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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

YORK, UK - Last Saturday York Raceway in York, United Kingdom staged its 14th annual Derby and Oaks festival for 3 year old colts and fillies with a bumper attendance witnessing some top class harness racing. Sixteen of the UK’s best bred colts and geldings lined up in 2 heats of the Derby with the first heat going to the Irish bred Springhill Glory for trainer/driver combination of Sally Teeboon and Patrick Kane in 1:59.5 with Frankie Camden and Rhyds Decoy filling the minor placings. The second heat went to Irish trained raider Benny Camden who comfortably disposed of his nine rivals to win by a distance in 2:00.5. Father Ted and Rhyds Rock Star filled the frame and the scene was now set for an epic final. The Oaks also featured twelve of the UKs finest bred fillies and the opening heat went to Viccy Elvin’s phenomenal female Rhyds Mystique in 2:00.3. Driven by her trainer Vicky Gill the partnership defeated Coalford Honey and Crosshill Ace in 2:00.3. The remaining heat was won by Olivia Camden who held on to defeat a fast finishing Greenhill Debatable and Teatime Preacher in 2:02.9.      In the final of the Oaks, Rhyds Mystique tracked Olivia Camden in the opening quarter before assuming command and from there on in never seen another rival, striding out purposefully to score in 2:01.4 from a rapidly closing Greenhill Debatable and Crosshill Ace. The winner, by Hasty Hall out of CPs Village Jigsaw now remains unbeaten in the UK against her own sex and will continue the one they all have to beat in all the big classics coming up for fillies in 2017.    The Derby final was a much more competitive affair with heat winner Springhill Glory grabbing the rail and setting a blistering pace. Odds on favourite Benny Camden was content to sit in behind the leader at this stage but as the race progressed Rhyds Cocoa flashed up alongside Springhill Glory boxing Benny Camden in. Just as it looked as if he was in a hopeless position trapped in behind a wall of horses, Benny Camden’s driver Alan Richardson sensed that Richard Haythornthwaite was struggling to hold his position aboard Rhyds Cocoa and then the gap finally opened in the stretch Benny Camden shot through it to win rather cheekily in 1:59.5. A big crowd of Irish converged on the winners enclosure including owner Clive Kavanagh and trainer Christy “Hopper” Foran who had a spell as assistant trainer in the US back in the 1960’s and is still considered a master trainer of juveniles in Ireland despite being in the twilight of his career.  When interview, driver Alan Richardson joked he always had the race in the bag and it was all relieved smiles in the winners photograph. The biggest smile of the day however was reserved for Mick Welling, both owner of York Raceway and Camden Stud the breeder of Benny Camden. Established over a decade ago Camden Stud is the home of 6 stallions - Eagle Luck, My Panmar, Art Professor, Stonebridge Galaxy, Arts Conquest and Yankee Lariat aswell as a dozen or so select broodmares where all progeny carry the Camden prefix. Pro Bono Best (now deceased) was one of the Camden Studs founding sires and is the sire of Camden Benny. His dam is the million dollar winner Electrical Art p,3,1:51 and one of Camden’s proven producers. A beaming Welling confirmed on the day that Electrical Art now has a yearling by Eagle Luck currently being prepped for this years sale which will be held, as always, in October at the York venue.  To view the colts final on video click here.  To view the fillies final on video click here.  by Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink

A world record in harness racing was achieved at York Raceway, in York, England Saturday when Evenwood Sunofagun paced the mile in 1:57.3, a record for pacers under saddle on a half mile track. Owned by Raymond Hushka and trained by Alexis Laidler, the five-year-old gelding by The Firepan, out of the mare, I’m The Last, was also ridden on the day by the UK’s leading trainer, Alexis Laidler. Quickly asserting themselves at the start of the race, Evenwood Sunofagun kept up the blistering pace, cutting fractions of :29, :58, 1:27 and burnt off his rivals one by one to score by more than six lengths in 1:57.3 – a certified new world record. Race favourite, Rhyds Design, was second whilst Afan Romeo and Burning Dust claimed the remaining places. The previous world record was held by Darla Frakes (nee Conklin) who clocked 2:00 in July 1998 at Northfield Park in the USA with the gelding, Highly Rated. Amid chaotic scenes in the winner’s enclosure, Alexis Laidler was surrounded by scores of family and friends and thanked race organizers Lisa Farrelly, Lauren Moran and Sarah Thomas for staging the contest and giving her the opportunity of entering the history books. “He's such a dream horse,” Laidler added about Evenwood Sonofagun. “And I can't believe he has achieved this. Was such a fab day.” Asked about how she came to ride pacers, Laidler stated that she always rode ponies as a child, and in recent years she started taking out the saddle again with some of her aged pacers in order to “sweeten them up” and introduce something different into their training regime. Laidler, is an eight-time Leading Trainer in the UK alongside her husband, William “Rocker” Laidler”, who won that title twice himself, so between them, Great Britain’s power couple have won the last ten trainers titles, an achievement that Alexis is rightly proud off. And now she can add world record holder to her burgeoning resume. When asked about her future ambitions, eclipsing her previous total of 102 winners in a single season, is next on the agenda and some classic race winners along the way are always an added bonus. On hearing the news, previous holder of the record, Darla Frakes, was quickly onto connections of the winner, expressing her congratulations and stated that she never thought her world record would stand for almost 20 years, and she looked forward to seeing some pics and official video of the occasion.   An emotional and overwhelmed Mick Welling, owner and promoter of York Raceway, commented that he never thought in a million years that a world record in harness racing would find a home at the venue, his pride and joy. Heavily involved in the sport in the UK, Welling also runs Camden Stud, which is situated adjacent to York Raceway and currently stands stallions Art Professor, My Panmar, Eagle Luck, Stonebridge Galaxy and Yankee Lariot and is a boutique breeder himself with a dozen or so select broodmares, whose progeny all run under the Camden prefix. To view the world record under saddle mile, click on this link. https://www.facebook.com/scottishharnessracingclub/videos/825934210914763/ By Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink

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

DUBLIN, Ireland - With just over 24 hours to go before the world record attempt for 2 miles, the last of the preparations are currently taking place at Portmarnock Raceway, ensuring optimum track conditions for the seasons finale. The weather forecast is currently good for this time of year with an expected high of 18 degrees and plenty of sunshine forecasted for tomorrow (Sunday). Five of Irelands top trotters are set to go to post at approx. 3.30pm (10.30am USA) and for those that cannot make it in person, this race will be covered LIVE on Portmarnock Raceways Facebook page. Likely favourite is renowned stayer Vichy De Moem and trainer/driver Alan Richardson has oozed confidence all week in the run up to the 2 mile marathon. Brenda Hudson drivers her own Scoops Team and there wont be a dry eye in the house should the only female driver in the line-up beat the boys on the day. Billy Star the youngest in the field at only 5 years old will be driven by the oldest driver in the race Christy "Hopper" Foran and a win for him will ensure SHRI Trotter Of The Year honours for popular local trainer Stephen Foran. Silvano Bello for West Cork's Donal Murphy has hit form with a vengeance in recent weeks whilst Patrick Kanes Twist Du Layon claimed the last invitation to the race with a track record win over 1¼ miles at the venue last Sunday. Both look to be up against it on form but over this extreme trip of 2 miles, four laps, all 5 runners have live chances of landing the spoils. This event has captured the imagination of harness fans worldwide with luminaries such as top announcer Roger Huston, Australian broadcaster Gareth Hall, current record holder Ake Svanstedt, world driving champion Jody Jamieson from Canada, journalist Bill Hutchinson and US based driver "Irish" Joe Hanney all posting up messages of support on Portmarnock Raceway's Facebook page so far with many more well-wishing videos expecting to being posted up by the great and the good of the sport every other hour in the lead up to the contest. Local track promoter and photographer Nadina Ironia has been thrilled with the interest that this world record attempt has generated and for such a small trotting community the Irish are certainly punching above their weight knowing the eyes of the harness racing world will be on focussed on Portmarnock tomorrow afternoon. A recent on-line poll has revealed that over 75% of respondents believe that this record of 4:06.8 held by Svansted's Clear Sign, will be broken and it will be the first time that the Irish will hold a harness racing world record. So will it be victory for Vichy? can Hudson Scoop the pot? Is there a new Star about to be born? will Silvano be the saviour for the bookies? or will there be one final Twist on the final day of the season. Come out for the closing day of racing at Portmarnock tomorrow or watch on Facebook LIVE - Portmarnock Raceway Facebook page approx 3.30 local time (10.30am in USA). by Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink

DUBLIN, Ireland - The curtain comes down on the 2016 Irish harness racing season at Portmarnock Raceway this Sunday 30th October where the grand finale and feature race of the afternoon will be a world record attempt for trotters covering 2 miles on a half-mile track. Current record holder is the Swedish stakes performer Clear Sign, who trotted the equivalent of 4:06.8 back on 3rd July 2013 with man of the moment Ake Svanstedt doing the steering. The promoter behind this audacious world record attempt is Thomas Richardson, part owner of Irelands top trotting star, Vichy De Moem, and he firmly believes that the Irish can strike a blow against the larger more established harness racing nations and put Ireland on the map as an emerging force. Joining Vichy De Moem in the lineup are Billy Star, Rol D'Auvignere, Scoops Team and West Cork raider, Silvano Bello, with draw for all gate positions to be held on race day. In a bold move to add further spice to the event, Richardson has also extended a wild-card entry across the water to John Foy who owns and trains the UKs top trotter, Sulky De Belquin, and his participation would make this world record attempt all the more memorable. Tom Richardson and family have put up their father Barneys memorial cup for the race and contributed a significant amount of sponsorship which will see the purse rise to approximately €3,500 euros with a small entry fee of just €50 to enter. All in all it promises to be a fantastic and fitting way to end what's been a vintage season at Portmarnock Raceway and is guaranteed to send punters home on a high with maybe one of those rare "I was there when history was made" moments. By Thomas Bennett, for Portmarnock Raceway

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