Day At The Track

Fundraiser held by UK harness racing club

09:04 PM 29 May 2020 NZST
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Harness racing Harness racing Rachael Faustino, harness racing
Covid-19 Lower Grade Final winning 'owner' , Saskia Robinson being presented with her rosette by Barry Westgarth
Julia Park photo
Covid-19 Higher Grade Final winning 'owners', Tamzin, Paddy, Barney & Dulcie with their rosette.
Julia Park photo
NHS key worker Rachael, who inspired Northern Harness Racing's Julie Park to organise the fundraiser to help our NHS heroes
Rachael Faustino photo,
With the start of the harness racing season delayed indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic, supporters and participants of the sport have turned their attention instead to raising money to support NHS Charities via a series of fantasy harness races.

Back in April, Northern Harness Racing co-founder Julie Park launched the concept of a virtual 'race night' using old footage of harness races from across the UK. The initial plan was to stage 8 races with 10 horses in each race, with those wishing to take part purchasing a horse for £10 each and choosing a name for their horse, the theme being names associated with the current situation.

Businesses and individuals were also invited to sponsor each of the 8 races for £50 to generate additional funds. The aim of the fundraiser was to raise £1200 for the NHS Charities, however it became apparent very quickly that this target was going to be surpassed as owners, trainers, drivers, grooms and avid followers of the sport jumped on the bandwagon. Before long the list of race sponsors had reached 18, made up of businesses, individuals and organisations associated with the sport of harness racing and the total number of horses sold was 138.

Once the footage had been collated for the races, renowned Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing commentator and British Harness Racing Club Chairman, Darren Owen, recorded fresh commentary using the names submitted by those who had purchased horses.

On Saturday 2nd May the fantasy racing series was launched via the Northern Harness Racing Facebook page and the British Harness Racing Club YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAAA71wfD8t8bXG-BnlQmFA?view_as=subscriber), with two races per night being released for viewing. The series culminated on Saturday 9th May with the two 'finals' (horses who had finished in the first two in earlier races in the week 'raced' again on Finals Night) and the Champion of Champions Pace, which featured the top 10 UK and Irish Standardbred racehorses of all time as voted for by the general public - with the finishing order reflecting the number of votes each horse received during the nomination and voting process.

Julie Park explained the inspiration behind the idea:

"I came up with the idea as lots of people were posting old harness racing videos on Facebook and it was clear everybody was missing live racing. I was blown away by the bravery of the NHS staff who were continuing to work as I had only spent a short time in school without PPE or procedures before the schools were closed and it was a scary time.

The final straw that pushed me to do something to raise money was that a friend of mine who I know through volunteering at Appleby Harness Races, her daughter who is also an ex-student of mine, was already working in a northern hospital and volunteered to work with coronavirus victims in the Nightingale Hospital in London. I just felt I had to do something."

In addition to the 17 races, a fantasy trainer's table was created, won by Teresa Haythornthwaite, and a fantasy tipster competition ran concurrently to the series with the prize of a £50 bet from Avalon Bookmakers awarded to the winning tipster, Jessica Dyer (a young harness racing driver from Cardiff) for use when the racing season can begin again.

In total, just under £2500 was raised and donated to the NHS Charities Together.

Everyone involved in harness racing would like to thank all NHS staff and key workers for their dedication and bravery during these difficult times.

All BHRC NHS Fundraiser fantasy races can be viewed on the British Harness Racing Club YouTube channel.

by Sarah Thomas, for Harnesslink

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