Day At The Track
Darren Owen

An interview with race caller Darren Owen

Darren, let’s go way back to where it all started for you. What was it that ignited your love for the sport of horse racing? I was five years old and it is one of my earliest lifetime memories. Grand National Day 1973 when Red Rum beat Crisp in probably the best horse race you’re ever likely to see. I remember my Dad saying ‘what do you want to bet in the National?’. He used to get the ‘Horse & Hound’ and ‘The Field’, two magazines. There was a photo of Spanish Steps on the cover of one of them, and I said ‘I’ll back Spanish Steps’. I had 10p each-way on him, and he finished fourth. Red Rum beat Crisp as we all know. I always remember my Great-Grandfather, he was a first-world war veteran, he lived with us, I was 12 when he died. Now he backed Crisp, and I always remember him cursing Red Rum. I was just captivated by the whole thing, remember in those days we would have watched this in black and white. My Dad and my Mum bought me a rocking horse, and on a Saturday afternoon I used to sit on this rocking horse. My Great-Grandfather would have a bet, we used to watch ‘World Of Sport’ so we’d see the racing, and he used to love the wrestling afterwards. I was just hooked from five-years-old. When I was in primary school, I’d be rushing home to watch the last race on the television. Jumping came first obviously, it was the Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival. I quickly got into flat racing as well, and I was just hooked. Most lads in the summer holidays would be playing football on the green, not me I’d be sitting at home watching the racing. It wasn’t betting, I wasn’t interested in betting. It was just the spectacle and the sport itself. You used to have a football bag or a sports bag, and I was more into football then than I was now. I’m not that into it now, but in those days I used to be a big Manchester United fan. I always remember having a Man U sports bag to take to school, but I used to write the names of racehorses on mine. I had Red Rum, Spanish Steps, Sea Pigeon and Greville Starkey. When you decided race calling was the career path you wanted to go down, how did you go about turning that dream into a reality? I suppose the race calling bit came seriously when I was in High School. Your career teachers would be asking what you’d like to do as a living, and I was captivated again by Peter O’Sullevan. I just thought ‘god, that’s an exciting job’. I remember my Dad wrote to Peter O’Sullevan when I was 10 or 11, and got a letter back in which he gave me some advice. On a Saturday afternoon and in the school holidays, I’d be watching the racing with the volume turned down to practice the commentary. On a Friday night I would draw the colours out for Saturday’s racing. I would get the felt tip pens out and I had a list of the owners. I would practice and then record myself doing the commentaries during my high school days. Living in North Wales, we used to pick up RTE radio, the Irish radio. I’d listen to Michael O’Hehir doing the Irish racing on a Saturday afternoon, and in the 80’s they recruited Aussie Jim McGrath. That was the first time I’d heard ‘Aussie Jim’ around about ’84. I thought ‘God, he was bloody good’, so that’s where I got the interest in race calling from. My Mum and Dad would go to the careers advisors at school, and they used to put me off saying ‘that’s not a job, that’s not a career’. I’d love to go back there now and stick two fingers up at them! Can you remember the first race or race meeting you called? Describe the emotions you were feeling leading up to it? When I left school, I got a job in a furniture store and funnily enough the guy in charge of the store was an ex-jockey. The guy in charge of the printing company who did all the work for the furniture shop became a friend of the proprietor, and one of his jobs was to print racecards at the local harness racing track. There was a grass field and they used to race there from late-May to early-September, once a week on a Wednesday night. I wasn’t really into it but he came in one day and said they were looking for somebody to replace their regular commentator who was missing a couple of meetings to go on holiday. He asked whether I’d be interested to go there and have a bit of a trial. I went there and I think the trial might have been the day Reference Point won the Derby. The first race I called was a three-runner harness race, and I was shaking in my boots. That was my first broadcast, and I started getting a few harness meetings as a result of that. I used to go from North Wales to York on a Saturday night. I would get the train to Manchester and a lift from there. I’d get £15, that’s all it was, but I just wanted the experience. Then what happened was when a neighbour of mine heard a promotion on BBC Radio 2 looking for an amateur sports commentator. So I entered this competition, and the country was split into eight regions. There were five regions of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. What you did was chose your sport. There were eight events and fortunately horse racing was on that list. I went to BBC Radio Wales HQ in Cardiff, and Steve Ryder was one of the judges. He hated horse racing, absolutely hated it. I’d won the regional final and so had qualified for the National final in early-December. It was at The Oval, and my late Grandfather came with me. Along with Steve Ryder, John Inverdale was another one of the judges. In the National final I had to call Nashwan in the King George, then there was a tie-break and I had to do a piece of radio commentary on a Wimbledon final. Well that was an absolute disaster. I had no interest in it whatsoever, and finished third. But as a result of that, I started getting work every now and then for BBC Radio Wales. I called the Welsh National won by Bonanza Boy. I used to do some of the Saturday meetings at Chepstow over jumps, and by doing that I bumped into some of the guys who used to work for the old Excel service which was just about to be taken over the Press Association. One of the guys who used to work for them was Mark Slater, and through him I met Martin Harris and then Dougie Frazer. Now they said to me ‘when there’s a lot of racing in the summer, our boss is sometimes looking for extra cover so we’ll take your name’. This was in February. I then heard nothing till about June, and got a phone call out of the blue inviting me to a trial at York. I was full of cold, but I went and he invited me back on the Saturday. Mid-July they started giving me regular work and I was on their rota. They had five regulars, four of them had regions and there was me filling in the gaps. One week I could be in Scotland, and then the next down at Lingfield. I used to do about five or six days a week and that lasted for about two years. I started getting work for the Racing Post and the Sporting Life. I had to leave harness racing for about two years, and then I went back to it. I read that SIS were looking to recruit about two of three commentators. Wolverhampton had a harness track on the outside and they wrote to SIS on my behalf saying they should look at me, so that’s how I became a racecourse commentator in 1998. You are now a well respected commentator, and out of the many races you have had the pleasure of calling, which one gave you the greatest sense of job satisfaction? Well certain races you always remember. Obviously doing my first Grand National for BBC television, that meant an awful lot. When I got that gig with the BBC I was part of the commentary team when Amberleigh House won in 2004. When I was a kid I always said I had two ambitions, to be a race caller and to call the Grand National. I had to pinch myself that day. I’ll be honest, I was shaking in my boots, I really was. I was as nervous as hell, it’s the most nervous I have ever been in my life. Everywhere you looked, it was Grand National day and I thought ‘bloody hell, millions are going to listen to me this afternoon’. I remember parking up at Aintree that day thinking ‘now come on, shake yourself. This is what you’ve always wanted in your life.’ The night before I had a missed call from Graham Goode. He said to me ‘you’ll be fine tomorrow, just take a deep breath’, and I’ll never forget that. It was a monumental day. I so wanted to get those words out: “there crossing the Melling Road”. I got a lot of satisfaction out of that, a lot. Given the current situation we find ourselves in at present with the coronavirus, would you agree this is a huge blow for the industry? Well it is, but at the end of the day we’ve got to give ourselves a reality check. There are people dying out there. Admittedly, we’re a massive industry, but what is sport? Sport is a great triviality isn’t it? In the grand scheme of things, that’s all we are. We tend to get wrapped up in our little cocoon, in our own little world, wondering when racing will return. On the topic of the coronavirus, the flat season schedule is up in the air at the moment. How would you like to see it reintroduced when the time comes? Well first of all let me just say, regarding proper racing, it’s a good job we got three-quarters of the season done. It’s a major blow to racing that our biggest event can’t take place next week. Let’s not make a big issue out of this, the National is the biggest event, not Cheltenham. Regarding the flat season, it’s very important for the bloodstock industry that the three-year-olds have their chance on the big stage in the classics. At the end of the day, the bloodstock industry is a cog in the wheel. I’m convinced what will happen is that when racing does return, and I don’t think there will be an explosion of meetings, I think the BHA and the European Pattern Committee will need to discuss a revamped pattern for the 2020 season. They’ll have to work back from the Autumn I.e. Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe and Champions Day to try and salvage the season. Let’s say for example we’re in a position to resume racing in July. Races like the Eclipse would obviously fall by the way side. A starting point for the pattern would be the Guineas with a three-week break to the Derby. If they could get the Derby run by early-August, I see no reason why the Juddmonte at York couldn’t take place. You could always reschedule the King George to September. I certainly think you could try and save a few of the=ose weight-for-age races. Out of the many racecourse you’ve visited, which is your favourite and why? Major soft spot for Aintree, because I just love the National. At the end of the day, the National is our shop window, don’t care what anyone says. Whether you’re the biggest flat aficionado going, the Grand National is our shop window. One of my pet hates is when people run scared of the National. People almost want to stand there and apologise for the National, there’s no need to do that at all. We should be proud of it, it’s the race that sells British racing. It’s the only race that matters to the man in the street. To youngsters coming through wanting to gain a position in racing media, what golden piece of advice would you give them? Follow your dreams, follow your ambitions. Devote an awful lot of time, seek as much advice as possible but most of all practice. Practice. You’re luckier in the age we live in that you always have access to race footage. Back in my day we were relying on BBC, Channel 4, ITV to show racing. We had no racing channels. By Liam Hedgecock Reprinted with permission of Sportsbyte Sunderland

