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Dad's act for deaf & blind boy he's never met

Gypsy dad’s heartwarming act for deaf and blind little boy he’s never met. Romany gypsy Watson decided to climb Britain's highest mountain to raise money for 10-year-old Sean With a mobile home and a baby daughter who he takes harness racing, Romany gypsy Watson's life is worlds away from that of non-travellers Sonia and Sean.  But that won't stop the new dad from helping the parents he's never met and their 10-year-old son, who is deaf and blind and has to be tube-fed due to a rare condition. Watson is determined to raise money so the courageous little boy, also called Sean, can undergo life-changing treatment abroad after reading a story about the youngster's plight. And he plans to do so by climbing Britain's highest mountain, breaking down what Watson admits is a 'them and us' situation between travelling and non-travelling communities. Watson and Sean - who suffers from severe cerebral palsy after being starved of oxygen at birth and is not expected to live past his teens - both feature in the Channel 5 programme The Gypsies Next Door. NCJMEDIA 9 The youngster's dad, also called Sean, and mum Sonia were delighted to meet Watson From one father to another, it means the world' The series, which also stars glamour model Danielle Mason and her traveller ex Tony, looks at the occasional conflict between travellers and non-travellers across the UK. Although professional harness racer Watson has integrated with the settled community through the sport, he's aware that other gypsies in the country have faced issues. KNICKERBOCKERGLORY TV 9 Watson, seen with his baby daughter, admits it's a 'them and us' situation between travellers and non-travellers KNICKERBOCKERGLORY TV 9 Little Sean suffers from severe cerebral palsy and is not expected to live past his teens "One of the problems is stereotyping," he says. He explains he decided to climb 1,345m-high Ben Nevis to fundraise for Sean and a sick little girl from Essex after being touched by stories he read about them. He says: "I'm doing it for two little kids. A little lass is down in Essex, she's got a rare form of cancer, God love her, and she's really bad. "And there's a little lad over in Newcastle." Inspired by stories of sick children The father travels to Sean's home to meet the youngster, who can't walk or talk. Knocking on the front door of little Sean's Newcastle home, the dad, from Bishop Auckland, Co Durham, reveals his selfless plan to raise money - and the boy's parents are delighted. KNICKERBOCKERGLORY TV 9 Watson is filmed meeting 10-year-old Sean, who can't walk or talk and has to be tube-fed KNICKERBOCKERGLORY TV 9 Grateful dad Sean, right, thanks Watson for his fundraising efforts from the 'bottom of his heart' He is filmed hugging the boy's grateful parents, who have previously had little or no contact with gypsies and are overwhelmed by the support of a stranger. The boy's dad tells Watson: "Thanks very much from the bottom of my heart, from one father to another father, it means the world honestly. Sonia says: "It's the first time I've ever met a gypsy, it's totally changed my perspective on them. I mean, Watson's just a normal man, he's absolutely lovely." When the day of the climb finally comes round, Watson, Sean and other supporters battle through tricky, snowy conditions to make it to the top of the mountain. KNICKERBOCKERGLORY TV 9 Watson successfully climbed to the top of Ben Nevis, raising thousands of pounds in the process A successful climb and a trip to Panama Sean's stem-cell treatment, which reduces seizures and spasms, costs £20,000 per visit and his parents would like him to have it twice a year. The mountain hikers successfully raise thousands of pounds for the two children. Today, Sean's family are preparing to make a 10,000-mile round trip to Panama so he can undergo treatment. KNICKERBOCKERGLORY TV 9 Watson is seen video-calling a sick little girl in Essex, whom he also raised money for.   By Sophie Jane Evans Reprinted with permission of The Sun  

Jack Killeen, harness racing

Ireland's Jack Killeen wins St Paddy's race

Freehold Raceway in New Jersey held their annual St Paddys Day harness race last weekend and fittingly two Irish born drivers finished first and second in the ever popular event. Jack Killeen from the suburb of Tallaght just outside Dublin, driving 3/1 chance Major Humor outgunned Joe Hanney from Blanchardstown aboard Black Hammer, a 10/1 shot, to claim victory in a mile time of 1:59.1 Driver of the winner, Jack Killeen, has recently taken up a five year visa to forge a career in harness racing and cited Mike and Heather Wilder as a source of inspiration and the primary catalyst for the helping to make things happen for the eighteen year old who has a handful of winners already racked up at the Meadows. Being so young he still doesn’t have his American driving licence and such was his sheer determination to participate that Jack Killeen embarked on an eight hour round trip by bus from Pittsburgh, PA, to take his place in the line-up. This trek was duly rewarded however and the victory will live long in the memory of the Dubliner. Hanney, the luckless runner up, and a previous winner of this event was ever gracious in defeat, shaking hands with the winner before posing for some pics which are almost certain to be framed and up on the walls of their family homes back in the emerald isle. Hanney undoubtedly must have felt some affinity to Killeen as he himself left Ireland as a raw teenager with an unquenchable spirit and a dream to make it stateside as a trainer and driver in harness racing. The race itself lived up to its billing and from the outset as Hanney and great rival George Brennan took each other on in a no-holds-barred early speed duel. Just as Hanneys Black Hammer started to get the better of Brennan's mount Dalton Did It and was starting to draw away from the field when along came Jack Killeen with Major Humour with a bold three-wide move at the three-quarter mile marker and despite Hanneys all-out stretch drive the fresh impetus of Killeens charge carried him past a battle-weary Black Hammer in the shadows of the post to win by three-quarters of a length. The race was well supported on the day by other drivers of Irish descent including Ron Burke and Bob Bresnahan and it’s a fantastic tribute to their Irish ancestry that these big names make the effort year after year to celebrate St Patricks Day at Freehold Raceway by taking part in the race. The Irish have earned a reputation for working hard and are recognised as accomplished harnessmen in the US and Canada amongst their peers with Stephen Loughran, Anthony Haughan, Ciaran Morrison and Robert Cleary amongst those who have successfully carved careers in the sport across the atlantic in recent years alongside Joe Hanney and yesterdays winning driver Jack Killeen. To view the St Patrick's Day race at Freehold Raceway click here. by Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink

Racetime Raceway

Progress continues on Racetime Raceway

Work continues unabated in order to get Racetime Raceway in Lisburn, United Kingdom ready for harness racing in 2019.   Although the recent inclement weather delayed progress on the resurfacing of the track, management are adamant that the scheduled opening of Saturday June 1st will go ahead as planned. The feature on the day will be the Anto Russell Memorial and a further 13 heavily sponsored race meetings will then take place throughout the summer and on into the autumn. The venue, leased by the Northern Irish Standardbred Association (NISA) is set to provide a welcome boost for the sport in Northern Ireland. The NISA collective committee wish to see harness racing in the region return back to its family orientated roots, encouraging younger enthusiasts to immerse themselves in the sport through a youth programme being established Racetime's Headquarters and 18 stable training facility as its base. The sport needs to attract a new audience in the area and NISA welcome the local youth to become hands-on in developing all the skills necessary to become a successful harness racing driver from basic animal welfare, through to jogging, workouts, training practices and eventually participating in actual races. Costs to become involved as an owner, trainer or driver of a harness horse in Ireland have sky-rocketed in recent years and NISA intend on making the sport more accessible and cheaper to become involved. Moderate membership fees, cheap entry fees to participate and all prizemoney won paid on the day in cash are just some of initiatives being implemented by NISA. A number of other innovative concepts are also in the pipeline including a prizemoney bonus every time the track record is broken and a season-long points series with a substantial cash prize awarded at the end of the year for the horse with the most appearances at the venue. Visiting horses from Southern Ireland and the UK will be accommodated with free stabling on the track being made available for all visiting horses. Racetime Raceway originally opened for business back in the late 1980s and although current track record holder Saunders Rebound has long since passed on, his time of 2:00 is in danger of falling at the opening meeting on June 1st. The track will be open for qualifiers, driving tests and work-outs from the middle of March and Racetime promoters NISA are also now seeking licensed bookmakers to stand at the track with generous terms, and for those interested please contact the NISA Facebook messenger page. by Thomas Bennett, for the NISA

