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,



#1 Video Editor
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Saturday, 11 February 2017

BHRC Drive of the Year - GET VOTING

If you haven't seen the poll on Tim Tetrick's social media pages/Harnesslink/the BHRC website, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!

Kidding, you've probably been busy doing important stuff.  Point taken.

You must surely be able to find yourself half an hour though to watch six videos of drives shortlisted for the inaugural BHRC Drive of the Year 2016 and then cast your vote.  I rarely ask anything of anyone, but on this occasion, please do.

The award is being supported and sponsored by none other than Tim Tetrick himself, a master reinsman regarded worldwide as one of the best.  The driver whose drive receives the highest number of votes will receive a gift package from Tim, as well as a trophy which will be presented at the BHRC & STAGBI Awards Dinner on Saturday 25th February.  We're actually going to be keeping the name of the winner under wraps until the night, to add to the suspense.  Voting closes at midday on Valentine's Day (for those romantics among us) or 14th February (for those unromantics among us).  So time is running out guys - GET VOTING NOW!

To make things easy for you, I'm going to post the links for the six shortlisted drives with a bit of background info to the race so you can place them in context.

Race 1


James Haythornthwaite & Porcelain Seelster

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQkY9hcg9xA


The three-year-old imported grey filly (Camluck-Pantecostal-No Pan Intended) came from the rear of the field under a patient drive from regular pilot James Haythornthwaite to take on stablemate Indie Hanover down the stretch, winning the Victor Carson Memorial Final at Corbiewood in September.

Race 2

John Nicholson Jr & Cochise

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

Sixteen-year-old John Nicholson Jr was living the stuff of dreams when winning a heat of the Red John Memorial Hurricane Pace at Musselburgh in June on Cochise (Dreamwork-Running River-Raque Bogart), however his drive in the final makes the shortlist for, amongst other things, holding his nerve when being chased down in the last furlong by the previous year's Leading Driver, William 'Rocker' Laidler.

As an aside, keep an eye out for John's father, John Sr, and sister, Savannah, jumping up and down wildly by the inside rail just before the line - his mother Georgina was also in the race as the family had qualified two runners and there were tears in the winner's circle afterwards as John became one of the youngest drivers ever to win a major handicap final.

Race 3

Ian Pimlott & Thunder Jiel

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMBpWvX21w4

This was the first of two trotting races staged at Chelmsford City Racecourse in November following a Thoroughbred card.  The races were televised live on At The Races which gave the sport much-needed exposure to the general public, and they were treated to a driving masterclass from seasoned campaigner Ian Pimlott who certainly didn't panic when the front horses went clear early on.  His well-timed drive ensured Thunder Jiel (Historien-Houba Houba Jiel-Kimberland) broke his duck on British soil having been imported from France earlier in the year.

News today is that Chelmsford have agreed to stage numerous trotting races this coming summer on the back of Thoroughbred cards - GREAT NEWS!

Race 4

Mick Lord & Shaba Hanover

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRjl9ntkpB8

Commentator Darren Owen sums up the race to perfection in the closing stages of the race at York in October.  Mick Lord painted the outside rail with Shaba Hanover (Real Desire-Shakeitupamy-Western Hanover) to pass the frontrunners and storm to victory late on.  This win was the former BHRC 3YO Filly of the Year's sole victory of the season after a successful juvenile career.

Race 5

Richard Haythornthwaite & Ayr Majesty

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwjPd9Z2sik

Not to be outdone by brother James, Richard Haythornthwaite finds himself on the shortlist after steering Ayr Majesty (Daylon Alert-Ayr Queen-Albert Albert) to success in the Tregaron FFA at the two-day festival in August.  The horse finds himself in top company following much success as a youngster, and on this occasion the wily moves of his driver to weave his way through the field provided the horse with his sole win of the season in a leg of the Standardbred Sales Company-sponsored Battle of the Big Guns, after numerous consistent placed runs.