Disco Volante

V75 Gold Paralympiatravet at Solvalla

March 28, 2020 - The weekend Solvalla feature was the V75 Gold Paralympia (purse to winner 300,000SEK, 2140 meters autostart, 12 starters) and 2.2/1 Disco Volante (7g Scarlet Knight-Glorify-Super Arnie) was a gate to wire winner for harness racing driver Ulf Ohlsson, trainer Stefan Melander and owner Stall Courant AB. Disco won for the fifth time in six 2020 starts and raised his life earnings to 4,192,915SEK. The victory was career win 24 in 59 appearances. He overcame that belief of some that he could only win at 1640 meters, a distance that he won four straight races entering this contest. Race time was 1.10.9kr (mile rate 1:54). Reckless (10m Ready Cash-Haver-Supergill) rallied for second with trainer Bjorn Goop the pilot. Gareth Boko (7m Make It Happen-Vanilla Boko-Pine Chip) was third, reined by Marc Elias for trainer Conrad Lugauer. The next leg of the Paralympic qualifiers is at Jagersro on April 4. Legs of the Paralympic Trot 2020 Saturday March 28 - Solvalla Saturday April 4 - Jägersro Saturday April 11 - Romme Saturday April 18 - Umåker 'Last chance' Final will be held at Åby Saturday April 25. On the same card fast class mares contested the STL Mares Pixies (220,000SEK to the winner, 1640 meters autostart, eight starters) with victory to late closing and 22/1 I Love Paris (10f Steinlager-Marie Dulcinea-Egyptian Gentleman) handled by her trainer Bjorn Goop. The victory increased her life earnings to 3,938,294 with this her 14th career win. Unique Juni (7f Uptown Yankee-Staro Unique-Supergill) was second for Jorgen Westholm and Hevin Boko (6f Going Kronos-Welat Boko-Garland Lobell) took third for Rikard N. Skoglund. The favorite and leading Ultra Bright made a miscue. Earlier on the program were four year old divisions of the Margaretas, each for 300,000SEK to the winners, each raced over 2140 meters autostart. In the filly division 2.2/1 Alaska Kronos (4f Trixton-Illinois-Donerail) scored timed in 1.13.9kr for Orjan Kihlstrom, trainer Daniel Reden and owner Stall Zet. Ganga Bae (4f Muscle Hill-Alexia As-Conway Hall) took second for Jorma Kontio The colt division of four-year olds saw 15.8/1 Untion Face (4m Joke Face-Croix d’Am-Love You) score for trainer/driver Adrian Kolgjini over the Kilhstrom teamed Digital Summit (4m Super Photo Kosmos) clocked in 1.12.7kr. The two three-year old divisions were won first by the filly Clockwork (3f Zola Boko) at 10.3/1 odds and clocked in 1.14.5kr for reinsman Ulf Eriksson. The male division saw 3.4/1 Forever Melon (3g Infinitif-Easter As-Dancers Victory) score in 1.15.7kr with Orjan Kihlstrom up. The main SWE race programs as also being offered by PMU while the FR tracks are closed due to Covid19. PMU is offering an e-Quinte+ wager each day on one SWE race. Thomas H. Hicks  