Fighting Irish logo.jpg

Horsemen groups in Ireland locking horns

To the Editor, The Northern Irish Standardbred Association (NISA) has been the recognised body for harness racing in Northern Ireland for more than 50 years. It is a “not-for-profit” organization where all work promoting and legislating harness racing in the region is performed by democratically elected committee members and volunteers. Tracks ran by NISA through the years included Antrim, Racetime, Dundrod, Tyrella and most recently Annaghmore. NISA have always enjoyed a mutually respectful working relationship with their counterparts in Britain, the British Harness Racing Club (BHRC) and in the Republic of Ireland with the Irish Harness Racing Club (IHRC). In the early 2000s NISA embarked on a partnership approach with the IHRC and ITHRF, the largest club in southern Ireland, whereby the IHRC would become the overall governing body for the sport on the island of Ireland with equal democratically elected representatives (comprising of 3 reps each and a round-robin style of electing chairmen, an equal period of time as chairman for each jurisdiction). The IHRC was suddenly and mysteriously disbanded however in 2015 by the then IHRC chairman Mark Flanagan and a new organization formed called the Irish Harness Racing Association. This was registered as a private limited company, with the chairman personally hand-picking “lifetime directors” to be appointed to this company. Immediately NISA was concerned and duly voiced their concerns. At no stage did they agree in writing that this was the best way forward for their members in Northern Ireland but assurances were given that it would be a fully democratically run organisation for all matters pertaining to harness racing and that all monies transferred over by the members in all 3 original clubs would be accounted for in a clear and transparent manner and these monies would be “ring fenced” for promotions in their own respective regions. With trepidation, the NISA tentatively progressed to working with this private limited company “on a trial basis” according to NISA’s Collective Committee “and subject to democratic selection and equal representation from each club”. But within a year, difficulties came to the surface between NISA and the IHRA. The direction that the IHRA were taking started to alarm the majority of the members of NISA. E-mailed and written queries about finances and other matters went for the most part was never responded to. NISA committee members were neither consulted with during the collation of the Indecon Report, an Irish government backed document outlining a 5-year future strategy for the sport. Fundamental rule changes and national handicap system alterations would be announced and immediately implemented by the IHRA without consultation and without warning. The IHRA refused to engage, had no AGMs in 2016, 2017, 2018 and produced no sets of annual accounts for 2015, 2016, 2017 (information as of December 31st 2018) for analysis despite continuous requests by NISA committee members for same. NISA and its members became more and more aghast at the way the IHRA was being run.       Whereas the old IHRC was open to public scrutiny, fully answerable to members queries over financial matters and accountable to members for all finances through the publication of sets of accounts, the IHRA on the other hand being a private limited company seemed to feel that they had no obligation to respond to requests from licence holders, that they could not be held accountable and seemed to feel that they were not legally obliged to be transparent with monies received in membership fees, race fees, allocation of purses etc. The NISA found this very difficult to overcome as its members had become accustomed to, for over 50 years, being part of a democratically run club, with all club members having an equal voice and vote and all financials published and available for public scrutiny. Along with the IHRA’s non-democratic, non-consultative dictatorial style of governing the sport in Ireland NISA found the ongoing reduction in the promotion of standardbreds in favour of French bred trotters particularly hard to swallow during that time. This began with the IHRA becoming more and more entrenched with the “Le Trotteur Francais” initiative in 2014. In simple terms, there is vast over production of trotters in France and in order to balance this out, other countries are persuaded to import this overflow in favour of receiving some form of grant-aid payment from the French to top up prizemoney locally and promote this unique breed. There are very strict guidelines before French grant aid is given including the proviso that French bred trotters are forbidden to race with trotters bred in other countries. The IHRA took this one stop further however and went for full membership of the UET in 2015. This again was without consultation with NISA. It’s well documented that the UET will not accept a country for full membership of their organisation unless they agree to “not promote pacing” (these criteria of membership are clearly defined and documented on the UET website) and it was widely publicised that the IHRA were given a 10-year timeline to tip the balance of French trotters over pacers in order to maintain full UET membership. The IHRA have done remarkably well in the promotion of French trotters over pacers over the past 5 years. Take the list below as a prime example. This is the number of French trotters versus pacers competing on the final day of the season at Portmarnock Raceway in Dublin for the past 5 years: 2014 - 10 trotters and 31 pacers 2015  - 36 trotters and 29 pacers 2016 - 29 trotters and 24 pacers 2017 - 22 trotters and 16 pacers 2018 - 25 trotters and 6 pacers It’s truly alarming that the number of pacers entered for the past 5 years is as follows: 31, 29, 24, 16, 6 and this is factual data, not opinion. These numbers speak for themselves. Just 2 major events per annum are now recognised as responsible for keeping the breeding numbers of pacers up in Ireland - the Vincent Delaney Memorial Series and the annual Sire Stakes (which are privately organised race meetings just using Portmarnock as a staging venue). It’s widely regarded that if it wasn’t for these 2 events there would be very little encouragement to breed or race pacers in Ireland. The standardbred pacer population would wither rapidly to almost extinction within a decade in this country.   Another example of why the pacers are dropping in numbers is the prizemoney issue. Whilst some pacing races have had little or no “added prizemoney” at Portmarnock and Annaghmore Raceways in 2018, there were recorded incidences were purses were even less than the amount of collected entry fees for these respective races. How many owners or trainers could tolerate this situation, where your pacing horses weren’t even racing for their own entry fees money back in purses? Enough was enough at the onset of racing in 2018 and NISA decided en-masse with to withdraw support for the IHRA. A decision was made to revert back to its original status that had held firm for over 50 years. It would once again become the primary recognised body for the sport of harness racing in Northern Ireland and no longer fall under the remit of the IHRA. It has renounced all agreements that the IHRA may have negotiated in 2015/6/7/8 with the UET, Le Trotteur Francais, STAGBI, Horse Sport Ireland and the Department of Agriculture amongst others (NISA claim they were not consulted beforehand on these agreements made by the IRHA and therefore cannot legally recognise them as to this day they are not privy to the contents of these signed agreements). It also refutes any claim by the IHRA to being the sole governing body for the whole of Ireland for harness racing. NISA in particular do not agree with the registration of Standardbreds with Horse Sport Ireland. This makes a fundamental shift from being classified as a racehorse (of which harness racing Standardbreds are recognised the world over) to a sport horse – therefore ineligible for all available government grant money for the horseracing industry.  NISA have now sought recognition from the BHRC (Northern Ireland is part of Britain) and wishes to either come under licence of the BHRC or operate as an autonomous body (but recognised by the BHRC as a governing body for the sport in this jurisdiction) NISA have leased Racetime Raceway in Lisburn, near Belfast in the United Kingdom with the intention of staging full harness racing meetings in Northern Ireland in 2019 under the same rules and handicap system of its fellow counterparts in the UK. Whilst NISA has no issue with Le Trotteur Francais initiative, they believe it should not come at the expense of the Standardbred pacers, and cite that as part of the UK has got the balance right with 2 differing organisations – The BHRC for Pacers and Trot Britain solely for French trotters with both working in harmony to promote harness racing in conjunction with each other. This is the ideal model for Ireland too believes NISA. One goal both NISA and the IHRA share is the need for more promotion of the sport of harness racing and that means more tracks opening like Racetime Raceway, more participants and more fans. Acknowledging the right to each other’s existence and governing their own jurisdictions with mutual respect for each other’s members is a must. NISA can only go forward with organisations where equal rights and democracy prevail. It is abundantly clear that IHRA in its current guise uphold neither. NISA as a Standardbred organisation will support licencing and are willing to take entries from anywhere in the Republic of Ireland, the UK or anywhere horse owners find themselves unaccommodated by developments and agreements between the IHRA and UET. From Thomas Bennett, for the NISA  

The following letter was sent to Harnesslink Sunday, February 3.  Dear Harnesslink Editor, Please be advised that a recent article advertised on the Harnesslink Website regarding Harness Racing in Ireland is grossly inaccurate, misleading and damaging to our sport both nationally and internationally. The Irish Harness Racing Association (IHRA) is the internationally recognised Governing Body of Harness Racing for the Island of Ireland and as such licenses all race tracks and personnel who compete under rules. The IHRA has worked hard over the last five years in particular to move our sport to a professional level which includes a report commissioned by our Department of Agriculture which was compiled by International Consultants Indecon and clearly identifies the strategic roadmap for this development. A five year Strategic Plan has been compiled by an independent Consultancy firm as part of the Indecon Report and this plan has been signed off by Department of Agriculture Officials and is currently with the Minister for Agriculture for evaluation and funding of our industry. To date the IHRA has no application to license any new race track in Northern Ireland and any racing activity that may take place at the suggested venue will happen outside of any official rules and governance. Any suggestion that our counterparts in Great Britain the British Harness Racing Club would license any tracks or individuals on the island of Ireland are without foundation. Yours in Sport, The Board of Directors IHRA  In response to his story that appeared on Harnesslink, click here, author Thomas Bennett offered the following reply.  My article is factually correct and accurate. Racetime Raceway is located in Great Britain/United Kingdom and the IHRA have no jurisdiction over Racetime Raceway, who will seek affiliation to the Governing Body in that jurisdiction - the British Harness Racing Club BHRC....Thomas Bennett More will be forthcoming on this situation in Ireland.   

