyways, time to love you and leave you.  I will be back a lot sooner next time as I'll have the maiden voyage to Skibbereen to tell you all about.

Over and out,

#1 Groom

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