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 Annaghmore, IE - The curtain fell on the 2017 season at Annaghmore Raceway last Saturday afternoon where every contest was a memorial cup race in posthumous honour of legendary Northern Irish harness racing figures down through the decades. The programme opened with the Anto Russell Memorial and Gabriel McDonaghs Chinatown Jess prevailed in this over Shane Gallaghers Derrybeg and Damien Holians Endoftheline in 2:05.7. It was a welcome return to form for the filly and her proud owner vowed that it wouldn’t be the last we hear of Jess promising a lot more to come from this Welsh bred juvenile. Bobby Hanson was a legendary OTD on the harness racing scene in Ireland best known for horses such as Dorney Reveller, Worth Seeing, Stoneriggs Lady, Spice Girl, Fair Kitty, Stormy Reveller, Frisco Titan and too many more to mention. His Memorial Cup race on Saturday was a close run affair that was won by New London Hanover and beaming driver John Richardson was visibly thrilled to have won this prestigious race in 2:02 from IB Cymru and Amy Camden. If it wasn’t for Patsy Dean we wouldn’t have son Greg or daughter Brenda involved in the sport and both have proved pivotal in the success of harness racing in Ireland over the past 4 decades. His memorial cup race was won by the son of another living legend in Lawrence Stewart son of living legend Walter. Driving Porterstown Courage the combination defeated Lucky Cam, denying Greg Deans the pleasure of winning his fathers cup but that’s racing and the unlucky loser congratulated Lawrence in the winners enclosure in the ultimate act of sportsmanship. The time was a respectable 2:02 and Mystical Carbs took third The Nixon family reached the pinnacle of the sport in the 1980s when The Lucky One triumphed in the Famous Musselburgh Pace but it is with trotters that George Nixon will be most associated with. His memorial cup race on Saturday was a French imported trotters event and ended in the closest finish of the day between Bravoure De Mai and Umbratica. The latter hit the front with a circuit to run and just as it seemed that John Richardson had did enough to win with the chestnut mare, along came Martin Loughran to swoop late and land the spoils with the former in 2:06. The recently acquired Blanpain Le Fol claimed third place for Gabrial McDonagh. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house in the seasons finale when Martin McSparron won the Kyle McSparron Memorial Cup with stable star Astounding. The partnership had the final say on the final day, a fitting tribute to son Kyle who died in tragic circumstances in 2016. Kyle drove Astounding all last season and Martin took over the training and driving in 2017 in honour of his son, and keeping the spirit alive of the young man who loved harness racing and loved Annaghmore raceway just as much. Taking up the running just after the off, Astounding never seen another rival and despite Rhyds Boots and Im Impartial Toos efforts in the home straight the Scottish bred gelding held on to win in an electric 2:00.6. All the McSparron family were on hand for the presentation of the cup, a fitting end to a great season at Annaghmore. 2017 was arguably the best season for harness racing in many years in Northern Ireland with a classic race staged at Annaghmore virtually every week throughout the summer and NISA would like to thank all sponsors, owners, trainers, drivers, stewards, bookmakers and punters alike for their unwavering support all season in what were often challenging times. Its truly appreciated by all those determined to keep the sport alive and thriving in Northern Ireland.  by Thomas Bennett, for  Annaghmore Raceway