Robyn Camden, unbeaten in 12 starts at 2 and 3 won her first race in the US at Yonkers on Monday night Jan 28th. The best of her generation in the British Isles, the four year old filly had made a pleasing start to her career stateside being placed in all 3 of her starts so far at the Meadowlands in December and had paced the mile in 1:51 on one of these occassions Lining up against some stiff local opposition on Monday night the filly by Art Professor out of Keystone Havoc was driven to victory by crack New Zealand reinsman Dexter Dunn who kept things simple by taking cover from the gate before producing her in deep stretch with an electric turn of foot to triumph a shade cosily in 1:57.3 much to the relief of trainer Richard "Nifty" Norman and the delight of co-owner Clive Kavanagh, spokesman for the All Out Syndicate. After the race Norman admitted that it had taken a while for Robyn Camden to acclimate to life in the US and being a precocious sort it had just took a little while longer for her to readjust than some of the others that had made the journey from Ireland before her. One of these recent exports Rebel Rouser continues to impress and is a winner of his last 4 at The Meadowlands for trainer Robert Cleary. Another, Reclamation who travelled over shortly before Robyn Camden has shown great promise and is a multiple winner both at Harrahs Philadelphia and The Meadowlands. Reclamation and Rebel Rouser are joined owned by Bill Donovan from Delray Beach, Florida and Donal Murphy from Baltimore in Cork, Ireland and both horses along with Robyn Camden spent their formative years being reared on the lush green pastures of Ireland - which many claim have given them a strong constitution and solid foundation, perfect springboards to achieve success across they are all currently enjoying across the atlantic. Now that shes resumed her winning ways got her first win on the board, its onwards and upwards for Robyn Camden and connections are confident that she will have many more victories under her belt before returning home to Ireland in utero from a yet be named a top sire. by Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink

Lisburn, UK - In an era where track closures have become all too commonplace, the opening of a new venue to stage harness racing is set to give the sport a welcoming boost in the United Kingdom, with the opening of Racetime Raceway this coming March. Located just outside Belfast in the United Kingdom, the track actually held regular meetings in the late 1980s before owner Greg Dean decided to turn it into a private training centre and livery yard. Stuck for somewhere for local horsemen to race, representatives from NISA the Northern Irish Standardbred Association approached Dean at the back end of last season with a view to re-opening the track for racing in 2019 and beyond and plans are in place to stage 14 meetings at the track from May through to September. A fund has been made available to resurface the track, renovate the public areas and a fresh layer of tarmac over the car park has just been completed meaning the promoters are on schedule for their opening date of March 2019 for qualifiers. NISA are hoping that race dates are ratified from the governing body in that jurisdiction the British Harness Racing Club and hopes are high that the track could stage its first race meeting as early as May 11th. And what brought about the change of heart with the tracks owner Dean to allow the re-opening of Racetime Raceway after such a long hiatus? Dean, a lifelong supporter of the sport acknowledge that over 60 local horsemen had no venue to race at and as currently these men faced a 4 hour round trip to race at Portmarnock in County Dublin or a trip overseas on the ferry to race on the mainland in the UK. Annaghmore on County Armagh would be their nearest track and although this is an option, the fact that this venue stages just a handful of meetings every year and cater for 90% French trotters only this simply isn’t enough to accommodate those pacing referred trainers and owners who want regular weekly meetings to compete at.   Uncertainty over “Brexit” was also a major factor. With the United Kingdom due to exit the European Union at the end of March, the likelihood of a hard border, with lengthy customs and immigration checkpoints for those travelling from Northern Ireland into Southern Ireland and vice-versa competing by crossing this proposed border will make it very onerous on horsemen and patrons to undertake this journey on a weekly basis. Racetime will be the ultimate panacea to this problem as it will provide weekly meetings for local horsemen without the necessity to travel and endure the complicated arduous trek down South. With the other tracks in the island of Ireland also primarily concentrating on Le trotteur francais and the French initiative, Racetime’s main aim is to become the true home of the standardbred pacer in Ireland with races held predominantly for pacers and if there are French bred trotters entered by trainers they will be accommodated and mixed in with Irish, UK, Swedish and Dutch breds in International open trots. NISA have confirmed that they’ve been inundated with offers to sponsor races and financially contribute to the new venture ensuring that success is virtually guaranteed from the outset. Another unique appeal for horseowners participating at Racetime will be the payment of prizemoney/purses instantly on the day in cash, after each meeting and such an initiative is bound to prove immensely popular. So its onwards and upwards for the re-birth of Racetime Raceway over the coming months giving a much needed boost to Northern Irish harness enthusiasts and making it 5 hard tracks in existence in the UK with Racetime joining Corbie Wood in Scotland, York in England and Tir Prince and Amman Valley in Wales. by Thomas Bennent, for Harnesslink

It was just a month or so ago that harness racing trainer/driver Watson Harrop, Jr. from County Durham in the North of England, started #foodbanknomination and raised tens of thousands of dollars in food supply donations. He did it by challenging his harness racing friends from around the world on Facebook to go out, fill a shopping cart with food, and take it to their local Food Bank. People from around the world took part in #foodbanknomination and needy families around the world had a special holiday season because of Watson’s efforts. Well, the man from Durham is back at it again! “I guess I am a little crazy,” Harrop said. “When I see those people less fortunate than we are, I just want to do something to help them. This is the craziest idea I have come up with yet. “I have organized a team of friends to climb Great Britain’s highest and most dangerous mountain, Ben Nevis in Scotland,” Harrop explained. “And we are raising money with this event to aid two special children that need to travel to Panama and then the USA for life saving treatment that’s not available in the UK.” The fund-raising climb set for the end of February depending on the weather, will raise funds for four-year-old Isla Caton from Hornchurch Essex and ten-year-old Sean Gallagher of Newcastle Upon Tyne. Isla has Neuroblastoma while Sean has Cerebral Palsy. Both children are special needs and must go to Panama and then the USA for their treatments. “I have a team of non-climbers and none are hikers,” Harrop added.   “Not one of us have ever climbed anything higher than the steps to a night club but we have high hopes to raise a quarter of a million pounds.” Harrop said that he now has 55 people making the climb along with seven guides to help assist. And some of the crew are big celebrities in Great Britain. One of the UK’s top reality show TV stars, actor Alfie Best is taking part in the climb. Also participating is undefeated WBO Middleweight world champion boxer Billy Joe Saunders and soccer star, Tony McMoahan of Scunthorpe United, on loan from Oxford United. But Tony was recently injured in a game and cannot do the climb, but is still supporting it. There is a special Go Fund Me page by clicking here where everyone can make a donation and help the climbers reach their goal of raising £250,000. Just this Monday morning, Watson and three of his friends that are doing the climb, were practicing in the Yorkshire Dales in North East England.   “We were huffing and puffing a bit,” Harrop said. “Yorkshire Dales is five times smaller than Ben Nevis in Scotland. We will keep training hard and get the job done." By Steve Wolf, for Harnesslink  

