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:

video

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

Thursday, 11 May 2017

2017 Season - Week 2: It's all go, go, GoPro!

The second week of the season welcomed the first meeting of the year in Wales, at Tir Prince Raceway in Towyn.  OK, so once again this blog post doesn't bring you racing from Scotland BUT if you read on, there is a cheeky wee visit to Corbiewood included so be patient.  Also note, I've finally managed to update the title of the blog to something a little more apt, considering my tendency to travel the full length of the British Isles!

Saturday

On Saturday 6th May, Smarty and I were up sharp to get the horses jogged before making the 260 mile journey, along with another bookmaker (BMG), to Tir Prince.  I'm currently trying to run a marathon in May to raise money for the British Heart Foundation (I just need to run 26.2 miles over the course of the entire month - simple, right?  Wrong.) so I also had to cram in another mile or so before we left to ensure that I didn't fall behind and leave myself too much to do towards the end of the month.  All in all a very productive morning at the stables and after an uninterrupted journey we arrived at The Plough Inn, St Asaph, ahead of schedule.  If you're ever in the vicinity of Tir Prince, you should check this place out; the food is amazing.  And remember, I eat out a lot all over the country, so I'm getting to be a good judge of food.

We arrived at the track just over an hour before the racing was due to start, which gave me time to meet with Racing Manager, Eric Witherspoon, to see if we could get the GoPro fitted to the start car as I'd done at York.  He had no problems with that and sent me to find BHRC Vice Chairman, Jim McInally, who was filling the role of starter on the night.  Jim and I had a couple of other projects to discuss first (all will be revealed in due course I'm sure) and I was also asked by Jim to submit the Drive of the Year poll via the BHRC Facebook page as an entry for the World Trotting Conference media awards.  The submission deadline had passed however Gwenan Thomas (my fellow STAGBI director) submitted the Drive of the Year piece as well as my overall blog (yes, this blog, the one you're reading right now).  I received confirmation this morning that the submission had been accepted, so now we wait and see.  Don't get your hopes up; I'm not!

I then set about trying to fit the GoPro to the starting gate.  Whilst in the process of doing that, Darren Owen came onto the track and before I knew it I was involved in a Facebook Live interview with Darren and Jim.  I must point out that I had fairly little warning - Jim did mention it about five minutes before we went over to the start car, but I had no idea what the content of the interview was going to be about and I had no time to prepare.  Basically I winged it.

Not sure if this will work *fingers crossed*, but hopefully you can watch a few minutes of cringeworthy Sarah winging it here.

Although, my father did ring me on Sunday morning to tell me how proud he was of me.  He doesn't have Facebook, so I can only deduce that my mother or brother showed him.  They need to stop doing stuff like that.  First warning!

With a bit more preparation I think I could quite happily chat away to Darren before a race meeting kicks off, although I'm not sure I'll be a regular feature on his Live posts.  Who knows, stranger things have happened though (like that time Heather Vitale made 'Sarah Thomas Sunday' a thing on Facebook).

Anyway, the GoPro was fitted in the centre of the gate near the 3 hole.  Tir Prince's start car has wings on each side which fold forwards flush with the length of the car (there's room for 8 on the gate).  I realised during the first qualifier that as the car was following the horses behind the last horse in the field, it wasn't going to be collecting any in-race footage.  So, before the races began, I moved it to the 2 hole.

Biggest mistake EVER.

Because the 2 hole is situated on one of the folding wings, it's not protected from the wind as the vehicle moves such as the centre of the gate is (by the vehicle itself acting as a windbreak).  As a result, and possibly because the wing was less stable structurally, the footage from that point onwards was super shaky throughout.  What's worse was that as the wings closed as the car pulled away, I was missing out on that 'golden moment' where the screen pans out to capture all the horses hurtling side-by-side towards the first bend.  When I realised this after getting home at 2:45am, I was devastated.  Smarty tried to convince me it was a lesson learnt and I know for next time where's best to place the camera, but I was kicking myself for moving it in the first place.  I was right to begin with and I shouldn't have moved it.  Lesson well and truly learnt.