Zanzibar Effe, harness racing

Zanzibar Effe, Makethemark win in Sweden

March 18, 2020 - Zanzibar Effe (5f Donato Hanover-Ema Sec) took the Jagersro Executive Caviars race for mares (purse 11,343Sek, 1640 meters autostart) clocked in 1.12.7kr. Off at 4.37/1 from post 10, this Jerry Riordan trainee was teamed with Stefan Persson for the victory. Riordan co-owns Zanzibar with AB Trotcore. 5.17/1 Gor lobal Wireless (5f Donao Hanover-Sail On By) took second for pilot Johan Untersteiner and 19.6/1 Majors Carona (5f SJs Caviar-Keep Out) was third for Conny Gustafsson. At Solvalla was the Kentucky Fibbers (purse 206,000Sek, 2140 meters autostart). The 1.6/1 favorite Makethemark (7m Maharajah-Global Naughty-Conway Hall) scored timed in 1.13.4kr for Ulf Ohlsson and trainer Salmela Petri. Ragazzo da Sopra (7g From Above-Larome-Comets Pride) at 6.3/1 was second for trainer/driver Bjorn Goop. 121/1 Cupido Sisu (8g Judge Joe-Dream Hanover-Pine Chip) was third for Tomi Haspin. Former Hambletonian winner Perfect Spirit was fourth. Makethemark Racing in Sweden will occur this weekend at Bergsaker and Farjestad as most of the world’s racetracks are closed. Thomas H. Hicks  

Uza Josselyn

Uza Josselyn retired

March 19, 2020 - Last week the great nine year old harness racing mare Uza Josselyn (9f Love You-Tezira Josselyn-Ganymede-Ezira Josselyn-Royal Prestige) was retired by her owners/trainers Rena and Barbara Aebischer. She retired with 33 career victories in 79 starts for 1.274,678€ earned plus 11 times second and four times third. Ecurie Yvan Bernard bred this classy mare that became the Swiss champion with a Gr. I victory in the Gran Premio Milan. She was second in the 2019 Prix de France and the Prix d-Atlantique. She recorded a 1.09kr time at Enghien in the Prix de Washington, becoming one of the fastest mares in Europe. She last raced at Cagnes sur Mer in the Criterium de Vitesse in early March. Uza’s female competitor Belina Josselyn, also a daughter of Love You, is at home of the farm and readying to be bred to Ready Cash. Belina Josselyn Thomas H. Hicks

March 17, 2020 - Saturday’s Jatozi DIJ (purse 400,000Huf, 1900 meters autostart) saw 10.7/1 Aurora (4f Frullino Jet-Lezer-Baltic Bet) rally from far back after a second tier start to win this harness racing event timed in 1.19.6kr. Gyorgy Horvath teamed this winner for trainer Imre Fazekas to her second career victory. 6.7/1 Agnella (4f Maximus Lindy-Diatomea PL-Friendly Face) held second for Balazs Juhasz and 53.7/1 Zarkozz! (5f Racino-Gyorsuj!-Witsends Speedy) took the third purse check. Aurora The featured race of the day was the Joker DIJ (purse 600,000Huf, 1960 meters distance handicap) and the 1.19.6kr clocked winner was 2.1/1 Zolta (5m Naglo-Gazza Jet-Supergill) with trainer Veljko Maszity. The 20 meter handicapped and 14.4/1 Kings Call (7g SJs Photo-Marina Emre-Adams Hall) was second for Emese Vezer and 10.9/1 Lingot AT (5m Jasmin d’Odyssee) took third for Balazs Juhasz. Zolta Kincsem Park subsequently announced that it will not host live racing until further notice. This day was the 146th birthday of the birth of national icon Kincsem, and also the 133rd anniversary of her death. Considered one of the best thoroughbred ever, Kincsem won 54 times in as many times over various distances and weights and died after having five winning performers. Her statue is presented at entry to Kincsem Park. Thomas H. Hicks

