Monday, 29 February 2016

BHRC & STAGBI Awards Dinner 2015

Saturday, 27th February 2016, saw the staging of the inaugural joint awards venture between the British Harness Racing Club (BHRC) and the Standardbred and Trotting Horse Association of Great Britain and Ireland (STAGBI).

The idea was first formed in November 2014 when myself, Gwenan Thomas (STAGBI Company Secretary) and Lee Price (the General Secretary at the time) were discussing ways to inject some positivity into the sport and to raise the profile of the projects and sponsorship STAGBI puts back into harness racing in the UK.  The idea of an awards event, preceded by seminars of some description, was discussed, and the possibility of getting the BHRC (who were suffering rather a lot of negative publicity at the time) on board was also bandied about.

Over the following few months, the topic was no further discussed until one day Gwenan emailed me and asked if I was interested in taking the project on.  At the 2015 STAGBI AGM, the Board of Directors gave the go ahead to plan an awards event and to approach the BHRC to see whether they wanted to join us in the venture.  A couple of weeks later I attended the BHRC AGM on behalf of the SHRC and Jim McInally (BHRC Vice Chairman) briefly mentioned an idea the BHRC had to stage an awards event before the start of the new season.  I spoke to him following the meeting, and it was agreed that I would liaise with BHRC Secretary Kirsty Lee in organising it.

That was at the beginning of December 2015.  In order to facilitate those who would be busy with mares foaling or sheep lambing (a number of harness racing enthusiasts are farmers), the date for the awards evening was set for Saturday 27th February.

I had only just booked a 10 day holiday to America (blog post about that to follow) before agreeing to take the organising of the event on, and in hindsight it wasn't my smartest move as that was 10 days only a week prior to the event that I was out of the country.

Thankfully, Kirsty at the BHRC stepped in to finalise the arrangements with the venue, deal with ticket sales from the office and sort the BHRC awards side of things.  Gwenan managed the STAGBI awards and I kept on top of the publicity on social media.  Kirsty Legrice was drafted in to assist with the presentation videos, for which I am eternally grateful as I simply couldn't have done that side of it.  Nadina Ironia and Graham Rees also deserve a mention for their assistance with sourcing photographs of the award winners, and Eric Witherspoon, Elizabeth O'Neil, Janet Cockburn and Derek Delaney for their efforts with sending me the videos we needed.

On Saturday evening, around 100 BHRC licence holders and STAGBI members celebrated the achievements of 35 horses and people who had excelled during the 2015 season.  I had hoped, but never imagined, that we would have such a fantastic turnout for the first staging of the event, and am grateful to all those who attended from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.

After a three course meal, Darren Owen led us through an overview of the season, touching upon the notable performers from each category before presenting the award winners with their awards (alongside Roy Sheedy, BHRC Chairman, and Ryan O'Neil, STAGBI President).  There were interviews with drivers who had represented the UK internationally last year (Alan Haythornthwaite - Australia, Paul Mather - France) as well as interviews with promoters regarding the forthcoming season (Eric Witherspoon - Tir Prince, Huw Evans - Tregaron).  Following the awards, we danced into the night courtesy of Millstream Discos (Simon Clarke & Kirsty Legrice), and there were still a handful of us left standing when the bar finally closed at 2am!

The full list of winners were as follows:

2YO Filly of the Year - Jessies Conquest
2YO Colt of the Year - Miraculous
3YO Filly of the Year - Shaba Hanover
3YO Colt of the Year - Rewrite History
Overseas Horse of the Year - Meadowbranch DJ
Trotter of the Year - Show Business
Special Contribution - Arnie Flower, Alistair Smith, Jeff & Margaret Langford, David Douglas
Leading Owner - Raymond Huschka
Leading Trainer - Alexis Laidler
Leading Driver - William 'Rocker' Laidler
Mare of the Year - Rhyds Art
Pacer of the Year - Stoneriggs Mystery
Horse of the Year - Stoneriggs Mystery
Leading Horse of the Year (on wins) - Stoneriggs Mystery & Rewrite History

Brightwells Breeders Premium - For One Night Only, Brywins Jo Jo, Cash Point
England Breeders Premium - Stoneriggs Mystery, Greentree Shorty, Coalford Tetrick
Ireland Breeders Premium - Tarawood Messi, Springhill Dustin, Strike A Light
Scotland Breeders Premium - Robhall, D Ks Happy Dream, Starzapan
Wales Breeders Premium - Meadowland Hasty, For One Night Only, Lakeside Pan