Once again I'm not going to talk you through each race; you can see the official results here.

Despite the disaster that was my GoPro footage, I did at least manage to get a handful of photos (mainly during warm ups).  I think I'm still getting to grips with the challenges of nighttime photography coupled with moving subjects...



All in all a very promising start to things at Tir Prince although it probably could have gone better for me (my laptop battery was also flat all the way home so no editing was done during the car journey).  I am not deterred though!

Sunday

We were supposed to have been spending Sunday at the Lauderdale point at Mosshouses, however entries were thin on the ground due, in the main, to the very dry conditions we have had recently.  Going was firm, so we decided to give it a miss.  Hindsight proved that was a good idea, as several of the races were walkovers with only one horse declared to run.

Instead we ventured to Corbiewood for the first of the qualifier and workout days at the track.  I packed up all of my recording and photography equipment and made plans to gather as much footage as possible.

I spoke at length to SHRC Chairman Fred Hay about fitting the GoPro to the start car, which he was absolutely fine with.  During the conversation, driver Gordon Gilvear wandered over (in his defence we were standing at the stable door of one of the horses he was due to workout) and asked if I planned to fit it to a driver or sulky.  I explained that further down the line, if I could prove to the stewards that it was safe and secure and that I would only put appropriate footage in the public domain, that was the ultimate goal: to record in-race footage from the participants themselves.  Fred suggested that 'today is as good a day as any' and volunteered Gordon to carry it (which he was fine with).

So after a trial run on the start car in one of the qualifiers (which turned out fine, so we have a gate position for that for the future), I fitted it to Gordon's sulky.  He had two drives, so for the purposes of my new favourite phrase, 'trial and error', I tried it forward-facing in the first and rear-facing in the second.  Due to the angle I fitted it at and the post-production correcting I had to do to prevent you all from getting sore necks, the final videos aren't 100% what I'm looking for BUT after several failed attempts of gaining steady footage with the camera attached to the horse, I think I've now nailed the in-race recording method.  We are in business.

Forward-facing view from the sulky
Rear-facing view from the sulky

I've shared this footage with a few people who seem to be impressed and keen to get this going so fingers crossed, I should be able to get some really good footage in races with 8+ horses in the race.

I then took a bit of a mad moment earlier in the week (thanks to Gordon, for his innocent question about my GoPro) and I've ordered a 360° camera which in theory will fit into the mounts I have for my GoPro.  If and when it arrives, my goal is to recreate the AMAZING Montrell Teague and Wiggle It Jiggleit video.  Trial, and indeed, error.  Or as the creator of that video says in the description, 'working out the bugs'.  The biggest bug I have being the fact I am technologically clueless.  My only saving grace is that I have a vision.  If I know what the end product should look like, then I'll be able to work out my way to get to it.

I haven't actually had a chance to edit the photos I took from various locations both on and next to the track, but here are some that look *alright* in their raw form:

 
Owner/trainer John Govan & Ayr Majesty
Before I bore the brains out of you any more, one quick thing before I go.  I've been working away quietly in the background (about the only thing I've ever done quietly) on a new website for the Scottish Harness Racing Club.  Currently the SHRC are communicating with members via the Facebook page which I set up 2 years ago, however some members have asked for a website as they do not use Facebook.  It's probably 90% ready to go, I'm just waiting on the thumbs up from the committee to 'go live' with it.  Once you see it you'll know it was me who designed it.  It just screams SARAH THOMAS.

I'll be sharing it like mad once I get the go ahead so...



Over and out,

#1 Groom

Thursday, 4 May 2017

2017 Season - Week 1: The season has started...

...well, in England, at least!

I know, I know, this blog is supposed to be about harness racing in Scotland but with a fortnight still to go before the first scheduled meeting of the season north of Hadrian's Wall, the only racing there is to talk about is from other parts of the UK!