Race 6

Vicky Gill & Rhyds Mystique

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBxw6ZD0tbY

BHRC 2YO Filly of the Year 2016 Rhyds Mystique (Hasty Hall-CPs Village Jigsaw-Village Jiffy) burst onto the racing scene with this impressive debut, which became the first of 8 wins from 9 runs in her freshman year.  Vicky Gill partnered her in every race, and the duo's first victory stemmed from a late burst of speed to pass the field in impressive style.  Little did we know just how good this filly would be during the course of the season.  One suspects that driver Vicky knew though, driving with immense confidence on this first start.

Now to the nitty gritty - voting.

Follow this link HERE

If, for any reason, that doesn't work (I'm still a technophobe at heart), go to the BHRC website (http://www.bhrc.org.uk/racing/news/drive-of-the-year-2016/) and follow the link at the bottom of the story.  WARNING: Do not be alarmed at the enormous photo of Tim Tetrick's face when you click on the link - the details are below it).

Come on, get involved.  Most of my readers will be totally impartial viewers, not knowing any of the drivers or horses shortlisted.  So judge them, be critical, be impressed, click on your favourite.

REMEMBER: voting closes at MIDDAY on TUESDAY 14TH FEBRUARY GMT (that's Greenwich Mean Time, to you and me).  I don't know what this is in the various US time zones - look it up.  Or vote AS SOON AS YOU'VE FINISHED READING THIS.  Go on, you know you want to.

Over and out,

SHOUTY CAPS LOCK #1 GROOM

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Skibbereen for something a bit different...

On the weekend that 35,000 spectators piled into Vincennes and the world tuned in to watch Bold Eagle demolish his opposition for back-to-back victories in the €1,000,000 Prix d'Amerique (and in doing so setting a new record), I set off in the opposite direction (West, really far West) to watch harness racing of a somewhat different style in Skibbereen, Co Cork, Ireland.

When I first considered the idea of making the solo venture on social media, I was suitably warned that the historical 'men only' weekend was no place for someone of my fair nature.  'Well, tough', I thought.  I'm not very good at being told what I can't do.  So I went ahead and booked my flights and accommodation and off I set on my adventure on Friday (27th January).

Now first of all, Skibbereen isn't as close to Cork as I thought it was.  Turns out there's a lot of Ireland.  Just in general.  Unfortunately my bus from Cork to Skibbereen on Friday afternoon/evening was mainly under the cover of darkness so I couldn't even do any window-sightseeing, although I did see a heron.  In fact, I saw three herons in total (two on the way back to the airport on the Monday).  Thought that was kinda cool.  Got me thinking about ground-nesting birds and the fact that fox-hunting in Ireland is still legal...but that's so far removed from what this post is supposed to be about that I'll leave that topic there.


A friend had recommended I stay at the West Cork Hotel, and if, dear reader, you ever go to Skibbereen, I would also recommend staying there.  The food was really good and when it actually came to race day, I was only a five minute walk away from the course.  And that's as much tourist-y type 'what to do/where to stay/what to eat' as I'm capable of.  The rest of this post is just a glorified gush-fest about how awesome Skibbereen, and its people, truly are.  And it's horses, we mustn't forget the horses.

So Friday night was dedicated to a long overdue catch up with a young man by the name of James O'Driscoll, aka Spud, or 'One Shot', because when there are 8 Jagerbombs lined up on a bar in Aberystwyth for the two of you, he's only capable of drinking one, before crying like a girl and claiming the next day that he was 'drinking shots with some machine', completely disregarding any photographic evidence you may have of him on your phone.  Aside from drinking, we also spent a lot of time together during the two summers that James worked for John Gill, trainer of two VDM Final winners (Camden Tino & Titanium), and BHRC 2YO Filly of the Year 2016, Rhyds Mystique, to name but a few.  Considering he was working for a public trainer and I am a harness racing bookmaker's girlfriend, it was a given that we bumped into each other all over the UK, and we've kept in contact since he returned to Ireland.  He got me up to speed with his filly, IB Tweedy, which would be going for 3 from 3 on Sunday, as well as the other horses, jockeys and trainers who would be there.  Great to see a friendly face on my arrival for sure!
Pretty much sums up two years of 'work' in the UK from James...
My plans for Saturday involved a visit to the IB Stables where brothers Donal and Tadhg Murphy train.  Their filly, part-owned by American Bill Donavan, IB Coyote, was the winner of the VDM Fillies Final last year with Dexter Dunn in the bike, and for one day only she wasn't competition for my Ace and she was just another horse for me to direct my affection towards.  I can't help it, I behave the same way around horses as most women behave around babies.