Broodmares Race Annaghmore - Talavary Jewel
Broodmares Race Corbiewood - Live In Beauty
Broodmares Race Tir Prince - Maid Of The West
Broodmares Race Amman Valley - Tyssul Opal
Broodmares Race York - Rhyds Art 

Here's a selection of some of the awards winners from the night:

The awards
For One Night Only - collect by breeders Richard & Sharon Thomas (or as I know them, Mum & Dad!)
Darren Owen interviewing Paul Mather & Alan Haythornthwaite
Jessies Conquest - breeders and owners, Jenny & Marc Jones
BHRC Leading Driver - William 'Rocker' Laidler
BHRC Leading Owner - Raymond Huschka
Miraculous - collected by trainer Sally Teeboon
Darren Owen interviewing Huw Evans & Eric Witherspoon
Rewrite History - collected by driver Gordon Gilvear
Robhall - collected by breeders Hamish Muirhead & Alex Hay
Stoneriggs Mystery - collected by connections of the owner David Morton and trainer Mick Lord, Paul Amphlett & Kelly Peacock
Meadowland Hasty - collected by me on behalf of breeders Colin & Shirley Bevan
Rhyds Art - collected by members of the West Riding Partnership owning syndicate, Robert Thompson & Barry Delaney
As with all things, there is room for improvement, and I have already begun making a list of things to do in order to make sure that next year is bigger and better than this year's.  I knew before I started that it would not be perfect, but my main aim was to ensure that the basis of the event worked in order for us to build on it in subsequent years.  From the feedback received from the guests and my fellow organisers, I believe I have achieved this aim.

I am of course jumping the gun somewhat in assuming that there will be a joint event next year, but I would like to think that those involved from both organisations would agree that the benefits of staging a joint event far outweigh any negatives.

I won't let any secrets out just yet about my plans for next year but rest assured, I am already working on it and I can guarantee that it WILL be better!

So all that remains to be said, probably for the millionth time, is thank you.  Thank you to the hotel staff for being so accommodating and helpful from the moment I first contacted them about staging the event there to the moment we all checked out yesterday morning; thank you to Gwenan and the other directors for supporting me in the decisions I made and allowing me the freedom to 'just get on with it'; thank you to Kirsty Legrice and Simon Clarke for all their work on the videos and presentations, and for turning up at the hotel nearly 7 hours before the event started to set up and make sure everything was just right; thank you to Jim McInally and Roy Sheedy for their support from the BHRC side; thank you to Darren Owen for making the presentation of the awards so amusing and interesting, and for taking the time to research the winners and putting the award recipients at ease when interviewing them; thank you to Kirsty Lee at the BHRC who dealt with all of the ticket sales, who picked up where I left off when finalising arrangements with the hotel, for getting me flowers, for the table plan, the pens, giving me the freedom on the Facebook page to go crazy promoting the event (even though I don't actually work for the BHRC) and for taking charge of the 'awards table' on the night.  And most of all, thank you to everyone who came - you made my night so much bloody fun that I didn't realise it was so late!  Special mentions must go to Alexis Laidler & Michael O'Neil for the selfies and 'crab dance', and to Noreen Bennett for dancing full stop!

Before I sign off, I just want to share one more photo of the main people behind the organising of the event - WE DID IT!!
L-R: Gwenan Thomas, myself, Kirsty Lee, Roy Sheedy, Simon Clarke, Kirsty Legrice, Jim McInally & Ryan O'Neil
Over and out,

#1 Event Organiser

Sunday, 7 February 2016

An interview with...Stuart Mackenzie

Aaaaaand I am back into my sporadic posting routine which means you no longer get an interview every week but you're lucky if you get one every fortnight.  What's better is that in just over 12 hours I am jetting off to sunny Florida (and snowed under New York) so this blog will have to take a back seat until I return.  Upon my return, you can expect all sorts of stories and photos as we will be going racing as much as is possible, and we have a couple of other things planned which are pretty closely linked to harness racing as well.  I can't wait.

Anyway, for now, let me introduce to you the driver known by some as 'The Yank' (a reference totally lost on me), or 'The Stuntman' ( idea).  To me, he's Stuart Mackenzie, son of a man I wholeheartedly respect, Ally; grandson of a woman I wholeheartedly respect, Mig; and generally an all-round good guy who has been nothing but friendly to me since my move to bonny Scotland.  Driving primarily for his father, Stuart enjoyed plenty of success in 2015 at our home track of Corbiewood, and I am sure this will continue in 2016.  More from the man himself...