Calle Crown (6m Great Challenger-Hillary Crown) rallied to win the Grand Prix de Vincennes (Gr. III, purse 80,000€, 2925 meters, International) at Cagnes sur Mer timed in 1.14.2kr. Pierre Vercruysse reined this Tomas Malmqvist trainee that now has two wins and a second in his last three for owner Easy KP. His career earnings are 286,404€. Dream de Lasserie (7g Orlando Vici) was second for Romain Derieux and Ecurie Daidou. Third was the 25-meter handicapped Brooke du Boscar (9f Look de Star) with Yves Hurel aboard.Callie Crown On the undercard were two upper level races. First, the Prix de Syracuse (purse 29,000€, 2925 meters, European) went to 5.6/1 odds Making Love (9g Ken Warkentin-Nouvelle Action) reined by Pierre Vercruysse for owner Measurable Success AB and trainer Daniel Parling. This was the winner’s first win in France and it raised his life earnings to 110,648€. Emiliano (6m Love You-Quarda du Rib) was second with Dominik Loqueneux the pilot for Ecurie des Charmes and trainer Yannick Alain Briand. Third was the Steve Stefano teamed Batum des Bruyeres (9g L’Eau du Vernay) for trainer J.M. Roubaud. Making Love The undercard also included the Prix de Saint-Malo (purse 33,000€, 2925 meters, European) and Pierre Vercruysse was again the winner, teaming Eden Basque (6g Singalo-Janga) to the 1.14.3kr victory. Nicolas Ensch trains this now nine-time winner for Ecurie Castagniccia. Eden raised his life earnings to 177,890€. Delmonica (7f Prince d’Espace) was second for Stephane Cingland and trainer Anthony Muidebled. Third was the Jean Charles Feron trainer and reined Belle au Vent (9g Jag de Bellouet). Eden Basque Vercruysse posted three consecutive wins this day at Cagnes sur Mer, as reported above, and his trainee Moni Viking took the feature at Enghien. The Winter Meet at CSM showcased the Grand Criterium de Vitesse that went to Vivid Wise As from the Gocciadoro stable. The other results from the winter meet are shown below.   TOP 3 HORSES (excl. Grand Critérium de Vitesse Nice-Matin) Elsa de Belfonds - 108 200€ Good Morning - 64 800€ El Villagio - 58 170€   TOP 3 TRAINERS- MEETING 2019-2020 Romuald Mourice - 33 victories Yannick-Alain Briand - 30 wins Vincent Martens - 24 wins   TOP 3 DRIVERS - MEETING 2019-2020 Christophe Martens - 25 victories David Bekaert - 21 wins Yannick-Alain Briand - 12 wins LeTrot files/photos by Thomas H. Hicks, for Harnesslink    

March 13, 2020 - The 5/2 odds Moni Viking (7m Maharajah-Jeanesse d’Oree) took the Enghien harness racing featured Prix de Pierrefitte sur Seine (purse 58,000€, 2150 meters autostart, European) clocked in 1.13kr with Bryan Coppens at the lines. He began from post 14 and was at the back until a huge move to engage the leader and then gain the lead. He won for the seventh time in France for trainer Pierre Vercruysse and owner Jan Lyng, and he now has career earnings of 293,241€. Divine Mesloise (7f The Beat Madrik) was a game second for Gabriele Gelormini and trainer Pierre Belloche. Third was Datcha (7f The Best Madrik) for Yoann Lebourgeois, trainer Emmanul Ruault and owner Ecurie Comte P de Montesson. Thomas H. Hicks

March 11, 2020 - The 2.1/1 harness racing favorite Viking d’Hermes (11g Sancho Panca-Norina Way) scored at Laval in this day’s Grand Prix Consel Departemental Mayenne (purse 49,000€, 2850 meters distance handicapped, International) timed in 1.12.6kr. Eric Raffin teamed this 25-meter handicapped winner for trainer J.M. Roubaud as he scored for the 18th time in a career that has produced earnings of 501,800€. Fun Quick (5m Carpe Diem-Activity Quick) was second for Alexandre Abrivard, trainer Maik Esper and owner Ecurie Quick Star. Baron d’Aidou (9g Saxo de Vandel) took third for Cyril Chenu. Thomas H. Hicks

March 12, 2020 - Bugsy Malone (9g Ready Cash-Night Captain) returned from a four month vacation to score at Caen in the harness racing Prix de Cauvicourt (purse 31,000€, 2200 meters autostart, European) with Yoann Lebourgeois up. Off at 2.5/1 the winner recorded his 29th career victory now for 885,230€ earned. Philippe Allaire owns and trains the veteran campaigner that is especially talented on the turf in summer season. Ce Bello Romain (8g Jam Pridem-Miss Echo Bella) was second and Eriden (6, Ready Cash-Topaze d’Atout) took third, this one with David Thomain up for trainer Sebastien Guarato. Bel Avis was an unplaced starter. Thomas H. Hicks