Annaghmore, IE – With five full elimination divisions, the Christopher Dunne Memorial Derby is set with plenty of harness racing action coming this Saturday at Annaghmore Raceway. There are eight horses in each of the five division with the winner and second place finisher of each race returning later on the race program to compete in Dunne Memorial Derby Final. Total purses for the Dunne Memorial is €15,250 with the winner in the ninth race final getting €6,000. The Dunne family are long steeped in harness racing going back some three generations, with a fourth generation now coming through from their base in Kill, County Kildare under the name of the “Porterstown Stud”.   Christopher’s parents, Christy and Carol Dunne, along with their children Geoff, Jonathan and Alison, have fittingly organized and heavily sponsored the annual race to honor the memory of their son Christopher, who died tragically back in 1994 at age 18 while on holiday.  The Derby has now become one of the highlights of the Irish harness racing calendar.  Some of outstanding horses that will be competing include Newtown Rock, Streamside Star, Tarawood CJ, Rhyds Rambler, Sarah's Gift and special credit goes out to the connections of Pan Cam Drift, who are traveling nearly the length of Ireland, 380 km, to compete in the race. Also on the program in the eighth race is the James Stewart Memorial Free-For-All Cup. The meet will also feature the Annaghmore Bookmakers Pace and the Belmont Stables Pace. First race post time Saturday is 2:00 pm. By Carmel Stewart, for Annaghmore Raceway

County Armagh, Ireland - The curtain rose on Annaghmore's 2017 season with an ultra competitive 5 race programme on Wednesday evening where a bumper crowd seen some of Irelands harness racing stars come out to play for the first time this campaign.   All races were covered on Facebook live for those who could not be present, a pioneering move in keeping with the worldwide trend of broadcasting harness racing events live as they happen so all credit to Annaghmore for leading the charge in Ireland in this regard.   The opening race on the card for Grade G & G1 pacers was won by Triplicate driven by Jonathan Dunne in 2:02.6. By the mighty Doonbeg whose progeny are experiencing a purple patch in the UK at present out of US import Tripleplay Hanover.   The four year old bay gelding came with a storming late challenge to defeat Alicolt which looked to have the race in the bag turning for home. Early leader Pandercrombie held on for third sport ahead of Meadow Camden with the winning margins 1 1/2 lengths and 4 lengths respectively. Best Of Lou Lou looked to have the race at her mercy last Sunday at Portmarnock, but popped off-stride in the shadows of the post. The Noel Ryan driven french trotter made no such mistakes on Wednesday in the Grade D, E & F cruising to a bloodless victory over Tamalou Perrine and Bavoure De Mai in 2:05 .2 to the delight and relief of owner-trainer John Morgan from Omeath. Newtown Rock was a notable non-runner from the next event the C,D,E,& F pacing handicap which went the way of Rhyds Cobbler in a thrilling finish. Springhill KG had led them a merry dance in this and it looked as if Jonathan Dunnes charge had enough left in the tank to repel all challengers.   Simon Duggan had other ideas however and sent Rhyds Cobbler into overdrive at the 3/4 pole and the Hasty Hall bred sprinted from last to first to land the spoils by a length in 2:00.1. The luckless Springhill KG hung on for second spot a further half length ahead of Meadowbranch Kiki. Six french trotters graded A, B & C faced the starter in the penultimate race with Une De Donzy first to show pursued by Solicitor and Urmine De Mai. Favourite Umbratica spent the first circuit gradually wearing down her initial 20 yard handicap and when asked to quicken by driver John Richardson on the back straight for the final time the response was immediate.   Moving alongside Une De Donzy rounding the final bend Umbratica battled her way to the front and past the post with a half length to spare in 2:05.3 with Solicitor another length back in third spot. There wasnt a dry eye in the house after the final race on the card, the A, B & C pacing handicap, when the locally trained Astounding held on to deny red-hot favourite Porterstown Road in an epic battle up the home straight.   Partnered by Martin McSparron, Astounding was driving all last season without winning by young Kyle McSparron who tragically passed away in the off-season so this first win for the McSparron family was all the more poignant.   A spontaneous round of applause on his post victory parade warmed the bumper crowds hearts on what was a chilly evening and its moments like these that make harness racing the best equine sport in the world.   Clocking an impressive 1:59 the combination had a length and a half to spare over Porterstown Road with another 5 lengths back to Rhyds Boots in third. Annaghmore run again on Saturday 5th June with a full card of PACING RACES ONLY scheduled so purists of this discipline will relish the first such card of this type in many years.   A guaranteed record crowd is expected and with prizemoney of £500 per race - paid in cash on the day, the card will fill up fast so please text all entries to Carmel Stewart on 0044 7891005707. All of Wednesdays races can be viewed on the NI Standardbred Association Facebook page. by Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink

Northern Ireland - With just 45 days till the 2016 Ladbrokes Vincent Delaney Memorial Festival gets underway, the countdown officially started at Annaghmore Raceway last night with 2 prep races - one for colts sponsored by the bookmaking firm Ladbrokes and the other for fillies, sponsored by Diamond Creek Farm. The fairer sex were the first to perform with five going to post for a purse of €1200 and incredibly 4 were sired by Kikicolt, with the remaining filly sired by first season sire My Panmar. At the off Blueberry Hill sprinted into an early lead tracked by favourite She's Royal and What Mam with Oakwood Eternity and Chinatown Katies bringing up the rear. Little changed in the placings until the ¾ pole when the race got underway in earnest and She's Royal came to pounce on the longtime leader. It was Oakwood Eternity under Gavin Murdock however that produced the best turn of foot entering the stretch and the filly, by Kikicolt out of Oakwood Eternity, positively bolted past her four rivals to win going away in 2:10.7, a respectable time for unraced juveniles in less than ideal conditions. Co-owned by Ned Stafford and Mark McAleer, the winner was 50/1 with bookmaker Dan Carlin to win the Diamond Creek Oaks on August 15th, but that price soon disappeared once she crossed the line in such impressive fashion. She now rates a 4/1 chance with Ireland's leading bookmaker. Blueberry Bill, the first foal out of top racemare Tailgate Princess hung on for second ahead of What Mam with the winning margins 2 lengths and a further length. She's Royal took fourth spot ahead of Chinatown Katie who never really made her presence felt in the event. The dam of the winner is a resident Oakwood broodmare named Eternal Prophecy who decends back to Jefs Eternity line in the US. Next up were the colts and four also went to post in the Ladbrokes sponsored contest for ‚€1200, and representing all different sires, Hasty Hall, Ayr Glory Pro Bono Best, Crown Manhattan and Kikicolt. As the starting car pulled away, Talavary Motivator showed a blistering turn of foot to hit the front and driver John Richardson set about dictating matters from the sharp end. All the while Harrison Camden tracked the leaders every move and as the race progressed it gradually turned into a 2 horse battle for the honours, a battle that Harrison Camden won and he hit the wire in 2:06.6 to win going away from the Welsh owned Talavary Motivator and winners stablemate Rhyds Rival. Harrison Camden is by Pro Bono Best out of House Flight, bred by Mick Wellings Camden Stud in the UK and the dam House Flight is resident in Ireland having been acquired by Declan Connolly at the back end of last season. A crowded winners enclosure ensured plenty of high jinks at the presentation as trainer Billy Roche landed the spoils for the owner John Roche making it a real family occasion for all associated with the stable. Over the next few weeks the 2016 Vincent Delaney Memorial Festival will really start to hot up as more prep races will be held in Scotland and Wales, giving UK contenders a chance to demonstrate their capabilities and stake their claims on the richest prizes for pacers in Europe. To view the race videos from Annaghmore click here.   For more information on the Ladbrokes Vincent Delaney Memorial click here.  by Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink  