For anybody who doesn’t know you, how long have you been involved in the sport and where did it all start?
From as long as I can remember the family tell me my grandfather had me at Musselburgh when I was 6 months old, then I was always around Corbiewood.  I probably started jogging at age 8 then my dad bought me Dillys Sweet Robin to start learning to train when I was 12 or so.  I won my first race at 15 years old.

Which is the best horse you’ve driven in your career?
I've got to say Dillys Spring Time, she was my all time favourite.  I only drove her around 10 times but I won my first race on her.  She was so naturally gifted and had the biggest heart of any that I've worked with since.  She won 38 races and was the two-time SHRC Horse of the Year.  Just a star really.

Which horse, past or present that you haven’t driven, would you like to drive and why? 
From watching his videos I would love to have driven Somebeachsomewhere, he was a absolute monster - the best to put his head through a bridle I would say!!  Also really liked Ayr Glory; I raced against him quite a bit in a few classics, he looked a lovely horse to drive.

Who did, or do, you admire as a driver? 
Growing up in Scotland there was lots of good drivers but I always paid attention to the Drysdale brothers, George and William.  They used to drive for my dad a lot before I started.  They were two very different drivers but both were really good.  I still use them for advice back and forward yet!

Which is your favourite track in the UK and Ireland? 
I really enjoy the half mile track racing but it's still got to be Corbiewood for me.

Have you driven outside of the UK and Ireland? If not, where in the world would you choose to have one drive? 
No, I did a couple of six month stays in Canada a while back and it was great experience and a real learning curve for me.  The track I would like to drive on is Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, it looks awesome when I've watched the videos from there.

What would you say has been the biggest change that you have seen in harness racing from when you began competing to now? 
In Scotland it has to be the running rail getting taken out of Corbiewood as the track was too small for it.  I think it made the races a lot safer.

If you could change one thing about the sport as it currently is in the UK, what would it be? 
Over the last 4/5 seasons I think horses have been going back grades too quickly and becoming uncompetitive as we don't have a massive pool of horses, though I'm quite optimistic of the new handicap system coming into play for next season.

Which is your favourite meeting in the UK racing calendar? 
We all love the Appleby, Musselburgh and Tregaron meetings but one of my favourites is Haugh Field's big meeting as I only live about 200 yards away from the track and we usually get all the locals from the village that I live in going.  Plus the after party's always pretty good!
How much do you consider information from a trainer when you drive? 
My main stable that I drive for is Trackside and I share the training duties with my father Ally so I know the horses pretty well.  If I catch outside drives I always ask the trainer about the horses as every little bit of information helps in this game.

Out of all the races you have won, which has been the most memorable?
I won a heat at the new fair with a horse called Ethan, he made a mistake leaving the gate and we must have been 15 lengths off the pace.  Even turning for home we were still last of about 10 and I got up to win in the last stride, 4 deep in the straight and he beat some nice horses that day.  Also up there was my second 2YO Derby win with Most Wanted as we bred him ourselves and we really thought the world of him.

How would you describe your driving style? i.e. pace setter, strong closer, rail hugger? 
Racing in Corbiewood, the front end of the race is pivotal in my opinion as it's a 3/8ths track so it's not always easy to pass.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of racing? 
Spending time with my little girl Erin, also socialising with friends!

If you could visit one place in the world, where would it be and why? 
A good friend of mine emigrated to New Zealand this year so I will be visiting there in the future and will hopefully take in a few race meetings while there.

You’re stranded on a desert island – what five things can’t you live without? 
My daughter, iPhone, unlimited pints of Tenants (lager), steak pie and Only Fools and Horses box set (no TV though Stuart?!)

You’re holding a dinner party for five famous guests (alive or dead) – who would they be and why? 
Del Boy Trotter, Johnny Cash, Eva Mendez, Kevin Bridges and the mad Karoo (uncle Eck) - the mad old guy who used to go to the racing, he was funny!

If you were invisible for a day, what would you do? 
A bank job.
If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would spend your winnings on? 
Buy Corbiewood and the field next to it then flatten it, and build a state of the art facility there and secure a future for Scottish harness racing.

What would you name your autobiography? 
My Way.

Which actor would play you in a film about your life? 
Johnny Depp.
When was the last time you got into trouble? 
I would get in trouble if I told that story!

Describe yourself in three words.
Happy go lucky.

Thanks to Stuart for taking the time to answer my questions and give the readers of this blog an insight into his life and mind.

This'll be the last interview for a while due to other commitments on behalf of the BHRC, STAGBI and the SHRC, but rest assured, I will be back to hunt down those drivers who elude me.

Over and out,

#1 Groom