The 2017 season kicked off this year at York Harness Raceway, the home of Mick Welling's Camden Stud.  Despite there being a handful of meetings staged at the track last year, the fixture on May 1st was pitted as the return of York, with a number of changes made to the establishment.  Firstly, there's a new racing manager (Craig Stevenson; you may remember him as the guy who also stood for Regional Steward for Scotland, against/alongside me.  Neither of us got the job).  Then there's the refurbished bar (ironically, not an area I frequent much at York!):

Adrian Cahill photo
And last but not least, there's a new photographer.  Some bird who thinks she's the bees knees, 'all the gear, no idea' type.  Her name is Sarah Thomas.  The jury's out on her yet.

(No, there aren't two Sarah Thomas' in harness racing.  I'm the new photographer.  I use the term loosely; I'm just a person who owns a camera - but you can see my photos from Monday here.)

After two weekends of qualifiers and workouts at the track, a five race card was all that was on offer on Monday 1st May, however this was followed by four further qualifiers and workouts.  The sun shone and the meeting was well-supported by harness racing enthusiasts and members of the general public alike.

As the photos suggest (assuming you clicked on the link to look at the photos before reading on), Team Laidler had a storming start to the season with four winners out of five, and a second in the race they didn't win.  I can't post the results at the moment as they're not yet on the BHRC website, but keep an eye out for them on the results section on the main page.

As well as the individual action shots and the presentation photos that feature via the link above, I also managed to get some other interesting photos using both my camera and also a GoPro which, with the help of starter Simon Clarke and his partner Kirsty Legrice, we managed to fit to the starting gate itself.  With no way of knowing at the time how it was all going to turn out, we alternated between continuous photos (every 0.5 seconds) and video and here are the results:

Photos

 
 

Video

View of the race from the start car

Pretty cool, huh?!

I'm still getting to grips with where the best place to stand as the photographer is but despite placing myself just before the winning line inside the track, I was still able to take some shots down the back straight (although post-editing these aren't as clear as the photos from the home straight).  I keep saying it: trial and error.  The next meeting is on Saturday 13th May and I'll be all over the inside of the track trying to take photos, having spoken at length with Janet Cockburn about some of the better places to stand.

Here's the only long-distance shot I've actually edited so far, as my priority was to get the individual action shots and presentation photos edited and published ASAP.  Since then the focus has turned to the GoPro, so perhaps tonight and tomorrow night I can actually see what else I have saved on the external hard drive!!
Frankie Camden setting sail for home
I don't think there's much else to say right now, other than the ideas for capturing the essence of harness racing seem to be working thus far, so fingers crossed for the remainder of the season I can gain the cooperation of other promoters in order to document this wonderful sport in photos and videos!!

Over and out,

#1 Groom

Friday, 31 March 2017

Time to look forward

"We cannot change our past.  We cannot change the fact that people act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude." - Charles R. Swindoll


Hey y'all.

Things have been a bit rubbish for me in general over the last few weeks (perhaps even months) and I felt like I had lost my way in life a little bit.  I found myself asking 'what's the point?' more and more, in a whole variety of daily situations.  In essence, I lost my mojo.

Thanks to the following horses and people, I think I'm on my way to getting it back.

With the 2017 season just around the corner, and workouts due to start in the next couple of weeks at York Harness Raceway, I thought now was as good a time as ever to introduce our team for the year.  Some of the horses (and people) you'll recognise if you've been following my blog religiously (I'm still kidding myself on that there's at least one person out there in the big, wide world who reads every single post I publish); some are new.  Some are thrown in to the mix just for good measure.

Here goes!

Cassius Clay



Bill Cardno photo
Yes, Cassius & the Gaffer ARE wearing matching outfits in the first photo; yes, I AM considerably taller than the Gaffer when you use Cassius as the yardstick (and I have lost a considerable amount of weight since seeing that photo of myself); and yes, the Gaffer DOES have his eyes closed in the third photo, because Cassius is very much a point-and-go kinda drive...and because seemingly it's a trait which runs in the family, as Smarty nearly always has his eyes shut in photos.