Annaghmore, County, Ireland - Annaghmore’s Sat 3rd October race day was probably destined to be a bit flat, coming as it did right on the heels of the successful Dundalk meeting and clashing with Sales Day at York and Murdock Weekend at the Citadel (Corbiewood). However the depleted body of willing volunteers managed to put on decent racing, with some stellar performances in front of a small crowd. Gregory Dean’s Lucky Cam has obviously had some problems as a 5 year old maiden but he shed his maiden tag in some style in the opener for the Joe Hanson Cup. Gregory’s patience is legendary and no better man to straighten out a quirky horse. Lucky Cam was always prominent and won easily in the end from the hard pressed Donegal runner Talavary Fegan ( R Hanson ) in 2.03.5. Next up was the Bassett Cup which went to Mc Elderry who soon led ( though off 10 yards ) and went away from Mystical Carbs ( E Hanson ) and Porterstown Keith ( G Murdock ) who is showing signs of improvement. Mc Elderry would appear to have changed hands and the forceful style of Darren Timlin paid dividends. The son of Judge Cam is one to watch this back –end. 2.01.3 was the winning time. The top grade heat was a lively betting affair. Porterstown Kirk is thought by many to be a typical front runner and driver Ricky Hanson warmed him up like the pair meant business. However in the heat of battle Kirk faded tamely enough when the rejuvenated Art Hall ( Ryan Hanson ) made his move. The nicely made Portrush stallion had to settle for second place and a slot in the Final as for the second week in a row Damien Holian produced End of The Line with perfectly timed run to take the Stella Corey Cup by a whisker. 2.00 flat was the time, the wily Donegal men mopping up all the 3/1 on offer. The French trotters saw two of the oldest names in the business (ie Nixon and Lucas) fighting for the spoils. Jonathan Nixon attempted to make all aboard Tonus du Hamet but in the end he was tapped for toe as Verdi de Croauy with the aptly named North Lucas took the honours. Verdi has been racing since Week 1 at the County Armagh venue and has been a model of consistency. Nigel Quigley’s bargain buy, Rayo D’Amista, trotted round for third. The favourite Solene de Bannes (P Loughran) broke early and was never a factor. On then to the Final, where 6 pacers were to be strung out from Lucky Cam off ‘ Go ‘ back to Art Hall who needed binoculars to see the gate horse off his 50 yard trail. In the event the favourite Mc Elderry bubbled at the start and the starter deemed they were ‘ off ‘. This left a tremendous tussle for the top between Art Hall (R Hanson)  and Mystical Carbs (E Hanson). Those who say harness racing is fixed among family members could do worse than watch the nip and tuck battle between nephew and uncle encouraging their horses like a scene from Ben Hur. Crafty Old Gregory Dean let the two Hansons cut each others throats and then pulled out Lucky Cam in the home straight to win snugly in 2.03..5. The son of Liams Irish Luck can go quicker and is a nice prospect for a Spring Handicap in 2016. Gregory received the Patsy Dean Memorial Cup from his feted sister Brenda Hudson. The Winners Enclosure witnessed jubilant scenes with everybody from the Stable Cat upwards in the snapshot. Lucky Cams victory was the second meeting in- in – a – row that a sponsoring family won their own cup, no doubt a sweet feeling. By Dan Carlin, for Harnesslink

Annaghmore, Ireland - Walter Stewart's Frisco Hold Up has been knocking on the door in recent weeks and he finally got his head in  front at Annaghmore Saturday 26th.  The ever popular Walter, Carmel and family sponsored the final to the tune of £1,000 and put up the Jimmy Stewart Cup named after Walter's late father. Lakeview Rapido ( M Loughran ) filled second, with Rhyds Boots ( B Roche ) coming off a massive trail in third. 2.01.2 was the official time. In the earlier races it was a good day for the smaller stables. Firstly, Just For Fun continued his good run of form for owner Brian O' Riordan and driver Ryan Hanson. 2.00.8 was posted by the improving entire who seems to  relish front running. Just For Fun is the only horse racing out of West Belfast at the moment, he clocks up his training miles on the country roads around Hannahstown. Cool Dragon ( M Loughran ) ran second with Cam VInny ( Ned Stafford ) in third.  