West Cork, IE - The Irish Trotting and Harness Racing Federation Awards 2018 Dinner was recently held and the ITHRF has made a wonderful video of the awards night. Video courtesy of David Sheehy  Click on link to watch the video,    ITHRF AWARDS 2018 .m4v   The 2018 ITHRF awards night was held last Friday night at The Drimoleague Inn.    The "oscars" for Harness Racing in the South Of Ireland were presented to both the young and old in the sport.   The Murphy family who run the IB Stables in Baltimore took three of the awards with Donal getting driver of the year his brother Tadhg received trainer of the year and his son Eoin was judged as joint saddle jockey winner.   Near neighbour of the Murrphy boys Kieran Sheehy was the recipient of trotter of the year Everyfor Vigo De Bassiere who also claimed the national award and the Sheehy family were guests of Le Trot in Paris recently to honour the French bred gelding.   This scribe is the proud owner of the pacer of 2019 Meadowbranch Demon the veteran securing a well deserved gong.   It was an emotional night for the O'Donovan family from Leap who were on hand to accept the best meeting of the season for The Red John Memorial meeting which was a huge success with record attendances and record purse money.   The achievements of Reclamation and Rebel Rouser who were exported to the USA were also mentioned.   Everyone is looking forward to 2019 in the Cork region as they are set to begin in early May with Portmarnock Raceway to open on St Patrick's Day March 17th.   From Tim Kelleher, for Harnesslink

Every horse has the dream of writing their name in the history books, and some accomplish just that. But in recent years, there was one special Australasian pacer who was so captivating on the track and also captivated the hearts of so many off the track that he was simply too memorable for a place in just the history books. The only fitting testament to his greatness was for him to have his very own book. So, his co-owner Marcus Kirkwood, a Hunter Valley resident in Australia, set out to do just that. Gathering some of Smolda’s best mates who were all eager to tell their stories of the champion, who to them was a friend more than a horse, a book quickly began to take shape. Marcus’s dream of having a book about Smolda was becoming a reality.  In the end, this book has not one author, but many; making it truly one of a kind. You are probably wondering how I fit into this story about a story. Well, I became friends with Marcus through social media. After many messages via Twitter, Marcus and I met in person when I attended the prestigious Miracle Mile in 2016, in which Smolda was a contender, as a part of my trip to Australia. It was nice to finally be able to put a face to the name.  After that, we remained connected through social media. When he told me about the idea for a book about Smolda I thought it was a great idea. When he told me how it was going to be written by people who were friends of Smolda,  I thought it was an even better idea. Who better to tell the story of a champion than the best friends of the champion.  One day I received a message from Marcus giving me an update on his horses and how the idea of writing a book about Smolda was getting lots of positive feedback from industry participants he had been talking to. Reading this message, I was very happy for him. This is when the message took a surprising turn, which had me at a loss for words. Marcus asked me if I would be interested in contributing to Smolda’s story. As my fingers hovered over my keyboard  I tried to find the right words to say. I felt so honoured to be asked that I was not sure what words to use that would fully convey how honoured I truly felt.     I wrote back to Marcus expressing how grateful I felt that he asked me, but I mentioned that I was concerned about how much I would be able to contribute as I had only had the pleasure of watching Smolda race in person on one occasion. Nevertheless, I got to work as I waited for a response. Thinking back to my time of meeting Marcus and the night of the Miracle Mile.  Soon Marcus responded to my concern and told me told not to worry. That is when I had a realization, which had a profound effect on me, and the piece I was working on. I realized that when it comes to Smolda and me, like in many friendships the length of time you have known one another is not always the most important aspect, it is about how close you become in a short amount of time.  With this in mind, I had a new source of inspiration. I was a friend of Smolda and Smolda gave me Marcus as a friend. Smolda touched my life in more ways than I previously realized. His greatness touched my life beyond watching him race; without him, Marcus and I would not have the friendship we do. Soon, a short chapter lay before me. Writing the chapter provided me with great joy and a chance to reflect on what Smolda and Marcus meant to me. As I typed the last words, I was filled with a greater sense of appreciation of not only of the champion racehorse Smolda was but what he meant to me on a personal level and the true friend I gained through him.  Marcus kept me updated on how the book was progressing. Then one day I got a message saying that it was complete! I was so happy for Marcus and Smolda, and I felt truly honoured to have been included.  Marcus kindly put a copy in the post for me. It arrived at my home address while I was away at university. My mom sent me a message to say it had arrived and tucked the precious package away until I came home for Christmas break a few weeks later. With a slit to the envelope, I pulled out the special contents. On the front cover in a stunning colour photo was Smolda,  and in a charming font, it read Our Mate Smolda and I was in awe. I opened the front cover to heartwarming surprise. On the first page, Marcus had inscribed it to me. This made an already cherished gift even more of a treasure.  I delicately turn the pages, stopping to admire the photos which were woven throughout the book. Then my eyes fell on the page that had my name on it. Seeing my name in print, as a part of a  unique collection was truly surreal. I knew what I had written just a few months prior, but seeing those same words as a chapter, complete with photographs made it more overwhelming, real and, it ‘hit home for me’.  Even after a minute or so, a part of me remained in disbelief. Here is my writing in with some of the greatest people in the sport of harness racing. They were names I look up to, and most of them I only by association or through social media, or I met them once or twice. But, one horse… one common friend brought us all together, and his name was Smolda. But my story is not about me. It is about Smolda and his everlasting legacy. To an outsider who does not know who Smolda is, this story, which in a way is his biography, offers a window back in time to experience his greatness. To those who knew him best and worked with him every day, this serves as a reminder of the unforgettable times and accomplishments they shared over the years. To those who were there in the grandstands when he raced, it acts as an opportunity to reminisce about memories made not so long ago. No matter who you are or how you are connected to Smolda, this collection of anecdotes can mean something to you. That is why it so precious, everyone can still be a part of his legacy if they are not already. The unique multi-perspective biography which tells the life of Smolda ensures everyone can be a part of his journey to greatness and beyond. Just how they say many hands make light work, it takes many hands, and hearts to write a wonderful book about a remarkable pacer. This story is one that everyone who loves harness racing should read, at least once. To learn more about Smolda and his book, or to purchase a copy and become a part of his legacy, please visit:   By Sydney Weaver, for Harnesslink

