Day At The Track

On The Rail with Sydney Weaver - Ireland

09:44 AM 07 Nov 2016 NZDT
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Sydney and Dexter Dunn at VDM Gala Kick-Off dinner
VDM photo
Sydney, Don and Lisa Weaver in carriage touring downtown Dublin
Alan T Galloway photo
Sydney gets a kiss from the yearling Oakwood Delight
Lisa Weaver photo
A huge group surrounding the Oak tree at Oakwood Stud planted in memory of Vincent Delaney.
VDM photo
Sydney's car surrounded by mares and foals
Lisa Weaver photo
Roger Huston presents Sydney with Dave Palone's colors
VDM photo
The special Cinderella carriage led the opening day ceremonies at the VDM
Stephanie Wolf photo
Bookies taking wagers at Portmarnock Raceway
Lisa Weaver photo
Sydney Weaver with Lexi Delaney when she hears she won the Best Hat competition
VDM photo
Coming down the stretch the first time at Portmarnock Raceway
Lisa Weaver photo
Sydney Weaver's award winning hat
Lisa Weaver photo
Grandstand and apron area was jammed backed on VDM day
VDM photo
Sydney in the winner's circle presentation for VDM colt final winner
Nadina Ironia Photo
Sydney gets a kiss from Dexter Dunn after he won the VDM Filly Final
Steve Wolf photo
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Going to Ireland truly made me realize why I love the sport of harness racing- it is the people. I will never ever forget the people, their kindness and their passion for the sport.

They made me more passionate. I got to meet people from all around the world and I came home with new found friendships.

As I reflect on my trip to Ireland as a whole, the words that come to mind are: amazing, unforgettable, surreal and overwhelming and the phrase "it was the trip of a lifetime" is an understatement.

Having the opportunity to go to Ireland to attend the Ladbrokes Vincent Delaney Memorial Racing Weekend (VDM) is an experience I will always remember and cherish.

I was invited over to Ireland to attend the VDM by the Delaney family, who organize the weekend. I was able to get to Ireland with help from a sponsorship from Mr. Ed James of SSG Gloves and my friend Bill Galvin. I will be forever grateful for to them for their generosity.

I had been looking forward to this trip for a long time. This would be my first trip outside of North America.

My trip become somewhat real for me the night before my parents and I were scheduled to leave. I still could not believe what is happening.

My mom packs the last few things and makes the final preparations. She sews my SSG Gloves patch on the sleeve of my colors. I try to contain my excitement, so I decide to go to bed to get some sleep so I could be well rested for the upcoming days. As hard as it was I did my best to fall asleep with the excitement of the week to come bouncing about in my head.

The next day I wake up filled with pure joy. I had been anticipating this day and now it had arrived. It was departure day! August 9th- a date I will always remember. We walk through the doors of the airport. Only now did I realize that in a couple of hours I would be on a plane bound for Ireland.

I find my seat and settle in for my flight. The time passes moderately fast. Ireland is the only thing on my mind. My mom suggests I have a nap. I tried to close my eyes a few times. I am too thrilled to be going on this trip to sleep. So, I sit silently dreaming of the days to come.

Before I know it, we land in Ireland, it was 5:30 in the morning, local time. Normally, I would complain about how early it was. But, I was so thrilled to be in Ireland I did not care about the time, I did not even feel tired.

The Delaney family started the Vincent Delaney Memorial as a single race in memorial in honor of their late loved one, Vincent, who shared the love for harness racing. He tragically passed away at age 26 in 2011. Since then the Vincent Delaney Memorial has grown into a full two-day event. It has become a major racing event for fans to watch and a prestigious event to win.

At the hotel, I try my first Guinness that very evening, thank you to Steve Wolf for making the memory; because when in Ireland, do as the Irish do. It was not my favorite, I guess that means I will have to go to Ireland and try it again.

That night I went to bed looking very forward to my first full day in Ireland.

The next morning, I wake up filled with joy, I just know it is going it to be an amazing day.