IB Coyote
 

One of the things I love about horsey people is the way they want to show off their horses; their pride in their stock.  And the Murphy's have plenty to take pride in.  Aside from IB Coyote (Share The Delight-Jill And Jones-Hasty Hall), I also had the chance to meet Reclamation, a two-year-old filly by A Rocknroll Dance out of Art Sale, dam of top pacing mare Rocklamation (Rocknroll Hanover).  With the filly being so closely bred to Rocklamation, connections must be hoping she follows in her half-sister's hoof-steps.  Next door to her was one of my two favourites (which took me all day to establish, as each time a different horse was brought out of the stable I decided it was my new favourite!), IB McGregor, a five-year-old Hasty Hall out of Annie's Lady, who is the dam of Jill And Jones (dam of IB Coyote).  Without a measuring stick and using judgment alone, we had the horse standing at least 16'2hh, possibly more (I always try to estimate conservatively, as some people have a tendency to over egg the pudding...many a 17hh horse in one barn seems to lose a few inches when moving to another where a stick can be found).  As is evidenced by the breeding of some of the others in the stable, the Murphy's have placed a lot of faith in Annies Lady and her ability to produce very good racehorses, and I can't see that this faith has been misplaced at all.  IB McGregor, or 'Greg' as I noticed he was called (I did ask 'why not Connor?', to be told the horse was around a long time before the UFC fighter!), is definitely my kind of horse.  I'll be following his season with great interest.


Next up I met Alinque Darche, a seven-year-old trotting mare imported from France as part of the Irish-French Le Trot agreement; she was one of four Trotteur Francais present, the other three being the geldings Silvano Bello, Bolero De La Fye and Tenor Meslois who raced with success in the UK during 2016.  I find TF's to be very docile and tolerant to handle; I don't know if this is a breed thing or just testament to good education and training but every single one I have met up close has been very quiet.  Some don't behave quite so well on the track but to work with on the ground, they get a massive thumbs up from me.

The boys from France
Silvano Bello
Tenor Meslois
Bolero De La Fye
Alinque Darche

Oui oui, trés amusant!
I've met a lot of horses in my time, both racing and in other disciplines, and some of them seem to be born with almost a sort of arrogance, a kind of 'look at me, I look good' attitude.  They are the horses who pose for the camera, ears forward and alert, almost aware that they are having their photo taken and want to show off their best side.  Ayr Escape is one such horse I know, owned by my good friend Michael O'Neil, and the Smart family's old horse Beach Bound was the same.  Good looking horses who seem to know it and flaunt it.  This stable has one such horse, a three year old called Rebel Rouser (Rocknroll Heaven-Nukes Last Dream-No Nukes).  He knew he was good looking and he wanted me to know it too.  I think he might also be, as my mother would say, 'a bit of a boy'!

Rebel Rouser

The final two racehorses were full brothers, not that I believed Tadhg when he told me.  The first was another big, big horse which suited me down to the ground; IB A Magician, a four-year-old by Arts Conquest out of Jill And Jones (Hasty Hall).  There aren't many big Arts Conquest's, with him being a small stallion himself, so again I will be following this horse's season with great interest.  He was just my type.  His younger brother, IB A Warrior, himself a two-year-old, couldn't have been more different.  He was much smaller and stockier, a real little powerhouse with a back like a table.  I could have eaten my dinner off it!  I liked him too, he had a bit of spark about him.
IB A Magician
The final occupant of the barn was another import, a Falabella miniature horse called 'Baby Snatch'.  All I can say is, I want one.  As cute as a Shetland without the associated attitude problem!