The Cagnes sur Mer action today began with the Prix Club de l’Echo Nice Matin (purse 45,000€, 2925 meters, eigth starters) and it was a battle finally won by 8/10 favorite Good Morning (4m Ni Ho Ped d’Ombree) with Franck Nivard up. Sylvain Roger trains and Noel Lolic owns the winner of 125,660€. The 56/1 Gangster Devaness (4m Booster Winner) was a nose short second and 12/1 Gazelle Daxel trailed the top pair. Race time was 1.14.8kr. Good Morning The Prix de Florence (purse 45,000€, 2925 meters, 11 starters) went to 16/1 Funky Girl (5f Uhlan du Val-My Lovely Girl) clocked in 1.14.5kr with Louis Baudron aboard, he also the breeder/owner/trainer of this rallying neck winner. The win was her sixth in 31 career outings now for 108,460€ earned. The 4/10 favorite Famous Lady (5f Prodigious) was second, also trained by Baudron and reined by Gwenn Junod. 12/1 Fashion d’Heripre (5f Orlando Vici) was third. Funky Girl Extreme Star (6f Pin Quick-Nikka du Roncey) took the Prix de Livourne (purse 28,000€, 2925 meters, 12 starters) with trainer Michel Lenoir aboard for Ecurie de la Balagne, clocked in 1.13.4kr. She was off at 16/1 and bested 11/1 Dunion des Racques (7f Sam Bourbon) and 8.6/1 Estero (6g Village Mystic). Extreme Star The Quinte+ race of the day was a special one with a 1,000,000€ bonus opportunity to one exact order ticketholder. The exact order Quinte+ payoff was 17,354.60€ to 118 winning tickets. The Q+ pool of the day of speed was 5,693,202€ and the total wagered on the race exceeded 10,707,000€. Angle of Attack (8g Scarlet Knight-Magyare Turgot) was the 1.13.8kr timed winner with Dominik Locqueneux the pilot for trainer Robert Bergh and owner Roland Wiksten. The winner was off at 4.1/1 and he won for the fourth time in 10 starts in France. He now has career earnings of 317,850€. 5.9/1 Christo (8g Rieussec) was second for Michel Lenoir and 17/1 Black d’Arjeanc (9g Prince d’Espace) took third with Gabriel Gelormini up. 4.7/1 Creature Castelets and 31/1 Beach Julry captured the fourth and fifth place checks. Angle of Attack Lightly raced three year olds contested the Prix de Vichy (purse 45,000€, 2925 meters, LeTrot Regional Open) and it saw Hooker Mannetrot (3m Bird Parker-Aty Mannetrot) score impressively for trainer/driver Yannick Alain Briand, his second win in eight outings, for 38,070€ earned. Haka (3m Ready Cash-Un Fille d’Amour) was second for David Bekaert, trainer Kevin Vanderschelden and owner Jean Pierre Dubois. Third was Hidden Face (3f Brillantissime) for Kevin Dovienne and trainer Nicolas Ensch. Hooker Mannetot Anders Lindqvist and friends at Cagnes sur Mer LeTrot and PMU files/photos by Thomas H. Hicks, for Harnesslink    

The Grand Criterium de Vitesse Nice-Matin (Gr. I, UET Masters Series, purse 170,000€, 11 starters) today at Cagnes sur Mer was raced with video, with wagering and with fans and the 1.8/1 favorite Vivid Wise As (6m Yankee Glide-Temple Blue Chip) scored, timed in 1.09.7kr (1:52.16) for trainer/driver Alessandro Gocciadoro. Scuderia Bivans Srl owns the now four-time winner in France and his life earnings reached 774,636€. The race time was well off the 1.08.9kr race record jointly held by Readly Express and Bold Eagle. The 4.5/1 Earl Simon (6m Prodigious-Tindrama) was second with Franck Ouvrie up for trainer Jarmo Niskanen and Ecurie Skyttem. 12/1 Billie de Montfort (9f Jasmin de Flore) rallied late for third after being trapped on the pegs with Gabriele Gelormini up. The 9/2 Delia du Pommereux (7f Niky) was fourth and 6.4/1 Looking Superb finished fifth ahead of the other two check earners Uza Josselyn and Bahia Quesnot. Former Elitloppet winner Dijon was a miscue dq. Une de Mai won this classic five times; Ourasi plus Timoko are four-time winners. The last USA winner was Moni Maker in 2000 with Jimmy Takter driving. The seven other USA winners include Peace Corps and Express Ride. Vivid Wise As Race Replay:  https://www.letrot.com/fr/replay-courses/2020-03-08/0601/5 LeTrot, PMU files/photos by Thomas H. Hicks, for Harnesslink    

Usain (7g Medic Hanover-Dolores-Yankee Yankee) was a game front end winner of the Tavaszi Handicap (purse 1,100,000Huf, 1960 meters distance handicap) timed in 1.20kr with trainer Ferenc Nagy II at the lines. He was off at 2.8/1 odds. The 11.4/1 Sensation (9g Incredible Cole-Intellige of Star-Oaklea Bluejay) was second with Emil Csordas up for trainer Pal Vicen and third went to 7.2/1 White Plains (7f Anderberg-Candy Kiss-Uno di Jesolo) with Sandor Varga aboard for trainer Ferenc Kulin. Usain Prior winners of this event are shown below: The undercard included the Uvestigris Handicap (purse 500,000HUf, 1900 meters autostart) and 1.9/1 odds veteran Sanger Ms (10g Victory Scream-Samba Ms-Armbro Goal) scored in 1.17.7kr with Goran Zolnaji, the trainer, aboard.  This classy campaigner bested Timoko RL and Lingot AT. Earlier the Pippcsos DIJ (purse 570,000€, 1800 meters autostart) saw even-money favorite Valentino (6f Frullino Jet-Chemize Cobra-Atlas Fighter L) scored in 1.17.3kr. Emil Csordas reined the Pal Vicen trainee. In the non-wagering races, the classy mare Longines (6f Conway Hall-Kentucky Love Song-Valley Victor) won a qualifier for Andrea Fazekas timed in 1.18.5kr after a long time off. Longines is a fine mare with 15 career victories in 16 starts. She was defeated once in 2019. Kincsem Park files/photo by Thomas H. Hicks, for Harnesslink  

