Wednesday, 8 March 2017

BHRC & STAGBI Awards Dinner 2016/17

And there we have it ladies and gents, the second annual BHRC & STAGBI awards dinner is officially OVER!

Can you actually hear the delight in my voice at being able to say that?!  Normality can now resume!  Chance would be a fine thing...

Before I go any further I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow event organisers who all played a huge part in staging the event - Jim McInally, Gwenan Thomas, Darren Owen and Kirsty Lee.  It was a lot of work in so many different ways, but we pulled it off together.  Everyone involved is that keen they're already talking about next year.

I'm not.  I'm not talking about next year for a good couple of weeks, minimum!

So instead I'll talk about this year, or last year, whichever way you want to look at it.

The evening was to celebrate the achievements of the people and horses involved in our sport, as well as to look back on what a success the 2016 season was.  There were around 140 guests there; some STAGBI award winners, some BHRC award winners, and some both.  Before the evening kicked off with a three-course meal, Darren Owen (respected Thoroughbred racing commentator and ambassador for harness racing) recapped the season, touching upon some of the highlights from across the UK and Ireland.  I then followed it up with this video (DISCLAIMER: this only features SOME of the highlights; it does not give a fair representation of the number of trotting races staged, nor does it feature races from some of the smaller racetracks; indeed, it only shows 2 races from Corbiewood despite the track staging 22 meetings last year.  Five minutes is all I had).

After the meal, we began with the BHRC equine awards, to be presented by Vice Chairman Jim McInally in the absence of my good friend, Chairman Roy Sheedy who could not be present.  The first of these was for '2YO Filly of the Year' which went to Rhyds Mystique, winner of 8 of her 9 starts as a two-year-old for owners Marc & Viccy Elvin, trainer John Gill and driver Vicky Gill.  She will return in 2017 to attempt the same domination of her age category.

Jim McInally presents driver Vicky Gill (centre) and owner Viccy Elvin with award for 2YO Filly of the Year

Next up it was the '2YO Colt of the Year' award, which was awarded to Tyrion Hanover, winner of the Vincent Delaney Memorial Final last year.  Owner John Howard and trainer/son Samboy Howard nearly lost the horse during the winter and said that had he not been as good as he was, may have been put to sleep rather than operated on (having been given a small recovery chance by the vets) but with the help of numerous veterinary professionals, Tyrion is back on the road to recovery and is expected to make a return to racing in 2017.

Jim McInally presents owner John Howard with award for 2YO Colt of the Year

It was then time to celebrate last year's champion two-year-olds who ran on as three-year-olds to cement their names in the record books for years to come, becoming '3YO Filly' and '3YO Colt of the Year' respectively.  First of the Arts Conquest-sired duo was filly, Jessies Conquest, who has captured the hearts of the racing community along with her namesake, Jessie Jones, daughter of owner/trainer/driver Marc and his wife Jenny.  This filly is phenomenal.  Even when things go wrong in races, she shows such determination and heart to overcome the odds and get home in front; when things go right, she's almost untouchable.  In years to come, she will remain the benchmark for the quality of fillies I will be trying to breed.

Jim McInally presents owner/trainer/driver Marc Jones & wife Jenny with award for 3YO Filly of the Year

Marc Jones being interviewed by Darren Owen
Jenny looks on as Marc talks about their superstar filly

Following her was quite frankly one of the most appropriately-named horses (how could his breeders have known?!) ever to have graced a racetrack: Miraculous.  The son of Arts Conquest is something to behold.  If Jessies Conquest sets the benchmark for fillies, he sets the benchmark for colts and geldings.  His only defeat in a stellar season came to his female counterpart in their sole meeting; in all other events he was unbeaten.  At Portmarnock, where he is unbeaten on every visit across the Irish Sea, he set his personal best of 1.55.9, only 0.7 seconds off the all-age track record.  I could go on, but I would literally end up writing an essay about him.  He was also awarded 'Leading Horse' by number of wins.

Jim McInally presents trainer Sally Teeboon with award for 3YO Colt of the Year; syndicate members Dave Beadle & Alan Dickinson also on stage
'Mare of the Year' went the way of leading lady, Shades Of Grey.  A popular fancy for holidaymakers when racing at Tir Prince with such a literary name, the grey mare has held her own at the top level when racing in primarily male company, winning at Musselburgh, Wolverhampton and Pikehall in mixed races, as well as the STAGBI Future Broodmare at Tir Prince.