We travel through downtown Dublin in a horse drawn carriage. I feel so fancy and privileged. Dublin is a beautiful city, full of charm and history. We stop at a local pub right next to the Guinness factory for some drinks. With the exception of a few people in the pub, it is all people involved in the Vincent Delaney Memorial Racing Weekend.

Everyone was laughing and sharing stories. Within the pub was the who's who for international harness racing. The atmosphere is cozy and it feels like I am home, where I belong.

Then, again we were off, this time bound for a restaurant for lunch. After lunch, I had the opportunity to see do some exploring on foot in the Temple Bar District.

Temple Bar is a very tourist ordinated area. It has a lively atmosphere, all of the buildings are brightly colored and the streets were lined with cobblestones. I go to a couple of shops and pick up some souvenirs. This is where I see my first Leprechaun, and yes, they do exist.

My first full day in Dublin is complete. The day was better than anything I ever imagined. I could not wait to see what the next day would bring. That night I went to bed with a smile on my face and my dreams were retracing my steps because I did not want to forget a single moment.

The next day, I board the bus and head for the Irish countryside. As the bus rolls and weaves through the winding roads, my gaze is glued to the window beside me. The countryside is so picturesque, with what appears to look like never ending fields, and walls of stones that lined the road. Before long the bus pulls into Oakwood Stud. The farm is beautiful.

I walk into the main barn and all the horses look out happily and greet me. There is one filly - Oakwood Delight, who I walk to, and we bond instantly. She cuddles with me, blowing in my ear. She did not want me to leave her. Every time I go to step away to go and see the next horse, Oakwood Delight sticks her head out and draws me back in.

Oakwood Stud has the world- renowned stallion Foreclosure N. He is gorgeous and has regal presence about him. His dapples glisten in the late morning sun.

Then everyone walks to where an oak tree is planted in memory of Vincent Delaney. There are also plaques commemorating the honored guest over the years, I could feel something special about this spot as the 2016 plaque was unveiled.

After that everyone travels to the other farm owned by Oakwood Stud which is home to their mares and foals.

James Delaney was kind and took Roger Huston and myself in the field in his car. As we pull into the field, all of the mares and their foals came over to the car. That is one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. The mares and their foals investigate the car and were sticking their heads in the windows, seeing if I had any treats to give them. I had none, but stroking their faces seem to suffice.

Then everyone is treated to a delicious lunch at a local pub down the road, where the best vegetable soup I have ever had was served.

After visiting Oakwood Stud, I had the incredibly special opportunity to go to Cari's Closet; a dress shop in Dublin, to pick out a dress for the VDM kick off gala dinner that was taking place the following evening. Thanks to Chris and Lisa Kavanagh, the staff of Cari's Closet and Lillian and Lexi Delaney.

The dress I pick out was a fuchsia- raspberry in color. It is a truly stunning dress. The dress is a gift and to top it all off, Cari's Closet even gave me the accessories to go with my dress. In my dress I feel like a princess, it is another memory that adds to my Ireland fairy-tale.

The following evening is the VDM Kick-Off Gala, which means it is time for me to put on my dress and get ready for the gala. I still remember the joy I felt when I put my dress on. Then, I went downstairs to get my hair and makeup done, thanks to Lillian Delaney, I feel so glamorous.

At the gala, I meet more friends and pictures are taken. I walk by the table where the items that were to be auctioned off later in the evening were sitting. The memorabilia that is being auctioned off is amazing. There are sets of colors and horse memorabilia, such as halters. The night is splendid. I get to watch Irish dancing, which is magnificent.

After the auction Roger Huston comes to chat about the night so far, and hands me a gift, a set of colors. The colors were that of the legendary driver Dave Palone. Thank you so much Roger Huston for giving such a special gift. Today, those colors are proudly hanging in my room. I will forever cherish and treasure them. I consider it a true honor to have the colors of such an iconic individual.