Six of the seven Cagnes sur Mer trots in France this day were at the 1609 meter autostart distance (one mile) to kickoff the Criterium de Vitesse weekend. Unfortunately, the races were conducted without spectators and without wagering. The featured Prix de Padoue (purse 22,000€, 1609 meters autostart, European) saw Vincent Ferm (6g Mago s’Amore-Lindyliana Font) score in 1.10.9kr (mile 1:54) for pilot G.P. Minnucci and trainer Mario Baroncini. It was his second win in France and increased his career earnings to 108,482€. Vesna (6f Libreccio Grif) was second for Rene Legati and trainer Alessandro Gocciadoro. Making Love (9g Ken Warkentin) took third for Dominik Locqueneux. Vincent Ferm   The other winners of one mile events this day were: Doro Desbois (7g Quaro) timed in 1.11.1 (1:54.4) for Steve Stefano in the Prix de Cesena; Visia Spin (6f Varenne-Karisma Zet) clocked in 1.12.kr (1:56.3) for trainer/driver Alessandro Gocciadoro in the Prix de Pise;  Blue Label (9g Love You-Mary Louy Wic) in 1.12.2kr (1:56.2) for apprentice reinsman Pierre Repichet and trainer J.M. Roubaud; Vlad del Ronco (6m Julius del Ronco) in 1.10.8kr (1:53.9) in the Prix de Bologne for pilot Leo Abrivard and trainer L.Cl. Abrivard; Djember du Pont (7g Baccarat du Pont) in the Prix de Modene in 1.15.5kr (2:01.4) for Emeline Jousset in the event for amateur drivers Tomorrow, of course, is the Gr.I Criterium de Vitesse for 11 top class trotteurs. LeTrot files/photo by Thomas H. HIcks, for Harnesslink  

Zacon Gio (5m Ruty Grif-May Glide Font SM-Yankee Glide) returned to competitive action today at Napoli to win the PR fon Telethons Invitational (purse 12, 100€, 2060 meters distance handicap), He scored from a 40 meter handicap timed in 1.11.6kr with Roberto Vecchione aboard for trainer Holger Ehlert.  Vedette del Ronco (6f Julius del Ronco-Bum Bum Fortuna) rallied nicely to be less than two lengths back second. Virtuoso Luis (6m Self Possessed-Mandralogo PL) took third. Zacon Gio, the 2019 Yonkers International winner, who also bested Face Time Bourbon in Italy, made his return off several impressive public training appearances with his trainer aboard, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7LQge0SDrM&feature=emb_logo Zacon Gio Zacon Gio’s pedigree is shown below. Gaet, Ippodromo di Agnano files/photos by Thomas H. Hicks, for Harnesslink    

Sunday’s Grand Criterium de Vitesse has 11 fine trotteurs in its final field at Cagnes sur Mer. Today’s post position draw has Bahia Qeasnot, Uza Josselyn, Earl Simon, Vivid Wise As and Billie de Montfort on the first tier inside. Jean Michel Bazire will team Looking Superb from post nine. LeTrot files by Thomas H. Hicks, for Harnesslink    