The boys of Donegal came marching home, as the song says when D Holian, in only his second season as a fully fledged driver gave his own End Of The Line a lovely waiting drive to catch fellow Western runner Mc Elderry ( C Donnelly )  in the shadow of the post. Frisco Hold Up met with a few impediments in running but for which he'd gave been closer. Coincidentally this heat went exactly the same time  as heat 1. The Little People with the Magical Powers ( Loughrans, Omeath ) rarely go home without a winner and their Lakeview Rapido raced well to take Race 3 in 2.00.2. The much admired Camden Kofi ( C Kerrigan ) was a game second with Rhyds Boots  ( B Roche ) was only beaten 3/4 length and a neck, so he paced a good time  ' off his mark ' as the saying goes in these islands. The mighty Meadowbranch Stud  made a rare sortie North and were rewarded with a double. Usual stable first driver John Richardson ( JR ), the doyen of the current drivers, just produced the impeccably bred Meadowbranch Milli  ( Kikicolt - Meadowbranch Gigolo ) on the line to deny Greg Dean aboard Lucky Cam, with the Garvagh based Security Breech in third. The time of 2.03.1 is well within the winner's capabilities. It was money for old rope in the STAGBI broodmares race as the probable favourite Maid of The West was a non - runner as was the useful Coalford Silk. This left Talavary Jewel from the North County Dublin yard and   the 2 Belfast mares Mahogany Montana  ( K Corey ) and West End Dancer ( B Bassett ) as the line – up  and this was the order of finish. Jewel, owned by her Welsh breeders,  went 2.00.3 in what looked to be a good tightener for the upcoming Dundalk meeting.  JR also took a 3 runner ‘ non French Trot with Joe Sheridan’s Bizzy Butcher who claimed  a notable scalp in the `shape of sub 2 minute trotter Yke Starlake, no longer in the care of the  Porterstown establishment. Murdock Bros' Viking du Layon won the 1 1/4 mile French Trot quite easily in 2.40. Sent on about his work early in proceedings by the competent Gavin Murdock Viking always looked the winner, although the 4/6  favourite gave his backers an anxious moment as he went momentarily off stride at the mile pole. Trottin' Joe Sheridan's Speed Barbes, built like a prize bill, responded well to the urging  of Hopper Foran in second while Record  Dream ( W Flanagan ) will strip fitter at Dundalk, where a good entry of Trotteurs Francais could well mean no punitive trails.  NISA ran their inaugural sale of trotters and pacers before racing commenced. Horses made humble money unfortunately, but the sale is a good start. The auction would have benefitted from a few more yearlings and 2 year olds - maybe this will come with time ?  Finally, there is much  excitement about about the return of harness racing to Dundalk  Stadium ( Sunday 27th September ). As every trainer in the country has been telling the owner ' Dundalk will suit him well ' the racing should be ultra competitive. Get there early, and support your local bookie. by Dan Carlin, for Harnesslink

Annaghmore, Ireland - Much has been made in recent months in this internet column of the talents of the “Little People” with the Magical Powers ie the Loughrans of Omeath. The skill of this stable in training and driving (quite often with average enough stock), was demonstrated yet again at Annaghmore Saturday 5th September when the yard, based on the Cooley Peninsula, took 3 of the 4 prizes on offer. Full marks also to Thomas Bennett, who predicted a big day for this stable in his programme notes. Willsboro Jerry proved expensive to follow when based in Dublin, but made no mistake here. He was content to track Rhyds Premier (B Bassett) and when Jerry made his move, the gambled on Security Breech (N Quigley), back from a layoff, could not live with him.  Jerry touched 2/1 in the market and won handily enough in 2.01.9. Saunders Casino (M Kane ) made good late progress for third. In ‘Le Trot‘ Rubis de Loiron ran out the ‘ gagneur facile ‘ in a clocking of 3.14.8  for the mile and a half. Nice to see Trottin’ Joe Sheridan back in the sulky here, with a typical no holds barred drive aboard his own Simba des Jaques, which will come on for the run. Saxo de Marancourt (S Kane )( disq ) gave away acres of ground with a bad break at the start and showed some turn of foot if Ger Kane can get him steadied. 