That night there were many unforgettable memories made. It was truly a night I will always remember. I did not want to forget a minute of what happened. One of the highlights was getting to dance with World Driving Champion Dexter Dunn. Someone even video taped Dexter and I dancing https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByButnVgha-qY2FQV1lTeFpQTVk/view?usp=drive_web.

With that, I fell as sleep. The next two days were going to be spent at Portmarnock Raceway watching the races.

It is Saturday morning and the bus pulls into Portmarnock Raceway. There is a sense of excitement in the air, it feels like a special day and it is. I walk through the grandstand and I am in awe. The grandstand and track were both beautiful.

I open my program and flip to the first race; I am stunned. The programs are very different than what I am used to seeing, the major difference was this program has a picture of the driver's colors but no racing lines for the horses. I really like seeing the driver's colors and this made the program much more fun to read.

I walk through the grandstand; the atmosphere draws me and fills me with happiness and awe. It is difficult to put into words because it is just so amazing and unique, so special. The passion is so heartwarming. The Ladbrokes Vincent Delaney Memorial Racing Weekend is something a person just has to experience in order to fully comprehend what passion for harness racing is.

The grandstand gets busy and the bookmakers are setting up. Their bright colored umbrellas marking their places. I take in the picturesque surroundings. That is one image that is forever stuck in my mind. The rosettes for the winners hang ready and waiting for an incredible day of racing.

I sit along the fence and in the distance there is a white rod iron carriage. The carriage looks like it belongs to Cinderella and is decorated in pink. The horses, are wearing pink feathers.

They trot along the fence and stop in front of me. Lillian Delaney then says to me: "This is the last surprise". I am speechless and feel truly special. Lillian, her daughter Lexi and Rihanna (Vincent Delaney's daughter), myself and some other harness racing princesses board the carriage and go for a tour of the track.

I have a truly special time going around the track as so many racing fans are clapping for us, I get to see the grandstand from an entirely different perspective and I get to see the paddock.

That is another major difference. The paddock at Portmarnock is the trailer you ship in with. There is no actual paddock barn. I was also told as a result everyone brings their own water. I am so surprised, and filled with a greater appreciation for their love of harness racing.

As the first race drew near people rushed up to the bookmakers to place their bets. It is like nothing I have ever seen - it is incredible just to watch. People were yelling so the bookmaker would hear them and take their bets.

Each bookmaker provides their own odds, some had electronic boards others have whiteboards. That was one unique things that was different than at home. The bookmakers add so much more hype to the scene. Oh, and there is only one type of bet - win.

The passion people in Ireland have for the sport from both horsemen and fans is immeasurable and refreshing. Everyone in attendance is bounded by a common love for harness racing.

One thing I find remarkable is the starting gate; I have never seen anything so unique. The gate is only five [horses] wide, but to be safe they only go three four wide except for the Free-For-All races. So, in most races there are three tiers. The first and second tiers have four horses each with the third tier having two three or four. This made the races even more interesting. Horses that start on the second and third tier do win.

As the gate let the field go for the first race, the tiered field picks up speed, and everyone in the grandstand is cheering. I will never forget the warm and fuzzy feeling I got with everyone cheering around me. I felt at home, everyone cheers as loud as I do.

Portmarnock Raceway is only a half mile track. The racing is intense, and like nothing I have ever seen. The style of driving is extraordinary. It is so different than what I am used to seeing. I did not understand how they do what they do sometimes; some of the moves they make blow my mind. I also see something I have not seen before, a driver with a whip in one hand and a stopwatch in other.

The weekend features two international driving talents, acclaimed driver Dexter Dunn of New Zealand returned for the Vincent Delaney Memorial Weekend; and winning driver Aaron Merriman of the United States attended for his first time.

There was also races which featured trotters from France. They are interesting to watch as French trotters also go the opposite way than what I am used to. They raced clockwise in one event, the distance they race is also longer.

The famous announcer Roger Huston and United Kingdom commentator Darren Owen would share announcing duties.