Cassius Clay is a 6 year old gelding by Hasty Hall out of Mattys Romance, by Jimmy Long.  He won his maiden last year at Corbiewood with the Gaffer in the bike having been a runner up at Musselburgh on his second start of the season.  Following his win, he caught a cold that was sweeping around our stable and being the total wimp that he is (despite being a solid 16'1hh) he never got over it in the time off we gave him so he was turned away for the year.

For Christmas I treated our horses to some new cooler rugs for the summer - a nice little deal on Ebay meant I was able to stock up on various different sizes (5'9, several 6'0 and a 6'3).  This week I went looking for a 6'0 rug to put on my 3YO filly Amy, only to find the 5'9 and 6'3 rugs in the box.  I had previously asked Smarty where the safest place to put them would be so that they wouldn't get half-inched by the Gaffer; clearly it wasn't a safe enough place.  Having committed the trim pattern to memory, I went and had a look at the under rug Cassius had on under his stable rug.  Sure enough, it was one of my rugs.  Clearly too small for the horse.  So I did the right thing - I swapped it for the 6'3 rug which fitted him perfectly and recycled the 6'0 rug for another horse, which also fitted perfectly.

Oh to be the only person capable of fitting rugs correctly at our yard!

If you want a recap of Cassius' win from last year, watch it here.

Crosshill Ace

Bill Cardno photo


Another returning campaigner, Ace is our now three-year-old filly by Cams Card Shark out of Vain In Spain (Artsplace).  She competed in all of the top juvenile stakes races last year, finishing in the money on most occasions and winning on her final start in the SHRC 2YO Futurity at Corbiewood in a time 2 seconds faster than the colts division.  After a couple of months off, she returned to her winter home at Corbiewood just before Christmas to be trained by Mark and Karen Kennedy who had her for the first part of her 2YO season and came back to Crosshill 4 weeks ago to begin her fast work with us.

She's coming along nicely.  She isn't without her quirks but her and I have always had a good relationship and thankfully Smarty is letting me take the lead with her in terms of her care and management which appears to be doing the trick.  Time will tell!  She's very particular about things; she likes her hay in a haynet, not on the floor; she likes to have a drink from the hose before you wash down her legs (and during, and after) and her 'sweet spot' (the spot on a horse which if you scratch sends them to sleep) is under her forelock.

Ace is heavily staked for this summer in all of the major 3YO events in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland so fingers crossed for another summer of touring the UK and Ireland and taking part in all the top races!

If you want a recap of Ace's win from last year, watch it here.

Eternal Flame

Bill Cardno photo
Bill Cardno photo
Now unless you've been following my blog for rather a long time, Eternal Flame may be a new one for you.  The last time we raced her was in 2014, the first summer that I was in Scotland (when I first started this blog).  In 8 starts that year, she was only out of the first three on 2 occasions, winning 3 races at Corbiewood, second at Haugh Field and Corbiewood and third at Musselburgh behind two horses who went on to become a FFA horse and the other one of the highest handicapped mares in the country at one stage.

Since then she's been out with the herd, probably thinking that was it for her and she wouldn't have to do any sort of work again.  Now 8, she's only had 25 lifetime starts, having raced at 2 and 3 in many of the stakes races, before her campaign as a five-year-old.  We're not done with you yet Eternal.

Eternal is Cassius' half-sister, by The Firepan out of Mattys Romance.  They both inherited their mother's colour (light bay) but that's where the similarities end.  Where Cassius is enormous, Eternal is much smaller and more compact.  That's The Firepan coming out in her, as Matty was a big, rangy mare herself which was enhanced by Hasty Hall when producing Cassius.

Eternal LOVES her work.  She is a notoriously crabby mare with a whole range of faces she can pull over a stable door (photographic evidence guaranteed to follow); she doesn't seem to like anyone except for the Gaffer (and some days she doesn't even like him).  She'd have you thinking she's a monster.  And yet, as soon as she's out on the track jogging, she's a delight.  She behaves impeccably, she would happily jog all day long.  At the races, she's a far more friendly horse at the lorry and to put on and off the track.  Where some horses get attitude at the track, she drops hers.  Some racedays she even convinces me she doesn't hate me.  Then when we get home everything reverts back to normal.