A 70-year-old woman died after she was hit by her own car as she prepared to go to a harness racing event to watch her grandson compete. Mary Brady died in an accident that involved her car near the National Equestrian Centre in Devonshire just before her 18-year-old grandson, Kiwon Waldron, raced in the traditional Boxing Day event. Mr Waldron rushed to the scene of the tragedy on Vesey Street and the organisers were on the verge of cancelling the event when they were told the news. But grief-stricken Mr Waldron insisted the races went ahead and that he would compete as scheduled. Charles Whited Jr, president of the Driving Horse and Pony Club, said Mr Waldron told him: “I want to race. Ineed to do it.” Mr Whited added: “We decided to support him and went ahead.” The incident, which left Mrs Brady trapped under her car, happened about 12.30pm. She was rushed to the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital but was later pronounced dead by doctors. Police have launched an investigation into the accident. Mr Whited told The Royal Gazette: “We were certainly prepared to call the event off. “But it provided Kiwon the opportunity to be in his element and gave him time to think about everything.” He said that Mrs Brady and her daughter Liz Waldron, along with Mr Waldron’s brother, Kentwan, were strong supporters of harness racing. Mr Whited said: “Mrs Brady has been coming to the races for ever, rain or shine — to hear that it was her, everybody was in disbelief, just devastated. “It’s a huge shock. She was part of the family. We are all walking around with very heavy hearts. “Their family plays a huge part in harness racing in Bermuda, and everybody is just having to deal with it.” The Boxing Day races, which said were “Bermuda’s Kentucky Derby”, has weathered tragedy before. David Mello, a competitor, died of a heart attack in 1996 just after a race. Mr Whited said: “As a result of that, Boxing Day is always tough. To have Mrs Brady pass away on that day certainly compounds that. It is a very close-knit family.” He added that “everybody came running saying to keep an eye on Kiwon, there’s been a very serious accident”. “I ran to see exactly what had happened and the rest is history. It’s a tragedy, based on the information I received, I kind of knew that the outcome was not going to be good.” Mr Whited said: “When something happens within our organisation, it affects all of us. I called the committee together and it was very emotional for us all.” He said that he had spoken to the Waldron family yesterday. Mr Whited added: “It’s starting to sink in and the boys are just coming to grips with it. “Unfortunately, that’s just part of life — we never plan on it. But under these circumstances, it was such a shock. But we have to stick together and be strong for family when they need you. That what we do.” Mr Whited said that a memorial for Mrs Brady would be held. He added: “We will definitely be doing something in memory of Mary Brady. We will take time to recognise her support and her family’s support over all these years.” By Jonathan Bell Reprinted with permission of The Royal Gazette

Harnesslink would like to wish all our harness racing readers a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.   It is a time to reflect on a successful twelve months and also to consider a number of challenges facing harness racing in the coming year. We are confident the industry can come together and find the outcomes to the issues before us, that will benefit harness racing well into the future. At Harnesslink we will endeavor to continue to keep you up to date with all the latest news and stories about harness racing from around the world. Thank you for your support and have a safe and happy holiday over the new year break. From the staff and managment at Harnesslink

Robyn Camden, the undisputed queen of harness racing in the British Isles, makes her eagerly awaited debut in the USA at the Meadowlands on Fridays program Dec 21st and thousands of her fans in the UK and Ireland are expected to stay up late and logged on to their laptops in order to see her majesty strut her stuff on the world stage for the first time.   Now trained by Richard "Nifty" Norman the 3 year old filly will be driven on the night by David Miller having qualified impressively last week at the Meadowlands "with loads to spare" according to David Miller. Bred by the Camden Stud in Yorkshire, England, the filly is by Art Professor (1:47.4) out of Keystone Havoc which has already thrown millionaire Keystone Horatio (1:48.4) and she made top price at the annual York Sales in October 2016 when the hammer fell at £15,200. New owners All Out Syndicate represented by accomplished horseman Clive Kavanagh and partners, the filly was broke in on return to Ireland by Christy Foran and conditioned for racing by Clive Kavanagh and renowned trainers Christy and Geoff Dunne in Kildare whose facility at Porterstown is adjacent to the world famous thoroughbred stronghold known as The Curragh. Undefeated in 12 races at 2 and 3, the filly has beaten the best of her generation both colts and fillies and even all aged company proved to be no match for her in 2 races in 2018 at her home track Portmarnock. With multiple track records and numerous awards to her name and nothing left to prove in her homeland, the connections Clive Kavanagh and partners hatched an audacious plan to send her to the US to resume her career and to see just how far the filly could go on the big stage. Jonathan Dunne, regular driver of the filly (alongside Clive Kavanagh) recommended Nifty Norman to take charge of her on arrival in New York in September and all has been quietly gearing up for her debut since then. Reputed to be sparkling in training a big run is expected by connections and the eyes of a nation will be on her come Friday night at the Big M to see if her unbeaten run can continue against stiffer opposition. Also in Friday's line up is old adversary Reclamation, who was also campaigned at 2 and 3 in Ireland and the UK, and despite 7 attempts she failed to beat Robyn Camden, although she came close to doing so at times. Reclamation of course is now 2 wins from 2 starts since her arrival in the US and has a record of 1:53.4f to her name. It remains to be seen whether Reclamation can finally lower the colours of Robyn Camden and a lot will be down to who has acclimatised better to being trained in the States. Both pacers will have to achieve a lifetime best however to defeat the race favorite, Delightful Feather on the night who is a winner of half of its ten starts and has a record of 1:52.1m., Whatever the result on the night, both Robyn Camden and Reclamation have a bright future this side of the atlantic and hopes are high these fillies who spent their formative years in Ireland can carry the luck of the Irish with them in their careers Stateside. by Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink  