The first day of racing features the eliminations of both the fillies and the colts divisions of the Vincent Delaney Memorial, with the finals being held the following day.

The long wait of anticipation is over, as the fillies make their way to the track. Everyone is as close to the fence as they can get; all eyes are on the fillies. I take a quick glance at each of the driver's faces as they pass by. They are focused, and the filly which they sit behind mirrors their determination to win. Everyone wants to race in the final, but only a few will have the chance to do so.

The voice of Roger Huston echoes over the speakers as the fillies go to the gate. The fillies take up their positions, the gate lets them go and the crowd cheers.

My eyes are gripped on the track as the fillies battle it out. Dirt flies and the thunderous pounding of hooves hitting the track gets louder, as does the cheering. The fillies whiz past me- they are at the half. They race around the track for the second time, as quick as the field disappears, they reappear. The fillies' hooves look as though they barely make contact with the track as they pace.

I start screaming as loud as I could; drivers are urging their horses in every way they can, and fans are smacking their programs. With one final stride the fillies cross the wire.

Then it is time for the boys to face off. The colts step on the track, all of them want to come back and race again tomorrow. The colts score out, their drivers in tow. They move behind the gate and pick up speed. The colts captivate my attention. Drivers lean back in the seat of their bikes.

Screams echo around me, I am solely concentrating on the race. The colts cross the wire with same powerful presence they had displayed through the entire race. The battle is intense and I am entranced. The look in the colts' eyes all reflect determination; how much they want to be in the final, they battle until the end and they cross the finish line.

That is it for today. It was a day of spectacular racing, all of the rosettes and trophies had been handed out, and the display where they once were is empty, waiting for more rosettes and trophies to take their place.

The next morning I return to Portmarnock Raceway. I am eager for another special day. Today the winners of the 2016 Ladbrokes Vincent Delaney Memorial weekend would be crowned. It is a special day so in spirit of the occupation everyone dresses up. It is known as "Ladies Day".

Everyone looks fancy. I wore my yellow dress and of course a fancy hat. My hat was perfect for the occasion- it is horse themed; and I made it. There are horses on the brim standing in a field which is actually green felt; and to top it all off there is a mini trophy on top. Yes, it is a little heavy to wear.

As the day begins more and more people file in. Although I did not think it was possible there is even more enthusiasm and passion than the day before. Everyone, including myself is thinking the same question: Who will win the 2016 Ladbrokes Vincent Delaney Memorial races?

Walking through the grandstand I am further inspired by the love and passion, everyone was socializing and just enjoying the day.

I had the honor of being interviewed by Darren Owen. Mr. Owen asks me a variety of questions: about why I love for harness racing, my experience in Ireland so far and what racing back home [in Canada] is like. It gives time to reflect on how blessed I feel.

I truly love the atmosphere here, it provides so much joy to me. As I continue to walk through the grandstand I see the cutest sight. There are four young lads (I am in Ireland, I have picked up some of the language), all wearing driving colors. Seeing this warms my heart. This further demonstrates the passion everyone over here has. No matter what their age, the passion for harness racing is the same.

As part of Ladies' Day there are a variety of categories in relation to being dressed up; including Best Dressed Couple, Lady, Man and Best Hat. It is a great and fun idea and the contests add even more ways to celebrate the special day. It made the day even greater when they announced that I won the Best Hat Competition.

The closer it got to the finals the more enthusiastic I become. It all comes down to this. Whoever crosses the finish line first will be the winner of 2016 Vincent Delaney Memorial Filly Final.

As the fillies and their driver's circle the track in preparation everyone watches and listens to Roger Huston announce each filly's presence. All of the fans in the grandstand wait with baited breath as the fillies turn for the gate. My heart begins to beat faster and faster as the field picks up speed.

I watch as the fillies' battle it out with a little help from their driver's. The crowd yells in encouragement. I scream as loud I can. As they turn for home, the crowd becomes deafening. With one final stride the fillies push past the wire with grace. One filly and her driver has written their name in Ladbrokes Vincent Delaney Memorial history, that being I B Coyote driven by Dexter Dunn.

