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:
|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|
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|
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