Thursday, 25 May 2017

2017 Season: Week 3 - The grass is always greener...


The third consecutive weekend of harness racing welcomed the return of the grass meetings with the traditional season-opener at Tregaron now establishing itself in the middle of May following last year's last minute postponement due to weather.  The decision to permanently move the meeting to the third weekend (or second, technically, depending on which way you look at it, what with York kicking off on Monday 1st May) in my opinion, at least, was a good one.

But before we dive headfirst into racing on the turf, Smarty and I headed to York on Saturday for the second meeting of the track's 9 fixture programme for the summer.  If you remember, I'm the official track photographer at York, which is exciting and stressful in equal measures.  I LOVE taking photos, and it's a great chance to get shots for my camera club competitions in the autumn/winter, but at the same time I am paranoid that I'm not going to get a decent shot of the winning horse.  Thanks to some advice from Janet Cockburn (who has been the photographer there also), I managed to find a spot on the first bend where I could catch a clean view of the horses after the start car had pulled away, which in turn meant I could catch them just after the half as well on the sweeping bend.  Then I put my marathon training (exaggeration) into practice and ran back to the finish line to get photos as the horses headed down the stretch.  All in all it seemed to work rather well, and you can see the photos I took here.  Plus, as a small Brucie Bonus, I managed to sell a couple of them as prints.

Anyway, enough about me.  Saturday was also another day of footage gathering with the GoPro.  Simon [Clarke] and Kirsty [Legrice] had been working on a new start car which meant that I needed to figure out where to fit the camera...again.  Although, I'm getting better at all of this the more I fix it to various things.  During the week leading up to the meeting, Lauren Moran (SHRC Young Driver of the Year 2016) had purchased a GoPro Hero Session 5 (basically a newer model of the small camera I have) and having sought permission from the BHRC, the track owner (Mick Welling) and the stewards, we got the go ahead to fix Lauren's camera to a few of the drivers, herself included, using my body harness mount.  We also managed to do the same at Tregaron the following day, so this is probably as good a time as any to share the video with you in this part of the post.  The following video was created by Lauren using a couple of GoPro apps and is being billed as the 'sneak peak' for what we have planned for the remainder of the season:

Pretty awesome, huh?!

So a massive THANKS to Lauren for creating the video (and wearing the camera), and also to drivers Grant Cullen, William Greenhorn, Richard Haythornthwaite and Patrick Kane Jnr for wearing it also.

You can find the full results from York here.  Notable performances for me from the races in terms of the winners came from Greentree Serenity, a mare who I think would be a solid contender for the Mares Series at Corbiewood through June, July and August; Rhyds Rockstar, who seems to know where the winning line is and Live In Star who lived up to expectation after an impressive workout last weekend at Corbiewood before heading to York.  Ayrosmith caught my eye when finishing as a runner up and Cardigan Flashman also put in a gutsy performance in defeat.

Here is as good a place as any to share the new York Harness Raceway promotional video that I've been working on using the footage gathered from various angles.  All feedback, whether good or bad, welcomed!

From there we headed south to Wales for a visit with my parents.  Tregaron is only 19 miles from their house, so it seems like a logical place to stay.  The only problem is, Tregaron is just over an hour's drive.  'What kind of roads are you driving on woman?!' I hear you ask.  The worst kind known to man.  The route is primarily a forestry road, passing up over a mountain and down the other side.  The worst part is the section known as 'The Devil's Staircase', which snakes back and forth with some very tight turns.  Smarty isn't the best traveller in a car (even when he's driving) if the roads go a bit winding, but seeing as we'd slightly mistimed our departure I said I would drive and we'd take the shortest route.  He had previously said he would never travel that road again (after the first time, when he drove) and halfway through the journey he said the same thing!

Nevertheless we made it to the track without any mishaps and I set about getting the relevant permission to attach my recording equipment to people and vehicles.  The starter, Wes Jones, was more than happy for me to put the GoPro on the starting gate and even invited me to ride in the back of the start car with my camera to get photos.  Once all of the necessary permission was sought and granted, this was to be where I spent the bulk of my day!  Lauren was left in charge of the 'Driver Cam' (results included in the video above) so that was one thing off my mind!