5/4 to 4/6 was the business around the winner. Loughran’s treble came in the highest grade pace on the card, the C, D and E Class, wherein he took Lakeview Rapido into an early lead. The Cock o’ The North, Walter Stewart sat in the garden seat until the stretch where he produced Frisco Hold Up under typical Walter Stewart gentle persuasion, but it was all in vain as Martin Loughran had enough up his sleeve aboard Rapido to hold off the Coleraine man’s challenge. Lakeview Rapido must rank alongside President and Rhyds Boots as the most improved horses in Ireland this season. Official Timekeeper Jim Graham caught them in 2.01 It’s always nice to see a lesser known stable win a nice pot and such was the case when Brian O’Riordan’s Just For Fun took Race 1 in 2.03. Lucky Cam ( G Dean ) finished like a train for second  and looks a winner soon. The winner is unfashionably bred but, all the same, his dam goes back to the great No Nukes. Young Ryan Hanson came in for the catch drive and gave the son of Hilltop Hog a couple of deft smacks just when he needed it. Just For Fun is a strong boned full horse and is giving his first time owner a lot of fun. All races on the card were for a trophy and these were generously sponsored by Tommy Beattie. Racing resumes Saturday 19th September with an exciting new initiative, a Sale of STAGBI registered Standardbred at 12 Noon before racing at 3pm. What better Christmas present for the wife than a son of Jimmy Long or a nice His Alibi filly? By Dan Carlin, for Harnesslink.com

County Armagh, Ireland - Annaghmore Raceway saw the best assembly of harness racing coloured horses since the Battle of the Big Horn last week. The hard working committee was rewarded with a bumper attendance with seven well filled races topped by the feature ‘ The Painted Mile ‘ for coloured pacers as the name implies. In the event the fillies' preferential draw meant that the beautifully made mare Keltic Panda (herself a kind of liver and white) reaffirmed the beating she gave the plucky Cinderella Man a few weeks back at Portmarnock.  The draw may just be the difference between these two great rivals, and who knows, they may meet for a third time? Our sporting English raider Dangerous Shock (J Foody ) took third spot. The race was billed as a world record attempt and the 2.01.8 mile recorded was said by a track spokesman to be a WR for a mare on a Half Mile Track. I am told the winner was tested, so all the proprieties have been observed. Jim Watson was the generous race sponsor. The World Record for bays was never in danger in the Grade F and G pace, but Trottin’ Joe Sheridan showed he can still prep a pacer when Springhill KG ran out the two length victor over Johnny Burns’ Cool Dragon (P Loughran) and Coleraine trained Cams Western (R Hanson).  JR (John Richardson) produced the winner in the straight for a cosy enough win in 2.01.7. A few victories can do wonders for a young driver's confidence, and Mark Kane is driving out of his skin at the moment. He can certainly get a tune out of Neville Martin’s Pander Diamond. Pander was speedy sophomore but had rather lost his way in recent seasons, so it’s nice to see return to form for Martin who race plenty of runners at the Armagh venue. Mystical Carbs ( E Hanson ) denied cousin Jimmy Stewart’s Frisco Hold Up for second the time being a half a tick outside the coveted  ‘ 2 minutes ‘. The tenacious Martin Loughran had a double with Urmine se Mai (C to F Grade Le Trot) and Vincennes de Goehl (A and C). Vincennes is a lovely solid, nearly black trotter, his appearance somewhat marred by lots of headgear. Judging by the acceleration he showed the Little People with the Magical Powers have him trotting right. Handsome is as handsome does, they say. Urmine trotted 2.04.2 for his mile, Vincennes de Goehl 3.09.4 for 12 furlongs. Camden Kofi (by Yankee Lariat) justified warm order favouritism in the B to E pace. Cathal Kerrigan barely had to move his hands and will head to Aberystwyth as an Irish Banker. The consistent Patterson runner Belfast Cam was runner – up from End of the Line (D Holian) in 2.01. The winner can go harder. In the Delaney sponsored prep for 2 yos, racing fans were left wondering had they seen the winner of this year’s Ladbrokes Delaney in the shape of Newtown Rock (2.03.1 on his debut). A big laid back son of Rocknroll Hanover with a long loping stride and a low headcheck, this colt looked like he wouldn’t pull you out of bed. Yet when Wallace Junior spoke to him at the half, the response was impressive. Rock quickly put daylight between himself and the more experienced Oakwood Destiny (P Kane Jr) with the Sheridan’s Springhill Ali not disgraced in third. A well place source stated the the connections of Newtown Rock have gone for a nice touch in the Delaney at a fancy price. He could be anything. Next Annaghmore meeting Wed 8th July. By Dan Carlin

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