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ABERGELE, UK - Harness Racing fans all over the world love to see a grey pacer in full flow and none more so than the people of Great Britain and Ireland who intend on paying homage to these strikingly beautiful Standardbreds by featuring a novel “greys only” free for all event at Tir Prince Raceway in Wales on July 18th. Sponsored by Oakwood Stud in Ireland, who are currently showcasing their new stallion, Foreclosure N, this eagerly awaited event will be called the Platinum Free For All and some ever popular household names have already thrown their hats into the ring to take part in this contest, the first of its kind ever held in the UK or Ireland. Early ante-post favourite for the race is the locally trained Blue Incredible. Conditioned by Jason Podmore, Blue Incredible is renowned for his toughness and is the winner of 14 races and 23 placed efforts including a five-straight victory streak back in 2013, culminating in a grade final win at Aberystwyth in July of that campaign. Another Aberystwyth grand final winner, Wellfield Ghost, is also being aimed at Platinum Free For All and the 2014 victor is a big improver over the past 12 months with 11 wins and has only been out of the money 3 times in 26 lifetime starts.  Jack Frost is also likely to prove popular with punters, being virtually white in colour at this stage of career but with 8 wins under his belt, including 2 grand finals at Wolsingham and Appleby, he showed he can still be equally as potent on the hard tracks as well as on grass tracks with a 1:59.2 record. Another big improver right thru the 2014 seas was the Andrew Cairns trained Coalford Chief and although only six years old, he has made 12 visits to the winners enclosure so far in and came of age in no uncertain terms last September when he landed the Joe Murdock Memorial Open Final at the Scottish venue Corbie Wood.  The only lady in the line up so far is the aptly named Shades Of Grey and her connections fancy her big time to whip the boys into submission. A US import by Camluck,  Shades Of Grey continues to improve with age and ran out a game winner of the George Bell Memorial grand final in Scotland making it 9 wins in total and almost £9000 in prize money. The Irish raider Oakwood Outlaw could prove to be the fly in the ointment to them all however. A 9 year old by Armbro Operative out of a Laag mare Snow Whitey, was actually bred by the sponsors and is now in the care of top reinsman Alan Wallace. Pacing sub 1:59 miles right through the 2014 season, she topped off a stellar year with a win in the Barney Richardson Memorial at Portmarnock in October. The race remains open for additional entries right up until seven days before the unique contest and hopes are high that some other grey pacers will emerge up through the ranks and line up in this most unusual field of pacers. Tarawood Messi, Coalford Showtime and Krakatoa spring to mind and a full field of 10 greys is a distinct possibility as the starting car pulls away at Tir Prince on July 18th. Speaking to Derek Delaney, a representative of sponsors Oakwood Stud, stated that “It is an honour to sponsor a unique free for all with just grey horses only and I’m sure it will be a very special race. It’s an ideal opportunity to showcase our new stallion, Foreclosure N, as we believe that he is also something out of the ordinary, being the first ever Rocknroll Hanover to stand in the British Isles.” Foreclosure N has a record of 1:48.4 and almost $1 million dollars racked up in prize money. With an infusion of New Zealand blood, he is bound to prove popular with breeders in the UK and Ireland who highly value the ability to stay longer distances and remain sound right throughout a long career on both hard and turf tracks where his offspring are likely to ply their trade. By Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink.com