Haydock, UK - On Friday 30th November, members of the UK harness racing fraternity converged upon the Mercure Hotel, Haydock, to celebrate the breeders, owners, trainers, drivers and horses who had excelled during the 2018 racing season. The evening was hosted by respected Thoroughbred and Standardbred commentator Darren Owen and STAGBI President Sarah Thomas, who have proven to be a popular double act throughout the 2018 season with their Facebook live racing previews and reviews at various fixtures across the UK. The awards were split into three sections: the STAGBI awards, which focus on the breeders of the winning-most horses in the three regions (England, Scotland and Wales), breeders of Sire Stakes divisional winners, breeders of selected Group 1 and prestigious races and the owners of the STAGBI Future Broodmares winning mares. Also wasthe Trot Britain awards, for owners, trainers and drivers of the most successful Trotteur Francais (French Trotters) imported under the Le Trot scheme; and the BHRC awards, for the various category winners, leading horse, owner, trainer and driver on wins, and Lifetime Achievement awards. The event culminated with the Tim Tetrick-sponsored Drive of the Year award, voted on by members of the public globally from a shortlist of six drives selected by a panel (Darren Owen, Sarah Thomas and BHRC Vice Chairman Jim McInally) and the coveted People's Choice award, which replaced the previous Horse of the Year award and was open to a public vote from the eight BHRC category winners (2YO Colt, 2YO Filly, 3YO Colt, 3YO Filly, Mare, Pacer, Overseas & Trotter of the Year). As per the 2017 staging of the event, the voice of harness racing Mr Roger Huston himself welcomed guests to the venue, having sent a pre-recorded video introduction, in addition to a number of congratulatory messages for the winners. This year, Heather Wilder also featured alongside Roger, having visited Ireland for the Vincent Delaney Memorial for the second time with husband Mike in August, with both making a big impression on UK harness racing fans. The STAGBI awards were presented by Gwenan Thomas, STAGBI Director and Administrator, with STAGBI giving back over £15,000 in breeders prizes and racing prize money for 2018. STAGBI also announced on the night that 2019 will see a change in format for the Future Broodmares races which have proven to be a massive success over the past few seasons, with the introduction of a grand final to be staged at York Harness Raceway in October of next year. A Young Person's Award has also been finalised which will act as a grant scheme for young people within harness racing to access funds to further their education, training or experience with the hope that this will enhance and improve harness racing in the UK. The Trot Britain awards were presented by Trot Britain committee member and veteran driver Ian Pimlott, with the Trotteur Francais Horse of the Year DIAMANT DE GODREL being celebrated both in the UK and France on the same night. Fellow committee members Dr Jack Dowie and Bill Green were present at Vincennes to collect the award on behalf of connections, who picked up a number of awards from all three organisations in Haydock. The BHRC awards were presented by BHRC Chairman Roy Sheedy who returns for his fifth term at the helm of the UK harness racing organisation, whilst continuing to train and drive winners from his base in south Wales. One of the main highlights of the evening was the announcement of the Lifetime Achievement award, which garnered the loudest cheers from those in attendance, as Steve Lees was unveiled as the first recipient of this new award. A native of Wales, Lees drove his first winner in 1975 when he was 16. Forty years later, in 2015, he was crowned the leading driver at the annual Tregaron Festival in Wales. He was the first British driver to compete in the WDC in 1985 and his second-placed performance led to his picking up catch drives in Australia and a return invitation to the WDC tournament in 1987. He also represented his country in 1991 and 1997. Steve was honoured by the BHRC as leading driver in Britain from 1987-1990, 1995, 1998 and 2003. As Sarah Thomas said in her introduction of the award, Steve Lees is the closest the UK has ever been to producing a World Champion and in order for someone to do better, they will actually have to win the World Driving Championship. Steve was joined for his presentation by wife, Lisa, daughter Kellie and son Stephen, an aspiring young commentator. Not to be outdone by his father, Stephen was celebrated earlier in the evening for his commentaries during the BHRC Kids Club races which were launched in 2018. Following a special message from his idol, Roger Huston, Stephen was invited to commentate on a muted version of the Crock of Gold Final which was played on screen in front of the crowd alongside Darren [Owen], who called the actual race in September. Stephen was also presented with his first pair of binocular, a commentator's greatest tool, by Darren on behalf of the BHRC. Leading driver William 'Rocker' Laidler was on hand to present the young competitors from the Kids Club Series with their mementos from the series - a collection of photos from their races - as well as the trophy for the overall series winner, which was Jake Podmore with his pony Star. Viccy Elvin received the 'Most Embarassing Parent' chalice for her endeavours supporting daughter Charley-Ann and her pony Elvis A-Ha. Rocker Laidler returned to the stage later in the evening alongside wife Alexis, as the duo collected the Leading Driver and Trainer awards respectively alongside their main owner, Raymond Huschka, who received the Leading Owner award. This was Alexis Laidler's eleventh Leading Trainer title in 12 seasons, with husband Rocker taking the honours on the other occasion to make it 12 straight years of Laidler dominance in the sport. The 2018 season was another stellar year for the team, taking out four Group 1 races - Appleby Whit Monday Final (Jack Swagger), Park Lodge Final at Aberystwyth (Springhill Glory), Welsh Classic Final at Tregaron (Teatime Preacher) and the Crock of Gold Final (Evenwood Sonofagun), as well as numerous other major handicap events and multiple stakes races. Their charges Rhyds Sapphire, Matticulous and Evenwood Sonofagun scored the 3YO Filly, 3YO Colt and Pacer of the Year honours respectively, and trotter Valseur Du Cygne was awarded Aged Horse of the Year in the Trot Britain segment also. The two awards remaining at the end of the night which were to be revealed to all in the room were the Drive of the Year award and the People's Choice award. This was the third year that USA's Tim Tetrick has kindly sponsored the Drive of the Year award, and it was Lauren Moran from Stirling, Scotland, with the drive on her family-owned Vyrnwy Smoke at Corbiewood which took the lion's share of the vote and saw the first Scottish and first female driver receive the gifts from Tim. For the People's Choice award, the public vote went the way of Rhyds Passion, winner of the Mare of the Year category for the second time running. This topped off an incredible season for the mare who recorded wins at three of the four 'crown jewel' two day festivals, including both heat and final of the Famous Musselburgh Pace, as well a STAGBI Future Broodmares race at Tir Prince and a heat of the Crock of Gold in Free For All company. The evening was a great success and partying went on late into the night - thanks to all who attended and well done to all of the award winners.  by Sarah Thomas, for Harnesslink Full list of winners: STAGBI Future Broodmares Race winners - MATTRIARCH, DYNAMIC ACE, SECOND AFFAIR, RHYDS PASSION, LADY MARY, RHYDS NIGHTLIFE & RHYDS MYSTIQUE Breeders Premium (Wales) - WOODSTONE JINGO (A Price), RHYDS PASSION (G Wright) DERNOL YANKEE (E Wozencraft) Breeders Premium (Scotland) - ROBHALL (H Muirhead & A Hay), AYR HERO (H O'Neil), EASY COMPANY (J Gilvear) Breeders Premium (England) - SECOND AFFAIR (P Mather), ROBYN CAMDEN (Camden Stud), COOL ICE (N Holgate) Breeders Premium (Brightwells) - RHYDS PASSION, COOL ICE, HABBERLEY HASTE (S William) Sire Stakes Breeders Bonus - 2YO Filly - TWO LEFT FEET (G Brown), 3YO Colt - MATTICULOUS (G Price), 3YO Filly - RHYDS REFLECTION (G Wright), 4YO Mare - RHYDS HOKEY COKEY (G Wright), 4YO COLT/GELDING - RHYDS ROCK STAR (G Wright), Leading Stallion - HASTY HALL (G Wright) Breeders Bonus Selected Races - LOOSECHANGE (H Muirhead), CRACK A SMILE (G Price), RHYDS ROCK STAR (G Price), EVENWOOD SONOFAGUN (J Nicholson), LAKESIDE PAN (M John) Group 1 Races - JACK SWAGGER (J Greenhorn), MATTICULOUS (G Price), RHYDS PASSION (G Wright), RHYDS DESIGN (G Wright), AYR HERO (H O'Neil) Trot Britain 3YO Trainer of the Year - JODY FOODY 3YO Driver of the Year - JAK FOODY 3YO Horse of the Year - FABLE DES BROUETS 4YO Horse of the Year - ÉCLAIR DU TORP 4YO Trainer of the Year - MIKE EVANS Mare of the Year - ENEZ LEMAN Aged Horse of the Year - VALSEUR DU CYGNE Aged Horse Driver of the Year - JOHN HENRY NICHOLSON 4yo Driver of the Year - JOHN HENRY NICHOLSON Aged Horse Trainer of the Year - JOHN NICHOLSON Horse of the Year - DIAMANT DE GODREL BHRC 2YO Filly of the Year - THE MOCKING JAY 2YO Colt of the Year - OAKWOODINITTOWINIT 3YO Filly of the Year - RHYDS SAPPHIRE 3YO Colt of the Year - MATTICULOUS Mare of the Year - RHYDS PASSION Pacer of the Year - EVENWOOD SONOFAGUN Trotter of the Year - DIAMANT DE GODREL Overseas Horse of the Year - ROBYN CAMDEN Leading Horses - ROBHALL & RHYDS PASSION Leading Owner - RAYMOND HUSCHKA Leading Trainer - ALEXIS LAIDLER Leading Driver - WILLIAM LAIDLER Posthumous Lifetime Achievement - BILLY WILLIAMS Lifetime Achievement - STEVE LEES Drive of the Year - LAUREN MORAN People's Choice - RHYDS PASSION