She's also fat right now.  I keep ribbing the Gaffer about this.  He gets very defensive.  Because she's compact, she carries and keeps on weight easily.  She's a 'good doer'.  I'd call her robust, so as not to hurt her feelings.  Not that it makes any difference; she doesn't like me anyway.

Crosshill Amethyst



Here's a new one!

Crosshill Amethyst, aka Amy, by Mypanmar out of Coalford Tracey (Coalford Laag), is our 'other' three-year-old filly.  Unlike Ace, she was not staked and our plans had been to break her in as a 2YO and then leave her until she was 4 to race as a maiden.  This was mainly due to the fact that we have so many horses to train of racing age and so few stables and such little time to train them all.  Therefore we've developed a kind of rota of sorts, where they all get a turn in time.

We did all of the groundwork with her before sending her over to Corbiewood to Mark and Karen Kennedy to get her going in the cart back in the autumn.  We collected her home at the same time we dropped Ace off, just before Christmas.  At that point she was turned out with the herd and we didn't plan on doing anything with her until 2018.

However, when you own and train horses, plans can change at the drop of a hat and we found ourselves with an empty stable to be filled.  Amy was the lucky candidate to be brought back in for the 2017 season.  For a short while we 'put her in storage' over at our friend, public trainer George Carson's, along with her yearling half-brother as we had brought a mare up to the stables to foal.  However, said mare turned out to be empty and the stable became available again so Amy (and her brother) came home.

Amy is a gentle soul who has shown hints of the temper her mother is fabled to have had when she raced.  By hints, I mean she can stomp her feet in the crossties if you're not giving her attention.  And I don't have time to be giving her all my attention.  But to jog, she's a dream.  Calm, relaxed, responsive to your voice.  I like her.  Her and Ace are so different and I enjoy the challenges each of them give us in their own unique way.

So that's the racing team for 2017.  I've also made mention of Amy's half-brother, Crosshill Cadillac (aka Phil, by Yankee Lariat).  He is one of two yearling colts we have, named after a horse Smarty and I met at Pompano Park last year called Cadillac Phil who was cared for by Scott Schwartz.  After meeting the pair (and seeing Cadillac Phil winning on our last night at the track), Crosshill Cadillac seemed like a good name for our 'C' year.  His nickname 'Phil' was an obvious choice after that!

The other colt is Crosshill Costa, aka Cliff, by Eagle Luck out of Saunders Beachgirl (Beach Towel).  The two boys are turned out together now for the summer so hopefully if the weather continues to improve they will lose their winter fluff and I can get some nice photos of them to share with you all.

I've got two mares going to the stallions in the coming days and weeks as well, so it is literally all go at Crosshill Stables right now!  Sometimes it takes writing it all down to realise just how much there is to look forward to.  Starting with the opening fixture at York Harness Raceway on May 1st.  As some commentator once said (😉), 'Be there!'.

Over and out,

#1 Groom

P.s. before I go, I did say that things were on the up due to a number of horses and people, so I really should reintroduce the main characters in this story I call 'Life'.  The afore-mentioned (and pictured) 'Gaffer', who has adopted the role of being in charge (note: he was not elected by the rest of us, he simply decided and none of us have contested it).  He's mainly responsible for morning feeds, driving the lorry, heating up water on the gas stove at the races, sweeping up after everyone every five seconds, being brutally honest to people when they probably weren't after brutal honesty and looking after Cassius and Eternal.  He believes all his horses are 15'1hh (ironically, after having measured them, all of his horses bar one are actually 15'1hh, but the one that isn't is 16'1hh so he's not even close) and should fit into 5'9 rugs.  He dislikes untidyness and has a habit of parking our lorry AS FAR AWAY AS IS HUMANLY POSSIBLE from the gate onto the track at Corbiewood, so that I have to do a round trip of about 2 miles to get our horses on and off the track.