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Darren, let’s go way back to where it all started for you. What was it that ignited your love for the sport of horse racing? I was five years old and it is one of my earliest lifetime memories. Grand National Day 1973 when Red Rum beat Crisp in probably the best horse race you’re ever likely to see. I remember my Dad saying ‘what do you want to bet in the National?’. He used to get the ‘Horse & Hound’ and ‘The Field’, two magazines. There was a photo of Spanish Steps on the cover of one of them, and I said ‘I’ll back Spanish Steps’. I had 10p each-way on him, and he finished fourth. Red Rum beat Crisp as we all know. I always remember my Great-Grandfather, he was a first-world war veteran, he lived with us, I was 12 when he died. Now he backed Crisp, and I always remember him cursing Red Rum. I was just captivated by the whole thing, remember in those days we would have watched this in black and white. My Dad and my Mum bought me a rocking horse, and on a Saturday afternoon I used to sit on this rocking horse. My Great-Grandfather would have a bet, we used to watch ‘World Of Sport’ so we’d see the racing, and he used to love the wrestling afterwards. I was just hooked from five-years-old. When I was in primary school, I’d be rushing home to watch the last race on the television. Jumping came first obviously, it was the Grand National and the Cheltenham Festival. I quickly got into flat racing as well, and I was just hooked. Most lads in the summer holidays would be playing football on the green, not me I’d be sitting at home watching the racing. It wasn’t betting, I wasn’t interested in betting. It was just the spectacle and the sport itself. You used to have a football bag or a sports bag, and I was more into football then than I was now. I’m not that into it now, but in those days I used to be a big Manchester United fan. I always remember having a Man U sports bag to take to school, but I used to write the names of racehorses on mine. I had Red Rum, Spanish Steps, Sea Pigeon and Greville Starkey. When you decided race calling was the career path you wanted to go down, how did you go about turning that dream into a reality? I suppose the race calling bit came seriously when I was in High School. Your career teachers would be asking what you’d like to do as a living, and I was captivated again by Peter O’Sullevan. I just thought ‘god, that’s an exciting job’. I remember my Dad wrote to Peter O’Sullevan when I was 10 or 11, and got a letter back in which he gave me some advice. On a Saturday afternoon and in the school holidays, I’d be watching the racing with the volume turned down to practice the commentary. On a Friday night I would draw the colours out for Saturday’s racing. I would get the felt tip pens out and I had a list of the owners. I would practice and then record myself doing the commentaries during my high school days. Living in North Wales, we used to pick up RTE radio, the Irish radio. I’d listen to Michael O’Hehir doing the Irish racing on a Saturday afternoon, and in the 80’s they recruited Aussie Jim McGrath. That was the first time I’d heard ‘Aussie Jim’ around about ’84. I thought ‘God, he was bloody good’, so that’s where I got the interest in race calling from. My Mum and Dad would go to the careers advisors at school, and they used to put me off saying ‘that’s not a job, that’s not a career’. I’d love to go back there now and stick two fingers up at them! Can you remember the first race or race meeting you called? Describe the emotions you were feeling leading up to it? When I left school, I got a job in a furniture store and funnily enough the guy in charge of the store was an ex-jockey. The guy in charge of the printing company who did all the work for the furniture shop became a friend of the proprietor, and one of his jobs was to print racecards at the local harness racing track. There was a grass field and they used to race there from late-May to early-September, once a week on a Wednesday night. I wasn’t really into it but he came in one day and said they were looking for somebody to replace their regular commentator who was missing a couple of meetings to go on holiday. He asked whether I’d be interested to go there and have a bit of a trial. I went there and I think the trial might have been the day Reference Point won the Derby. The first race I called was a three-runner harness race, and I was shaking in my boots. That was my first broadcast, and I started getting a few harness meetings as a result of that. I used to go from North Wales to York on a Saturday night. I would get the train to Manchester and a lift from there. I’d get £15, that’s all it was, but I just wanted the experience. Then what happened was when a neighbour of mine heard a promotion on BBC Radio 2 looking for an amateur sports commentator. So I entered this competition, and the country was split into eight regions. There were five regions of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. What you did was chose your sport. There were eight events and fortunately horse racing was on that list. I went to BBC Radio Wales HQ in Cardiff, and Steve Ryder was one of the judges. He hated horse racing, absolutely hated it. I’d won the regional final and so had qualified for the National final in early-December. It was at The Oval, and my late Grandfather came with me. Along with Steve Ryder, John Inverdale was another one of the judges. In the National final I had to call Nashwan in the King George, then there was a tie-break and I had to do a piece of radio commentary on a Wimbledon final. Well that was an absolute disaster. I had no interest in it whatsoever, and finished third. But as a result of that, I started getting work every now and then for BBC Radio Wales. I called the Welsh National won by Bonanza Boy. I used to do some of the Saturday meetings at Chepstow over jumps, and by doing that I bumped into some of the guys who used to work for the old Excel service which was just about to be taken over the Press Association. One of the guys who used to work for them was Mark Slater, and through him I met Martin Harris and then Dougie Frazer. Now they said to me ‘when there’s a lot of racing in the summer, our boss is sometimes looking for extra cover so we’ll take your name’. This was in February. I then heard nothing till about June, and got a phone call out of the blue inviting me to a trial at York. I was full of cold, but I went and he invited me back on the Saturday. Mid-July they started giving me regular work and I was on their rota. They had five regulars, four of them had regions and there was me filling in the gaps. One week I could be in Scotland, and then the next down at Lingfield. I used to do about five or six days a week and that lasted for about two years. I started getting work for the Racing Post and the Sporting Life. I had to leave harness racing for about two years, and then I went back to it. I read that SIS were looking to recruit about two of three commentators. Wolverhampton had a harness track on the outside and they wrote to SIS on my behalf saying they should look at me, so that’s how I became a racecourse commentator in 1998. You are now a well respected commentator, and out of the many races you have had the pleasure of calling, which one gave you the greatest sense of job satisfaction? Well certain races you always remember. Obviously doing my first Grand National for BBC television, that meant an awful lot. When I got that gig with the BBC I was part of the commentary team when Amberleigh House won in 2004. When I was a kid I always said I had two ambitions, to be a race caller and to call the Grand National. I had to pinch myself that day. I’ll be honest, I was shaking in my boots, I really was. I was as nervous as hell, it’s the most nervous I have ever been in my life. Everywhere you looked, it was Grand National day and I thought ‘bloody hell, millions are going to listen to me this afternoon’. I remember parking up at Aintree that day thinking ‘now come on, shake yourself. This is what you’ve always wanted in your life.’ The night before I had a missed call from Graham Goode. He said to me ‘you’ll be fine tomorrow, just take a deep breath’, and I’ll never forget that. It was a monumental day. I so wanted to get those words out: “there crossing the Melling Road”. I got a lot of satisfaction out of that, a lot. Given the current situation we find ourselves in at present with the coronavirus, would you agree this is a huge blow for the industry? Well it is, but at the end of the day we’ve got to give ourselves a reality check. There are people dying out there. Admittedly, we’re a massive industry, but what is sport? Sport is a great triviality isn’t it? In the grand scheme of things, that’s all we are. We tend to get wrapped up in our little cocoon, in our own little world, wondering when racing will return. On the topic of the coronavirus, the flat season schedule is up in the air at the moment. How would you like to see it reintroduced when the time comes? Well first of all let me just say, regarding proper racing, it’s a good job we got three-quarters of the season done. It’s a major blow to racing that our biggest event can’t take place next week. Let’s not make a big issue out of this, the National is the biggest event, not Cheltenham. Regarding the flat season, it’s very important for the bloodstock industry that the three-year-olds have their chance on the big stage in the classics. At the end of the day, the bloodstock industry is a cog in the wheel. I’m convinced what will happen is that when racing does return, and I don’t think there will be an explosion of meetings, I think the BHA and the European Pattern Committee will need to discuss a revamped pattern for the 2020 season. They’ll have to work back from the Autumn I.e. Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe and Champions Day to try and salvage the season. Let’s say for example we’re in a position to resume racing in July. Races like the Eclipse would obviously fall by the way side. A starting point for the pattern would be the Guineas with a three-week break to the Derby. If they could get the Derby run by early-August, I see no reason why the Juddmonte at York couldn’t take place. You could always reschedule the King George to September. I certainly think you could try and save a few of the=ose weight-for-age races. Out of the many racecourse you’ve visited, which is your favourite and why? Major soft spot for Aintree, because I just love the National. At the end of the day, the National is our shop window, don’t care what anyone says. Whether you’re the biggest flat aficionado going, the Grand National is our shop window. One of my pet hates is when people run scared of the National. People almost want to stand there and apologise for the National, there’s no need to do that at all. We should be proud of it, it’s the race that sells British racing. It’s the only race that matters to the man in the street. To youngsters coming through wanting to gain a position in racing media, what golden piece of advice would you give them? Follow your dreams, follow your ambitions. Devote an awful lot of time, seek as much advice as possible but most of all practice. Practice. You’re luckier in the age we live in that you always have access to race footage. Back in my day we were relying on BBC, Channel 4, ITV to show racing. We had no racing channels. By Liam Hedgecock Reprinted with permission of Sportsbyte Sunderland
March 28, 2020 - The weekend Solvalla feature was the V75 Gold Paralympia (purse to winner 300,000SEK, 2140 meters autostart, 12 starters) and 2.2/1 Disco Volante (7g Scarlet Knight-Glorify-Super Arnie) was a gate to wire winner for harness racing driver Ulf Ohlsson, trainer Stefan Melander and owner Stall Courant AB. Disco won for the fifth time in six 2020 starts and raised his life earnings to 4,192,915SEK. The victory was career win 24 in 59 appearances. He overcame that belief of some that he could only win at 1640 meters, a distance that he won four straight races entering this contest. Race time was 1.10.9kr (mile rate 1:54). Reckless (10m Ready Cash-Haver-Supergill) rallied for second with trainer Bjorn Goop the pilot. Gareth Boko (7m Make It Happen-Vanilla Boko-Pine Chip) was third, reined by Marc Elias for trainer Conrad Lugauer. The next leg of the Paralympic qualifiers is at Jagersro on April 4. Legs of the Paralympic Trot 2020 Saturday March 28 - Solvalla Saturday April 4 - Jägersro Saturday April 11 - Romme Saturday April 18 - Umåker 'Last chance' Final will be held at Åby Saturday April 25. On the same card fast class mares contested the STL Mares Pixies (220,000SEK to the winner, 1640 meters autostart, eight starters) with victory to late closing and 22/1 I Love Paris (10f Steinlager-Marie Dulcinea-Egyptian Gentleman) handled by her trainer Bjorn Goop. The victory increased her life earnings to 3,938,294 with this her 14th career win. Unique Juni (7f Uptown Yankee-Staro Unique-Supergill) was second for Jorgen Westholm and Hevin Boko (6f Going Kronos-Welat Boko-Garland Lobell) took third for Rikard N. Skoglund. The favorite and leading Ultra Bright made a miscue. Earlier on the program were four year old divisions of the Margaretas, each for 300,000SEK to the winners, each raced over 2140 meters autostart. In the filly division 2.2/1 Alaska Kronos (4f Trixton-Illinois-Donerail) scored timed in 1.13.9kr for Orjan Kihlstrom, trainer Daniel Reden and owner Stall Zet. Ganga Bae (4f Muscle Hill-Alexia As-Conway Hall) took second for Jorma Kontio The colt division of four-year olds saw 15.8/1 Untion Face (4m Joke Face-Croix d’Am-Love You) score for trainer/driver Adrian Kolgjini over the Kilhstrom teamed Digital Summit (4m Super Photo Kosmos) clocked in 1.12.7kr. The two three-year old divisions were won first by the filly Clockwork (3f Zola Boko) at 10.3/1 odds and clocked in 1.14.5kr for reinsman Ulf Eriksson. The male division saw 3.4/1 Forever Melon (3g Infinitif-Easter As-Dancers Victory) score in 1.15.7kr with Orjan Kihlstrom up. The main SWE race programs as also being offered by PMU while the FR tracks are closed due to Covid19. PMU is offering an e-Quinte+ wager each day on one SWE race. Thomas H. Hicks  
March 18, 2020 - Zanzibar Effe (5f Donato Hanover-Ema Sec) took the Jagersro Executive Caviars race for mares (purse 11,343Sek, 1640 meters autostart) clocked in 1.12.7kr. Off at 4.37/1 from post 10, this Jerry Riordan trainee was teamed with Stefan Persson for the victory. Riordan co-owns Zanzibar with AB Trotcore. 5.17/1 Gor lobal Wireless (5f Donao Hanover-Sail On By) took second for pilot Johan Untersteiner and 19.6/1 Majors Carona (5f SJs Caviar-Keep Out) was third for Conny Gustafsson. At Solvalla was the Kentucky Fibbers (purse 206,000Sek, 2140 meters autostart). The 1.6/1 favorite Makethemark (7m Maharajah-Global Naughty-Conway Hall) scored timed in 1.13.4kr for Ulf Ohlsson and trainer Salmela Petri. Ragazzo da Sopra (7g From Above-Larome-Comets Pride) at 6.3/1 was second for trainer/driver Bjorn Goop. 121/1 Cupido Sisu (8g Judge Joe-Dream Hanover-Pine Chip) was third for Tomi Haspin. Former Hambletonian winner Perfect Spirit was fourth. Makethemark Racing in Sweden will occur this weekend at Bergsaker and Farjestad as most of the world’s racetracks are closed. Thomas H. Hicks  
March 19, 2020 - Last week the great nine year old harness racing mare Uza Josselyn (9f Love You-Tezira Josselyn-Ganymede-Ezira Josselyn-Royal Prestige) was retired by her owners/trainers Rena and Barbara Aebischer. She retired with 33 career victories in 79 starts for 1.274,678€ earned plus 11 times second and four times third. Ecurie Yvan Bernard bred this classy mare that became the Swiss champion with a Gr. I victory in the Gran Premio Milan. She was second in the 2019 Prix de France and the Prix d-Atlantique. She recorded a 1.09kr time at Enghien in the Prix de Washington, becoming one of the fastest mares in Europe. She last raced at Cagnes sur Mer in the Criterium de Vitesse in early March. Uza’s female competitor Belina Josselyn, also a daughter of Love You, is at home of the farm and readying to be bred to Ready Cash. Belina Josselyn Thomas H. Hicks

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