  Oakwood Stud is pleased to announce that Foreclosure N will be standing at Talgrwn Stud Services in Wales for the 2019 breeding season. “We have an excellent working relationship with Gwenan and Richard Thomas from Talgrwn Stud Services and we are very excited about this new venture”, said Oakwood Stud’s Derek Delaney, “With the recent advancement they have made at their AI Facility, the timing is perfect for Foreclosure to stand at stud there in the UK.” This move by Foreclosure means that breeders can also take advantage of the many benefits offered by Talgrwn Stud Services. Foreclosure’s chilled semen can be shipped anywhere in the UK from the Stud Services, cutting down travel costs and making it more convenient for the mare owners. Breeder’s local vets will be able to inseminate for a fraction of the costs of frozen semen. In addition, higher conception rates are generally seen by users of fresh semen versus frozen. Foreclosure has had tremendous success in his first season in the UK and Ireland. Among many stakes-winning performers, he sired BHRC 2-year-old Colt of the Year, Oakwood Inittowinit, and IHRA 2-year-old Filly of the Year, Newtown Jody. Foreclosure’s 2019 stud fee will be set at 1250 euros. Frozen semen will still be available in Ireland for 2019. All bookings for chilled or frozen breedings should be made through Oakwood Stud Ireland From Oakwood Stud

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