Then there's the 'Jockey', who is featured in the photos of Eternal above as he is our stable driver.  Rather, he was our stable driver, until he decided to stick his left hand into a lawnmower which was SWITCHED ON last summer which resulted in the loss of a finger and damage to several others.  Idiot.  After that, the Gaffer decided he was driving his own horses (hilarious, although he did get a win) and Smarty and I had to source available drivers on racedays for our horses.  I have no idea if he intends to come back driving this year; I suspect the Gaffer may have usurped him as driver of Cassius and Eternal at least.  Just last weekend the Jockey was telling us he thought Eternal was jogging too fast and if he was jogging her she'd be going 'as slow as treacle', only for the Gaffer to come back in off the track and tell him she was 'already going too fast' for the Jockey to think about driving this year. #banter

Naturally Smarty features quite heavily in this blog, as he is my partner in crime.  His favourite trick is to convince me he needs my help at the stables when I finish work because <insert job> cannot be done without me, only for me to get stuck in and then realise he's sat in the chair outside Ace's stable, on his phone.  Either that or he hides in the feed room and every now and again bangs some buckets around so I think he's getting the next morning's feeds prepped.  He's definitely better at giving instruction than taking it, although if I wave a pitchfork in his direction he generally does as I ask.  In his defence, he gets the horses jogged while I'm in work and his mucking out skills are definitely improving.

Finally, there's our supporting cast - 'Halloooo Hen', 'Welshy', 'Mrs Welshy', 'Wee Welshy' and 'the Baby'.  They don't come racing very often (well, the Baby has never been because he was only born last month), but when they do things are 100x more crazy.  They are the non-horsey wing of the family, and all of my horses seem to pick up on this.  Not in that way that nice horses go easy on people who are a bit uncomfortable around them.  More like if they could sit in their lap like a dog they would.  They become over-friendly.  It's too much. These people just want to do the token stroke on the face and be away.  Not with my horses you don't.  No no, personal space goes out of the window with my lot.  It's probably my fault, I mean, these horses only see the four of us at the stables and I often spot even the toughest of the three men giving them a little scratch on the neck or a rub on the face when they think nobody is looking.  They've all come to expect that everyone wants to have them two inches away from their face at all times. #sorrynotsorry

OK, this time it really is 'over and out',

#1 Groom

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Bad public image...AGAIN

I've lost count of the number of times I have referenced this topic not only in this blog but in various posts on different social media sites and on equestrian forums, but here I find myself again compelled to write about the subject of harness racing's public image.

Last night I was notified of a thread on the Horse & Hound Facebook page which included a video of a horse pacing in full harness with a sulky on a dual carriageway, travelling at approximately 30mph.  The video had been posted by Horse & Hound, a notable equestrian print and online magazine.  The reason it was brought to my attention (by a friend) was because amongst the comments posted under the original story were statements such as 'I hate trotting, it's completely cruel', 'the action is unnatural' and 'the horses are being forced to move like that by the straps around their legs'.  Now whilst I agreed with some of the remarks about animal welfare and the safety of other road users, I naturally took umbrage with those specific remarks noted above.  I found myself trying in vain to educate people about the Standardbred pacer and also about the equipment used, as well as differentiating between harness racing as an official sport, and illegal road racing.

Today I received my weekly email subscription from H&H featuring as its main story an account of the very same tale, with links to said video.  This was the point at which I realised that until the media stops protraying the sport of harness racing as solely the hammering of horses up and down main roads, amongst traffic, with no regard for the safety of anyone in the vicinity (including those driving, and more importantly the horses), harness racing's public image will never change.

So I contacted Horse & Hound.

Now, I have contacted H&H before and asked if they would give half a page to the sport of harness racing as an introduction to an equestrian discipline which is NEVER written about in mainstream media in the UK.  The reply I received was that it was 'too niche' an area to cover.  I know it's niche, but it's also bloody awesome, and I'm willing to do the groundwork FREE OF CHARGE, much like the rest of the work I do to try to promote this wonderful sport.  Not deterred, I realised there is more than one way to skin a cat and I began writing on here a lot more, and became a more active member on a large equestrian forum with my 'myth-busting' posts and insight into harness racing here in the UK.  Even I'm not stupid enough to think that that's enough to convince Joe Public though.