Owner Claire Fletcher & driver James Haythornthwaite presented with the trophy for Mare of the Year

Darren Owen interviews driver James Haythornthwaite

Whilst owner Claire Fletcher and driver James Haythornthwaite collected for 'Shades', it was Claire's husband Shane and James' father Alan who came up on stage to collect for stablemate Sports Trick who was named 'Pacer of the Year'.  Having won in 4YO stakes races at Tregaron (Senior Welsh Dragon) and Tir Prince (NWHOA 4YOs), the son of Sportswriter also won the low grade heat and final at Appleby and went on to win the high grade heat and final at Musselburgh (The Famous Musselburgh Pace) later in the season.

Jim McInally presents owner Shane Fletcher (centre) and driver Alan Haythornthwaite with award for Pacer of the Year

Moving to a different gait, owner/trainer/driver John Foy, who has represented Great Britain internationally in trotting races, collected the award for 'Trotter of the Year' for his chestnut Trotteur Francais, Sulky Du Blequin.  This horse has won over all manner of distances, on all manner of surfaces.  He appears to be a 'jack of all trades', but in a break with the traditional saying, he's also a master of all as well!!

Jim McInally presents owner/trainer/driver John Foy with award for Trotter of the Year

The final award in the first segment of BHRC awards was for 'Overseas Horse of the Year', which was awarded to Crock of Gold Final winner, Porterstown Road.  Connections of the horse were unable to attend from Ireland, so the trophy was presented to Gwenan Thomas, who amongst her varied repertoire of roles, stands Porterstown Stud's stallion Doonbeg at her AI Centre in South Wales.

The next part of the evening turned its attention to the breeding awards presented by STAGBI.  Whilst the largest portion of the trophies and monetary prizes were awarded to the breeders of winning horses, the trophies for STAGBI Future Broodmares Race winners were awarded to the winning owners.  The purpose behind the creation of these races is to provide races for aged mares once they graduate from the stakes circuit, but also to provide racing for them on hard tracks where they can try to set career records which will enhance their breeding credentials.  Although I'm breaking with the chronological order of how the awards were presented, I wanted to begin with this one as I'm rather proud of my creative skills!!

Connections of the STAGBI Future Broodmares race winners
The Breeders Premium prizes are monetary prizes awarded to the breeders of the top 3 horses bred in each region (England, Scotland and Wales) based on number of wins.  The fourth category, the Brightwells prizes, are awarded to the top 3 horses (by number of wins) from any of the countries which were sold through a Brightwells Standardbred Sale in any year.  The award amounts for the regions are set at £600/£400/£200, however the Brightwells prizes are calculated depending on the total sale value at the previous October's annual sale - with last year being a record year, the prizes won by the top 3 breeders were markedly higher.  A nice little return for the breeders of horses who may have been sold several years ago!!


In 2016, STAGBI also introduced the British Breeders Bonus Scheme, which awarded monetary prizes to the breeders of British bred horses which won pre-selected races.  These races will change each year, having been selected at the AGM in the December prior to the following season.  For 2016, the races were the Vincent Delaney Final, the BHRC 3YO Derby, the Senior Welsh Dragon, the Appleby Whit Monday Final and the Penybont Grade A Final.  The first two were split for the sexes, so it was agreed that the money would be split equally if two British bred horses won each division; in the event that only one did, they would receive the full prize.

Tyrion Hanover and IB Coyote won the colts and fillies VDM Finals respectively.  It doesn't take a genius to work out that Tyrion Hanover isn't British bred, but IB Coyote was bred by IB Stables in Co Cork, Ireland.  At the time that the scheme was set up, horses bred in Ireland were still registered with STAGBI as the IHRA had not fully established its own stud book and register.  So the Murphy's won the full £500 (although weren't able to attend on the night to collect their award).

The afore-mentioned Miraculous and Jessies Conquest won the BHRC Derby and BHRC Oaks respectively, so the breeders of both horses received half the monetary prize each.  Sports Trick won the SWD, however he was imported as a yearling so was excluded as not British bred.  Master Plan, bred by Steven Gilvear of Scotland, won the Appleby Whit Monday Final, and Ithon Inmate, bred by Brynfawr Stables in Wales, won the Penybont Grade A Final (which was the selected Wales & Border Counties race).