The final for the colts holds the same captivation and exhilaration as the filly's final had. The screams boom like thunder in the afternoon sun. Dirt flies and the whips of drivers crack. As the wire draws near, with one final gallant stride the colts cross and the winner for the 2016 Vincent Delaney Memorial Final is crowned.

The colts and gelding final goes to celebrity pacer Tyrion Hanover. This Winner's Circle was something truly special. The connections were over the moon. They also happen to be Facebook friends, and I had not had a chance to meet them yet, and being a part of their Winner's Circle was the perfect way to do so.

During the Winner Circle celebration, the driver of Tyrion Hanover, Richard Haythornwaite, turned to me, introduced himself and said "I want you to have this", handing me his whip. I was honored to be given this special memento, it is something I will always cherish.

I will never forget the pure joy I am filled with as I stood back in admiration as the connections celebrated in the Winner's Circle. I felt special and blessed to be a part of the celebrations.

Helping the Delaney family hand out rosettes throughout the day was an honor and a thrill. Seeing the look of excitement and gratitude as I handed the winning connections their rosette was such a rewarding experience, one which I will never forget.

I am blessed to be given rosettes from winning connections, it was very kind of them. I felt honored that they wanted me to have them. Everyone gathers in the grandstand one more time. It is here I get to talk with the connections of Tyrion Hanover. They give me a hat with "Tyrion Hanover" inscribed on the front.

As the second day of racing comes to a close, it marks the end of another Vincent Delaney Memorial Weekend and everyone look forwards next year's race at the same time in the late summer at the same track.

The Delaney family memorialized Vincent- someone who loved horses and harness racing in the greatest way. Not only are they keeping his memory alive, but they bring people together and create friendships and lifelong memories. They have built something which is full of passion for everything that is great about harness racing.

As I left Portmarnock on Sunday, I began to realize that my trip to Ireland was slowly coming to a close as on Tuesday morning I would board a plane bound for Canada and that meant going back to reality. But, it was not Tuesday yet!

On Monday I decide to go sightseeing, do a little more shopping and see the Irish seaside. When I return to the hotel, I go into the restaurant to socialize. There, I see Derek Delaney and we chat and then he says he has something to give me on behalf of Dexter Dunn.

Out of his pocket Derek pulls out a pair white gloves, Mr. Dunn's driving gloves. I am speechless, in awe and honored. Today, those gloves proudly hang above my bed.

As we pack to go home, and I put my treasures in my suitcase, I begin to realize that my week in this magical place is coming to a close. The week felt like it happened in the blink of an eye. So many memories had been created in a short amount of time.

This story is only a small snapshot of my magical time in Ireland. This story does not even begin to describe my experience, no story I could write would ever do it justice. I have said it before and I will say it again: going to the Vincent Delaney Memorial is something everyone who has a passion for harness racing needs to experience.

I could not pick just one favorite memory. All of the memories I made in Ireland are my favorite, and they all hold a special place in my heart.

The week I was in Ireland felt like one continuous dream that I can relieve through pictures that were captured truly amazing memories forever frozen in time.

To this day, I still hear the thunderous echo of the crowds cheering. Every now and again I even watch the replays from the finals to fill my heart with the warm nostalgia being in Ireland.

Going to Ireland changed my life; although I may be Canadian, a little piece of me will forever be Irish. I hope to return to Dublin again one day to experience the magic all over again.

There are not enough words of thanks I could say to Derek and Lillian Delaney, the VDM Committee and Steve Wolf, who made our trip to Ireland possible and everyone who made this dream a reality.

Sydney Weaver is 16 years old and resides in Acton, Ontario, Canada. She has been involved with harness racing for years, groom's horses, jogs them on the track, owns both a Standardbred and a Thoroughbred racehorse and has already won major youth writing awards. Sydney also has Cerebral Palsy and spends most of her time in a wheelchair, but has never let her disability hold her back from achieving her goals.

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