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Coalford Chief, harness racing

United Kingdom's Ian Pimlott is a driving force

Senior harness racing driver in the United Kingdom, Ian Pimlott, should have teeth that are as excellent as his driving skills. Born and raised in Manchester, near the popular Droylsden harness raceway, he became fascinated by horses from a very early age. Every Monday afternoon through the harness racing season, he informed his teachers that he had a vital dentist’s appointment, and skipped off to watch the trotters and pacers flying around the hard circuit with their canny drivers perched on their fragile-looking sulkies. At the tender age of 8, Ian was helping George Dodd, one of the leading trainers at Droylsden, mucking out, riding, learning his chosen art of driving and horse-care, spending every spare minute at the stables. He soaked up every scrap of knowledge, loved the horses, and his natural quiet sympathy gave him that enviable rapport that marked him as a true horseman. At age 12, he rode Little Jim to victory at Penybont, the major meeting in Wales, but, due to the rules, he had to wait until he was 16 to race on the sulky seat. In 1964, Our Bill trotted to victory at Prestatyn to put the name Ian Pimlott in the official record books for the first time, and 53 years (and two new hips!) later, he is driving better than ever, piloting a three-year-old debutante trotter into the Tir Prince winner’s circle at the first meeting of the 2017 season. Has the maestro, who has won every race worth winning under the British Harness Racing Club rules, ever kept score of his winners over the past six decades? “No, sorry,” he said, “But I do know that I’ve won the Musselburgh Famous Pace seven and a half times!” He counts the dead-heat between Bye For Now, whom he was driving for George Carter, and the Irish raider, The Little One, (“Can’t remember what year though – a long time ago!”) as half a victory. He modestly agrees that Musselburgh has been his speciality. “I even won the £100 raffle there after I’d had 8 winners one year!” A talented footballer, Ian was offered a trial as a professional as he left grammar school, but he turned it down to go and work for George Dodd and his nephew Edmund, doing a few hours in the latter’s butchers shop, but mostly working with horses. “We all make mistakes!” he jested, but there is no doubt that Ian Pimlott would not have changed his destiny for any glamorous pay-packet in the world. He was 17 when he met his future wife, Kathleen Ashworth, daughter of Harvey, one of the owners George trained for. “I won with Harvey’s trotter, Staly Hal at Prestatyn, and told his daughter to go to his head for the photograph,” Pimlott explained, “She thought I was bossy!” They were married a year later, and were devoted for over 40 years, until Kath’s untimely death in 2013. A bitter blow for Ian, his two daughters, and brace of granddaughters. Ian began training Standardbreds in his own right at 18 years old. “I was very late for work one morning after a Presentation Evening in North Wales, and George (Dodd) sacked me!” Pimlott remembered. “So, I began driving Harvey (Ashworth) about, and started to train a couple of Harvey’s horses from Staly Hall, Stalybridge in Cheshire.  “And then a few folks wanted me to train their horses, though I never took on more than 10 at one time.” Fittingly, Staly Hal gave him his very first success as a trainer, at Prestatyn.  And the rest really is history, written in the Night Racing Co and BHRC record books. Ian fondly remembers his first Musselburgh Pace winner, Blue Streak, but one of his most satisfying memories of the horses he has handled over the years is of Pendle Bret. “No-one knew how good he was,” Pimlott smiled, “In those days, you had to win a race to be able to enter for Musselburgh, and he qualified at St Asaph in a fairly slow time. But at Musselburgh, it nearly all fell apart! “In those days, it was a tape start, each handicap ‘box’ was 12 yards apart,” Pimlott explained. “and the starter counted down, the knack was not to be facing the wrong way as you were turning when the tapes sprung back! Pendle Bret, a great big chestnut, was facing the right way alright, but he had his nose on the tape so it caught him when it was released. He went straight up on his back legs as the others went away, and I swear it felt like ten minutes before he came down!” But victory was all the sweeter for giving everyone an early scare, with Pimlott getting Pendle Bret back into the race, then sweeping round the field to victory lane. Eventually, the prolific winner Pendle Bret was sold to race in Canada, and Ian accompanied him. Local newsmen were present when he worked him out on his new home track in Alberta, so that a photo of him with a banner headline ‘The Big Red Pacing Machine Has Arrived!’ blazed across the front of the local Canadian newspaper. Over the years, Ian has driven winners in many countries all around the world, both trotters and pacers. “I missed going to Russia because I broke my wrist after I’d been invited,” Pimlott recalled. “It was a shame but I’ve been lucky enough to drive in plenty of other countries though.” Ian’s career has been liberally laced with falls and fractures of all descriptions, the most serious being a broken neck sustained in a (televised) multiple pile up at Tir Prince, but nothing has ever deflected him from the sulky seat for long, or even slightly dented his superior skill. There have been great many changes in the course of Ian’s career. “There had to be a minimum of 10 stone 7lbs on the sulky seat, so I had to carry a lot of lead under my seat when I started!” But he has adapted to every change that came along, and admits that the start car was a welcome innovation, saving hours of schooling horses for the tape start. “You weren’t going to win if you were facing the wrong way when the tapes pinged!” Nowadays, Ian is busy combining family duties (Grandaughter Olivia is a class swimmer, and Annie Lux is the equestrian) with farming and training at Lymm in Cheshire. He is heavily involved with the Le Trot sponsorship initiative through TROTBritain, whereby the French sponsor races for the trotters purchased from them. “It’s really going forward – we have a 3-year-old Series worth £60,000 at Tir Prince on September 9th, as well as races for Trotteur Francais Aged Horses,” he explained. It was fitting indeed that having invested so much energy into the initiative, he should have partnered the very first Series winner, Enez Leman, trained by Mike Evans. And Ian Pimlott is very good at Firsts. Among all his other great achievements, he drove Rag Trade to victory for the first harness race on Doncaster Racecourse (‘must be nearly 30 years ago!’), Cerion Eagle to the first official harness race at Hereford Racecourse in 2008, Crown Manhattan to win the William Hill Championship Series Final at Wolverhampton, and last November he won one of the very first trotting races to be staged at Chelmsford City racecourse with George Button’s Thunder Jiel. Such was the success of that evening’s venture that three further dates have been agreed with Chelmsford City in 2017. Rest assured that Ian Pimlott will be behind the starting gate for each of the fixtures (August 15th, September 30th and October 12th). In answer to the obvious, but superfluous question, he grinned. “Of course, I’m not thinking of retiring……I’d have to get a proper job then!” Watch out for those familiar yellow and black colours in the winner’s enclosure for a long time to come. By Stella Havard 