STAGBI President Ryan O'Neil presenting Jenny Jones (Jessies Conquest), Sally Teeboon (Miraculous) & Logan Fowler (Master Plan) with awards for the British Breeders Bonus Scheme

The evening then moved back to the remaining BHRC awards.  We celebrated an individual who was thoroughly deserving of the 'Special Contribution' award for her efforts in staging one of the crown jewels of British racing at Aberystwyth: Heulwen Bulman.

She is a force to be reckoned with!

Before we moved on to the final five awards, we took a moment to reflect upon those we have lost from the sport in 2016.  This is one of those rare occasions when I can't find the right words to sum up something; somehow nothing I could say would be a sufficient tribute.  Just watch this and know that an immeasurable amount of passion and knowledge has disappeared.

Back to the BHRC human awards.

'Leading Owner' went the way of Claire Fletcher, whose winning horses include the Mare and Pacer of the Year (mentioned above), as well as Porcelain Seelster, Party At The Spa and Indie Hanover.  Claire and Shane came up to the stage together and I particularly enjoyed their interview with Darren in which they talked about how harness racing brought them together.

Jim McInally presents leading owners Shane & Claire Fletcher with their award

The Fletchers being quizzed by Darren Owen

'Leading Trainer' landed in the hands of a Laidler for the tenth year in a row, this time to William 'Rocker' Laidler who was at the reins for most of the victories.  A man of few words but with a great memory, he kept the plans for 2017 firmly under wraps (and nearly left without his trophy, which I reunited with him at around 2am!).

Jim McInally presents leading trainer 'Rocker' Laidler with his award

'Leading Driver', and one of the most popular awards of the evening going by the noise that came from two of the Scottish tables, was awarded to William Greenhorn.  Great guy.  For someone who holds down a full time job and has a family, with both sons following their own sporting ambitions, this man drove a funny number of miles and a funny number of hours, often on his own, to drive for people all over the UK and Ireland.  He pulled me out of a hole when I found myself short of a driver for the VDM heats and final and went on to win the SHRC 2YO Futurity for me with Crosshill Ace.  Unlike most of the top flight drivers, he isn't backed by a major stable.  He doesn't hail from a major training establishment.  The wins came for trainers with small numbers or catch drives.  I think it's testament to his attitude and approachability and talent that when he drives for you once, you ask him to drive for you again.  That's what we did, and he didn't let us down (she says, as she glances at her two trophies on the mantelpiece...)

Jim McInally presents leading driver William Greenhorn with his award

Finally, to the culmination of the night's celebrations - the two awards which were to be announced LIVE: Drive of the Year and Horse of the Year.

The Drive of the Year award was sponsored and supported by none other than Tim Tetrick, who sent over a pair of signed gloves, a baseball cap and a beautiful letter for the winning driver.  A poll was run at the beginning of February in which people from all over the world could, and did, vote for their favourite drive after watching the six shortlisted drives on Youtube.  Over 600 votes were cast and a staggering 40% of these were for the eventual winner, 16 year old John Henry Nicholson, for his drive on Cochise in the Red John Memorial Hurricane Pace Final at Musselburgh.  I can admit now that he got my vote!

Here's the race that won it:

John Henry Nicholson presented with his prizes from Tim Tetrick

A worth winner indeed
The Nicholson family - Georgine, John Henry, Savannah & John

The 'Horse of the Year' award format had been amended following a previous suggestion by Huw Evans, promoter at Tregaron.  Rather than the category be an open nomination like the other equine awards, it would become a 'Champion of Champions'-type award, with the winner being voted on from the winners of the other categories.  Having been granted a vote for the Dan Patch awards last year, I now know this is how Trotter of the Year, Pacer of the Year and Horse of the Year are established across the pond so I'm glad the BHRC have followed suit.

For me there was only one winner, and the majority of voters across the UK felt the same way.  The following video, by Elizabeth O'Neil, features the nominees and rounds off with the winner: the one, the only, Miraculous.

The connections of Miraculous return to the stage for the final award of the night

There you have it.  A long, but enjoyable, evening of celebrations.  Once the presentation segment of the night was over and the DJ kicked into action, I partied the night away with friends.  Which is the way it should be!

Over and out,

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