A cash injection from a French organisation looks set to boost the revival of harness racing in Ireland. Harness racing is one of the most lucrative horse racing sports in the world, but for many years now Ireland has struggled to keep up with its European and global rivals in the sport. Harness racing has a long way to go here compared to horse racing, which employs thousands and is worth an estimated €1bn to the economy. However, the prospects for harness racing are picking up. New initiatives from the Irish Harness Racing Club (IHRC), and backed by the French equivalent, Le Trot, will hopefully see the sport making great strides forward in 2015. In the early 20th century, Dublin was home to some 20 tracks for harness racing with the venues including Croke Park. Dublin now boasts just one designated all-weather track at Portmarnock, with smaller grass tracks located in Cork and an all-weather track in Northern Ireland. The Portmarnock venue opened in 1965, but, due to the sale of the land, was consequently shut down in 2004. "The land was never redeveloped, so a group of us came together and raised some €250,000 to lease the land and redevelop the whole track and club house to get it going again a few years ago," says Mark Flanagan, chairman of Standardbred Horse Racing Ireland (SHRI). "We also got a Leader grant which has been put to good use to develop the facilities," he adds. That harness racing revival began in 2011 and, while the recession did have an impact on numbers competing, interest has picked up again in the last few years. Thanks to generous sponsorship from local businesses and major horse feed companies, race numbers and race days returned to healthy figures, and this past year saw 25 meetings held between April and October. "We all know it's an expensive hobby, but harness racing is so big in mainland Europe and we are really missing out here in many ways," says Mark Flanagan. "Like horse racing, and greyhound racing, we have a ready-made export market, particularly for off-course betting, but to do so we need a Tote licence and a bigger venue for starters." The IHRC, along with HSI, are in discussions with the Department of Finance to procure a Tote license which will allow for an off-course betting solution to be developed which will allow it to export its pictures to other countries around the world. The value of the sport to the economy in other countries is significant. France tops the list with the sport there estimated to be worth €4.9bn to the economy. Over 11,000 trotting races take place per annum, representing 61pc of the total French races organised. Harness racing is also hugely popular in Sweden, where it competes with the likes of show jumping, but in Austria it is the preferred sport for most equestrians. Over the years, Mark Flanagan and his fellow enthusiasts have worked hard to promote the sport here to a wider audience. Their efforts are beginning to pay off with the close relationship being built with Le Trot. One of the most exciting developments is the Le Trot mentoring programme, whereby the French body mentors smaller trotting nations and helps in the development of the sport. This has included the supply of the Trotteur Français breed of horse for racing. "So far we have purchased some 78 horses from France at an agreed price of €2,500 each, with €2,000 being subsidised by Le Trot," says Mark Flanagan. "We have also signed an agreement whereby horses born in Ireland from French stock will be eligible to race in France where the average annual prize money exceeds €200 million.. Success "Just last month eight Irish drivers were invited to race against the top eight French drivers in Normandy and this was such a success that the people of Argentan want to make it an annual event," he continues. "Also last month there was a special international weekend in France, where we were represented by our top driver Alan Wallace. A total of €2m in prize money was offer over that weekend. "Le Trot is now speaking with their Ministry for Agriculture to develop a link between their Ministry and our Department of Agriculture. The plan is to invite Minister Simon Coveney to go to France, where he will be shown how important the trotting industry is to the French economy as well as the rural community." In a major deal recently confirmed earlier this year, Le Trot has pledged €100,000 in sponsorship to Ireland for 2015, a figure which Mark Flanagan believes could make a huge impact on the sport here in the coming months. "Le Trot sees the potential here, especially for betting, and wants to offer a facility through the French betting agency PMU, but we need a bigger track and we are actively trying to look at ways of expanding. One of the venues they had sought was Dundalk Racecourse. Two full days of racing there in 2008 attracted 120 runners over 20 races and some 3,000 spectators. Over €360,000 was wagered over the two days. During the following two years applications were made to Dundalk for further harness meetings to be conducted. The management had no objections and were encouraging. However, the IHRA proposal was subsequently referred to Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) for approval. "Unfortunately Horse Racing Ireland has deemed Dundalk unsuitable long-term, citing various reasons for its decision," explains Mark Flanagan. These include commercial concerns as well as the potential impact on the racing surface. Stabling The Portmarnock currently has no stabling facilities, but it is the current surface area of the track which is the biggest issue. In order for Irish harness racing images to be exported, the track would need to be completely redeveloped at an estimated cost of €2m. To meet international standards the circumference would need to be extended to 1,000m and widened to ensure a minimum of seven horses can start from the front line. Currently the track is 800m and can only take five horses from the front line.A stabling area would also need to be developed, as well as the redevelopment of the grandstand, club house and restaurant. Other factors that need to be addressed include the current leasing of land, and future options, as well as media facilities. "We have also looked at the National Sports Campus in Abbotstown and this would be an ideal venue for many reasons," says Mark Flanagan. Located north of Dublin, Abbotstown is currently home to various sporting organisations. "We know that if we had a proper track we could supply pictures of racing to places such as France and Australia, where harness racing is so big. The betting would be massive and it would make a great contribution to the economy," says Mark Flanagan. For further information on harness racing in Ireland, visit www irishharnessracing.com or www.portmarnockraceway.ie Reprinted with permission of The Independent  Courtesy of Indo Farming

Harness racing Grassroots division leader Stonebridge Diva fought her way to a flawless record in regular season action with a narrow victory at Georgian Downs on Friday evening.

Camvitro, a three year old full brother to double millionaire mare Invitro is finally set to begin his career and hopefully he’ll be worth the wait says his driver and co-owner Alan Wallace of Troy, ON.

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