After the quick tour of the barn, it wasn't long before Tadhg suggested I make myself useful and muck out while he jogged the remainder of the horses which hadn't been out prior to my arrival.  Once a groom, always a groom.  It was like being back at Ty Newydd mucking out whilst Colin jogged the horses. Radio on, singing along, chatting away to the horses.  I can't be the only person who thinks this is as close to heaven as I'll ever get?!

Now I'll be honest, I was probably more of a hindrance than a help over the course of the near-six hours that I was there, because at every given opportunity the pair of us were putting the world to rights.  You can't beat talking to someone who has measured opinions and takes on board what you have to say.  At this time of year the world of harness racing usually goes mad with boredom due to not racing and this leads to bold statements and wild opinions and arguments on social media; you can get easily bored of the same rhetoric and equally exasperated at people's narrow-mindedness.  I'm not going to pretend like that's not exactly what's happening right now (although in everyone's defence, this close season has been the smoothest yet...and that's it all about to kick off because I've jinxed it), so I was glad of the opportunity to speak to someone who sees the bigger picture.  At times, people like that are like gold dust.

I was fairly on top of the mucking out chores so I got upgraded to brushing the horses which had jogged earlier and then rugging them up as the last few were jogged.  I think this was the point at which I thought I never wanted to leave.  I'm rather fickle like that; I have 13 horses at home and really I should have been there brushing them instead of gallivanting around West Cork spending time with other people's horses!  In my defence I was due the short holiday before point-to-point and NH racing takes over my weekends fully, and then the mare being due to foal, and then training the 2017 team, and racing all over the UK and (hopefully) Ireland...cut me some slack!

Time flies when you're having fun and I couldn't believe that the biggest part of the day was past.  I had a mini tour of the island of Inish Beg before we headed back to Skibbereen.  It really is a beautiful part of Ireland.  I wonder if everyone who lives there appreciates how lucky they are.  I'll maybe retire there, when I'm about 95 and financially stable enough to live out my days.


Sunday: Race Day.

Had to ring James to find out where it was.  He sent me to a roundabout which had 5 exits and said 'go straight over'.  Three of the exits could be classed as 'straight over'.  He'd clearly had his quota of shots the night before and was barely audible on the phone anyway.  Managed to get enough sense out of him to wander up the right road, which probably took me about 15 minutes in total because I was a little fragile to be power-walking.  Had to nip back to the hotel later in the afternoon to get a power pack for my GoPro and probably did it in just over five minutes, so that's how close it was to the town centre.

For anybody who doesn't know what this road racing is all about, keep reading.  A quick summary would be close to how Steve Wolf once described it: harness racing meets barrel racing meets monté.  The winter road racing season in Cork is for horses raced in the saddle only; the majority of the horses don't race in the summer on the grass tracks and are kept solely for the winter racing, although some do switch between the two and race for the biggest part of the year.  This isn't illegal road racing, like the kind we unfortunately see broadcast all over mainstream media here in the UK and Ireland which tarnishes the public image of the actual sport of harness racing.  This is a bonafide sport, with the appropriate permission and road closures, run under rules set by the governing body, the Irish Trotting and Harness Racing Federation (ITHRF)






I'd arrived about an hour and a half before the first race, and after a quick chat with the guy collecting money on the 'gate' ("Are you here for the racing or just passing through?") I found my old friend, and jockey, Deirdre Goggin.  Deirdre was the first friend I made in racing.  I kept myself to myself for the first season I worked for Colin and only socialised with the owners and friends of Colin and Shirley's.  In 2009 we'd taken 3 horses to Aberystwyth to race across the two days and stabled up at the Equine College.  Colin and Shirley were sleeping in the lorry and I had a two-man tent (the youth of today don't even know what it was like travelling away with horses!).  We went for food in the Marine after the racing on the Saturday and I decided I was going to go out for a few drinks on my own before getting a lift back to the college.  As I crossed the road to walk to the Pier, I bumped into a man and his daughter heading in the same direction; Michael and Deirdre Goggin.  By the time we made it to the Pier we were the best of friends and we spent the remainder of the night drinking together (I think I got dropped off by a taxi back at my tent at around 4am...).  That was nearly 8 years ago and we've been friends ever since.  Michael is well known for often being the only Irish man to travel across to Wales to race at some fixtures, and for a long time before I could get to grips with the Cork accent (thanks to STAGBI for all the phone calls I received in the office) all I ever understood were the swear words.  Eight years later, and I can understand nearly all of what the man from 'the closest parish to America' says to me!