Again, you can find results for Tregaron on the BHRC website but I'd like to shine the spotlight on a few performances which brought a real smile to my face.  Firstly, Joel Richards on Im Immpartial Too in the first of the two heats for the final.  He's only 16 years old, but he's learning all the time.  After a third-placed finish at Tir Prince the weekend before on Wye Joel's Best, the duo went on to finish second at Tregaron.  Joel then drove Im Immpartial Too to victory in a tight finish and gave an impeccable interview to Darren Owen.  Over the last couple of years, I have been more than impressed with the youngsters in this sport; John Henry Nicholson, who won the Hurricane Pace Final last summer with Cochise and then went on to win the Tim Tetrick-sponsored Drive of the Year award at the BHRC awards night also gave a brilliant interview with Darren when receiving his award.  Not only are these people the future of our sport, they are also great ambassadors for how inclusive a sport it is and hearing them speak with such passion really fills me with hope.

Joel Richards & Im Immpartial Too
Posing for winning presentation photos
Post-race interview with commentator Darren Owen
An equine performance which stood out for me was Lakeside Bono, trained and driven by Mike Evans.  The Pro Bono Best gelding faced tough opposition against last year's Horse of the Year, Miraculous, and the multiple-2 and -3 year old winner Party At The Spa in the Doonbeg 4YO Senior Welsh Dragon however looked the part during the parade and also throughout the race, finishing third.  I think people should keep an eye on him this summer.

Talking of Miraculous and Party At The Spa (PATS), this was a real clash of titans and the draw played a key part.  Put these two horses level and there is very little between them and on this occasion, Party At The Spa came out on top.  Trainer Teresa Haythornthwaite was in tears, which had me in tears, and when Miraculous' driver came past and shouted his congratulations I thought that was about all I could handle.  I guess I'm a sucker for rivals on the track putting it all aside once a race is over.

Party At The Spa & Alan Haythornthwaite lead the field just after the half
Miraculous (red bluff) & Party At The Spa (black hood) - two longtime rivals
Winner winner!
Tears from trainer Teresa Haythornthwaite
The joys of winning - Teresa and daughter of owners Shane & Claire Fletcher, Jess
And how can I forget the Free For All?!  Well, it's not a FFA by name (it's the Tregaron Open Preferred Handicap) but it featured five of the country's most prominent Free For Allers: Shades Of Grey, Saunders Mach 3, Foolaround, Stamp Hill and Coalford Tetrick.  And it was the latter who stormed to victory under a late but well-timed drive from Mark Pritchard, building on his second placed finish at Tir Prince behind Porterstown Chris the week before in the Anto Russell Memorial FFA.
Coalford Tetrick (far left) in a thrilling finish in the Tregaron OPH
Last but not least, there was the Camden Stud Spring Handicap Final, with 8 horses facing the starter.  I was delighted to see a horse I bred, For One Night Only (aka Jimmy) included in the lineup.  He'd finished fourth in his heat, but went on to finish fourth in the final with a strong run down the stretch.  I sincerely hope that he steps up to the challenges ahead of him and sneaks a couple of wins having switched from WBCRA to BHRC with owner/trainer/driver Rhun Wilson.  The winner however featured in several of my posts last year after winning the Cilmery Final and then going on to be runner up in the low grade Aberystwyth Final.  He is one of, if not the, most successful Share The Delight offspring in the country - Llywns Delight.

Llywns Delight & Lee Price behind the gate
Brothers Lee and Robin Price after winning the final
And that was that!  I have to commend the committee on their efforts in staging a fantastic meeting, I enjoyed the fixture more than I have done in previous years and the most so far this season.  The racing was competitive, the races were well-framed, the horses were driven on their merits.  I left the field nestled in the middle of nowhere feeling exceptionally positive about harness racing in the UK.

How long will that last?!

Over and out,

#1 Groom

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