Va Reine Du Pont, harness racing

Driving double on the grass for Seamus Quill

WEST CORK, Ireland - Seamus Quill took the driving honours when recording two winners at the Corn Field Oval in Manch on Sunday. Va Reine Du Pont kicked off the brace for the Kenmare based reinsman. Blanpain Le Fol and last weeks winner Cupidon De Breteil made the running in the mile and a quarter trot. With four furlongs to trot Quill gave the winner the office and led the field.Turning for home the field began to close in but Va Reine Du Pont held on from Valiant Forgion in a blanket finish. Quill completed the double in the next a grade F E & D Pace. King Wills Arrival followed up on his win on the beach last week getting home a length in front of Fairdays Bret with Lyons Stallone a futher half back in third . Racing opened with a very smart performance from newcomer Earnies Umpire .Coalford Bruce made the running but Matt O Reilly took it up after the opening half mile and won in a manner that would suggest that a bright career is in front of him. This three year old son of Earned Income and Elizabeth Ann holds entries in both the Barney Joyce Memorial and the Oakwood Stud three year old grass pacing Championship and was bred by Tadhg O'Reilly. Meadowbranch Demon now an 11 year old recorded his 40th career win in the top grade pace. Cruise Howard led off the gate but was joined and passed by Rhyds Destiny in the opening half. Heading out on the final circuit Mike Kelleher edged Demon closer and on the back straight hit the front. Cruise Howard put in a late rally but "The iron Horse" was not for catching. "We normally wouldnt race him every week but he came out of his run in Inchydoney fine and we probably go for the free for all in Dundalk." commented winning driver Mike Kelleher. Rhyds Heartbeat owned by Angela and Martin Hurley was a trap to line winner in the Grade D & C Pace. On his home track, Donal Murphy set the winner alight early doors, and despite the best efforts of favourite Camden Corleone, this son of Hasty Hall was not going to be denied. Next week the action moves to Dunmanway for the first of the big Summer handicaps. The George Deane Memorial in memory of the former president of the ITHRF is the first leg in the handicap "triple crown" on the West Cork circuit and will probably have three heats and a grand final with a full supporting programme. by Tim Kelleher, for Harnesslink RESULTS GRADE G & G1 PACE 1st O'Reilly / Joyce EARNIES UMPIRE M O'Reilly 2nd J Shanahan COALFORD BRUCE M Kelleher 3rd S Jennings HEATHER BREEZE Owner DIST 2l 3l TIME 2.05.7 8 Ran LE TROT GRADE E D & C 1st F Quill Snr VA REINE DU PONT S Quill 2nd O Sullivan / Goggin VALIANT FORGION M Goggin Jnr 3rd J Shanahan CUPIDON DE BRETEIL M Kelleher DIST SH 1/2l TIME 2.50.4 6 Ran   GRADE F E & D PACE 1st F Quill Snr KING WILLS ARRIVAL S Quill 2bd J Shanahan FAIRDAYS BRET M Kelleher 3rd O'Reilly / O Driscoll LYONS STALLONE C O'Reilly DIST 1l 1/2l TIME 2.05.6 5 Ran   GRADE D & C PACE 1st 1A & M Hurley RHYDS HEARTBEAT D Murphy 2nd O Reilly / Hurley CAMDEN CORLEONE M O Reilly 3rd J Hill THE HITMAN M Goggin Jnr DIST 1/2L 1/2L TIME 2.07.8 5 Ran   GRADE B A & A1 Pace 1st - Kelleher Bros MEADOWBRANCH DEMON M Kelleher 2nd - C O Brien CRUISE HOWARD T O Leary 3rd - J Shanahan RHYDS DESTINY L Kelleher DIST NK 2l 4 Ran        