I'd previously met Deirdre's younger brother, Michael Jnr, but at Skibbereen I was treated to the full set (excluding Mrs Goggin, although I have the distinct feeling that at some point I'll meet her as well); I was introduced to Deirdre's sister, Carol, who proved to be wonderful company during the races, and her youngest brother, Brendan, who although upon our introduction appeared to be dying a slow death as a result of a great night out the night before, turned out to be the commentator.  He made what can only be described as a miraculous recovery as soon as the microphone was handed to him and he provided great entertainment during the course of the afternoon.

Michael Goggin Jnr
Deirdre Goggin
The plan of attack for the afternoon's racing was for Deirdre to wear my new GoPro camera on her helmet for the races she was riding in.  I invested in the camera and several different mounts just after Christmas as I had an idea to do some promo stuff for racing here in the UK having watched a really awesome 360 video of Montrell Teague driving Wiggle It Jiggleit back last year.  I shared it everywhere I could because it's not every day you can virtually sit behind a 1.47 pacer.  So many people who have retired Standardbreds are completely clueless about the sport of harness racing (often declaring that they 'rescued' their horses from the racetrack) and I've seen the positive impact that action photos and race videos have had in educating these people.  The logical next step is for them to be 'in' the race.  Plus for anybody who doesn't know anything about harness racing...well, it demonstrates the thrill and excitement of our great sport from within.

Deirdre wearing my GoPro camera
First hurdle was getting it switched on.  Several tests runs around my living room had proved fruitful, but it appeared the battery had gone flat.  Cue power walk number one back to the hotel to get my portable power pack which I'd bought specifically for this purpose but stupidly left in my room.  Power walk number two was from the hotel back to the course.  We finally got it up and running just in time for Deirdre's first ride, which was the second race on board Springhill Jaz.  I'm not even going to try to describe the races - watch the video.  It takes a bit of getting used to (my mother watched one of the videos last night and told me she felt sick halfway through), as you're moving with the rider as opposed to the horse.  But here goes:

Race 2


What do you make of that?!  It's different, that's for sure.

Now after we'd gotten close to a winning ride on the first attempt, I was hopeful on the second try.  Saunders Paris is a game little mare and Deirdre confided in me that she had some 'ammunition' which I can only deduce to mean this horse, known affectionately to the family as Mandy.  This race, as the one before, was over the distance of a mile and a half, so the riders started at the furthest point from the finish, turned the bale at what would be the finish next time, rode back to the 'start' and then turned for the finish.  Each stretch between the bales therefore must be half a mile (nobody confirmed that but even with my questionable maths skills I'm fairly confident I've got that right).  Coming to the bale the first time Deirdre and Mandy looked to be travelling well just behind the leader, although some jostling at the bale saw her get away fourth of the five runners to head back up the road.  Once they rounded the corner out of Brendan's sight, the commentary switched to someone who was in view of the further point, although the quality of sound wasn't as clear and it was difficult to hear who was in front (also I was still getting to grips with that Cork accent).  After they'd turned the bale Carol must have heard that Deirdre and Mandy had hit the front, and Brendan confirmed this as they rounded the bed.  The duo were lengths clear of the field and cruising home to an emphatic victory; the camera was still recording and I was delighted to have captured that winning ride.  Michael Jnr insisted that I join the family for the presentation photo, and I jokingly asked Michael Snr how much he would take for the mare (knowing full well he would never sell her).  The man wouldn't even put a price on her; Carol assured me that Mandy was a part of the family and with them she would stay.  I love when people make commitments like that.  Some horses don't know how lucky they are.