When I contacted H&H this morning it was to politely request that in the interests of fair and responsible journalism, they educate their readers and subscribers about the official sport of harness racing, which is NOT the same as the videos they insist on publishing of illegal road racing and its associated time trials/public workouts on main roads.  I had to explain to them that for every person I convince that our sport is a bonafide, genuine discipline which is staged worldwide, their insistence on drawing attention to a separate, albeit associated, 'sport' was convincing 10 people otherwise.  With all the will in the world, I just don't have the reach to convince the masses and I am up against the UK media - an impossible opponent.

Interestingly enough, 'Eleanor' from H&H replied to me.  She said she intended to write a 'follow-up piece' and wanted to speak to the BHRC as well.  She asked if I would be happy to speak to them as well.  'Of course', I said.


I'm a little concerned that 'Eleanor' is looking for someone to speak up and defend the actions of the individual in this specific video.  That won't be me.  I'm not defending something that I don't believe in nor am associated with.  And it's ridiculous enough in itself that I will potentially have to defend the sport of harness racing simply because the media has convinced everyone that this incident, and our sport, are one and the same.  However, I won't be cutting my nose off to spite my face.  This is an opportunity to educate a lot of people.  I can't hope to convince them all, because a lot of these fluffy types don't like any form of horse racing (but ironically keep their own horses so overweight many suffer from a whole host of illnesses and complications which prevent them from being ridden at all).  I can still get the word about harness racing out there though.

If the BHRC choose to take the opportunity to speak to a H&H journalist, whether it be to publicly emphasise their rules on individuals who road race and their ineligibility for licences under BHRC rules or to distance themselves from this type of media coverage, I will be delighted.  I sincerely hope they do not refuse to enter into conversation for fear of repercussions from some members of our sport who do indeed partake in illegal road racing also.

I'm not a spokesperson for our sport.  But I will speak up for it.  I know it annoys a lot of people that I get on my high horse about things and always seem to be sticking my nose into matters which don't appear to concern me.  Tough.  That isn't going to change.  The alternative is to sit back and do nothing, and that doesn't appear to have got us very far to date, does it?  We have a bad public image and it NEEDS to be altered because personally, I am sick of being attributed for horses left dying in ditches because they were run off their legs on the roads.  I don't do that, and just because I partake in a sport which looks a bit similar to the type of thing you see on the road, doesn't mean you can assume I would do it either.

If you're reading this blog and you have absolutely no idea what harness racing is and you want to find out more, email me on thomassa1989@hotmail.co.uk and ask me ANYTHING.  What I don't know I can find out, or I can point you in the right direction to find out.  Don't listen to Jean from the livery yard who went to Appleby in 1983 and saw someone in a sulky sat behind a 12.2hh black and white pony which was too small to pull the driver's fat backside around who has declared that all sulky racing is cruel and should be banned.  Don't watch a video of some idiot dicing with death on a motorway and read Sally's comments about how we trotting people force our horses to move in an unnatural way by tying their legs together and beating them.  Don't assume everybody in harness racing is a gypsy and don't assume all gypsies are bad people.  Ask questions, open your eyes and your mind, learn something new.

Spread the word people.  If you tell one new person each day, and they tell someone, and they tell someone else...well as Smarty says, 1 + 1 = 11.

Here's a video compilation of harness racing as I know it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMldDxNgulU&t=185s

Peace out,

#1 Groom

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNwhbpuWfG8

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMQmvnLekwc

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS-sEhp_Esk

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5eOovjF31M

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CATNKCav_0g

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQ651h1bY_A


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!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmQD7rZCc3M

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqgwA-Z5uXc

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!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ohb0_rboxPk&t=9s

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!!

ENGLAND
SCOTLAND
WALES
BRIGHTWELLS

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).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbWBOR4r-JU&t=33s

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JUs2B2bP-o

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwzty6U2hgQ

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2u5pFj2p1Bg

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!).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YOKo5NP_lw

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...)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5mUQ_qKRMI

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:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ius55lcwff8

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DuvUinXQeaQ

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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