Race 3


Saunders Paris

We had a short break from filming as it was Michael Jnr's turn to ride in the fourth race, where he finished a respectable third.  The favourite, IB Tweedy, had one of those 'mare days' when refusing to start twice, and was beaten in a tough finish by Hillside Mustang.  Connections were disappointed, but after two wins from two starts leading into the race, I don't think they should be overly disappointed with her performances so far.  Rumours suggest that the horse will cross the Irish Sea at some point in 2017 to race at one of the major grass track festivals in the UK.  I hope the whole 'One For The Road' syndicate come with her so that I can show them some of the hospitality they showed me!
Jamie Hurley & IB Tweedy
The fifth and final race was my last opportunity to get some racing footage.  Bearing in mind that at this point none of us had any idea how it was going to turn out, as I'd not had the chance to road test it on my own helmet at home (I really need to get around to backing some of the horses we have in for this season...).  Nonetheless we gave it one final spin and hoped for the best.  I moved to a different spot to take photos, past the crowd and bookmaker (great to see Dan Carlin again) to a quiet spot on the road.  It was from here that I took one of my favourite action shots as Jamie Hurley on Maitha Buachaill and Deirdre on Rhyds Ponder went head to head in the final stretch in a truly thrilling finish.  It'll be no surprise to you that these two jockeys are fighting it out at the top of the leader table for Champion Jockey status - the looks on their faces says it all!

Maitha Buachaill (left) & Rhyds Ponder fight out the finish
Deirdre led for much of the race so the footage is a little monotonous over the 2 mile race, however the closing stages show Jamie's exhiliration at winning, and for that alone it is worth watching the full race:

Race 5

And then it was over.  Everyone packed up and left.  It was a whirlwind experience, one that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.  The road re-opened and normality resumed.  And I went back to my hotel to process everything I'd seen.

That evening I bumped into Jamie Hurley as I was heading to the pub to meet up with some friends, and he wanted to know why he hadn't had the chance to wear the GoPro.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing and his win on Maitha Buachaill would have been bloody fantastic to get on video.  Logistically I was short on time to get the camera from one helmet to another as the races were pretty quickfire.  I think he accepted my reason!  But I was genuinely surprised at how popular an idea it was; I received a lot of queries about when the videos would be posted before I got around to editing them.  The fact I had a camera also hadn't gone unnoticed, and I was pestered for a few days about when they would be ready.  I set the privacy to 'public' on my Facebook page so that people I didn't know who had been there would be able to see them, and last night after they were published my Facebook just went CRAZY with notifications and shares and comments and tags.  People were very complimentary about the photos though and it was great to be able to share that with everyone.

It was abundantly clear to me during my visit that the people of Cork who organise and compete in these races are fiercely proud of what they do.  I think they should be commended for their enthusiasm, especially in the face of the perennial problem of decreasing numbers of horses and spectators, a problem which afflicts nearly every aspect of harness racing across the UK, Ireland and indeed North America.  Cork is a thriving hub of harness racing and is the only region to sustain both a winter and summer season.  I think they should be commended for getting and keeping horses fit in the depths of winter in reduced daylight hours and colder weather (although they have a much warmer microclimate than much of the rest of Ireland and it's a damn sight warmer there then Scotland!).  Many of its organisation's members travel over to the UK to race at the premier meetings.  The trek they make is incredible.

Above all else, they are so welcoming.  I felt so at home there.  Skibbereen, to sum it up crudely, is like a mirror image of where I grew up: Builth Wells (where the Brightwells Standardbred Sale is held every October).  The only difference is that in Skibbereen, everyone has a horse instead of sheep!  You can't go under the radar, no matter how hard you try.  And in all honesty, I didn't really try that hard!

Would I go back to Skibbereen?  Probably not.  But only because now I want to tick every other winter road racing fixture off my list of places to visit.  I think I may be pencilled in for Goleen in March 2018, what it being organised by my adopted Irish family, the Goggin clan!

Over and out,

#1 Groom (on tour)