Party At The Spa, harness racing

Party At The Spa scores in UK's first Group 1 race

Tregaron Trotting Club kicked off the 2017 grass season with an 11 race card on Sunday 14th May.   Amongst the programme was the Senior Welsh Dragon, the first group one race to be staged on the UK. The group race initiative was put forward by the master of the microphone Darren Owen to follow in the footsteps of our international counterparts. The race certainly did not disappoint. 2016 BHRC horse of the year Miraculous made his first ever trip to Tregaron and was sent off the market leader, but it was Party At The Spa in the hands of Alan Haythornthwaite who held off all the challengers to take the spoils.   The performance on Sunday sparked memories of Sportstrick who won the same race in a similar fashion for the same connections in 2016. Like so many races the draw played a vital part and it was from the first turn that Alan and the son of Dragon Again gained the advantage.   Both Lakeside Bono (drawn 2) and Party At The Spa (drawn 3) left hard out of the gate to gain advantageous positions on the rail leaving Miraculous (drawn 6) further back than he may have expected. Miraculous put in a gallant effort in defeat and the run provided him with some grass racing experience, having only raced on the surface twice before the event. The most thrilling finish of the day came in the Preferred Free For All. The small field of five started off at a blistering pace with Stamp Hill leading early. The only mare in the race, Shades Of Grey, bit the bullet with a lap to go and sat in the death seat on the outside of the leader. Fool Around tucked in behind the pair also looked in contention but it was the fast finishing Coalford Tetrick who swooped the field to grab victory.   This bargain purchase certainly has been a horse of a lifetime for connections and he will now go to Tir Prince next Saturday night to attempt to break the UK mile and a half record. The Spring Handicap final went the way of Llwyns Delight and Lee Price. The five year old son of Share The Delight seems to be improving with age and he now heads to Appleby to try and emulate the success of his half brother Bon Jasper in the handicap final.   Laneside Lotus put in two good performances for her new owners finishing a close second to Llwyns Delight in both the heat and final. Third went to the consistent Woodstone Jingo in the hands of Julie Phillips. Others winners on the day were Rhyds Passion (Patrick Kane Jnr), My Buddy (Alan Jones), No Joking (William Laidler), Im Immpartial Too (Joel Richards), Jack Swagger (William Laidler), Blytheview Peterpan (Jaimie Davies) and Lakeside Paddy (David Bevan).   by Kayleigh Evans  

Harness racing

Kelleher Bros score owner double at Inchadoney

WEST CORK, Ireland - It was a good day for father and son combination Mike and Luke Kelleher who both drove a winner on the opening day of the 2017 West Cork Harness racing season at Inchadoney Beach on Sunday.   Luke Kelleher, who drove his initial winner in Portmarnock a few weeks ago, steered his first winner in West Cork in the opening Grade G & G1 Pace on Panam Colt.   IB Coyote the 2016 VDM 2 year old fillies champion was all the rage to continue on her winning ways and was an early leader.   With two furlongs to pace Panam Colt began to close and hit the front in the last eighth of a mile to win by two lengths.   Meadowbranch Demon, so often the "cash cow" for the Kelleher Bros, delivered again in the top grade pace.   Cruise Howard and the winner set the pace and were joined by Wellfield Ghost at the two furlong pole.   The order remained the same entering the final quarter. Turning for home, Camden Corleone joined in, but Meadowbranch Demon was not for catching and held on from the fast finishing Rhyds Destiny with Wellfield Ghost staying on for third.   "He's just like Forrest Gump, just wants to run" said Kelleher about the winner.   The Le Trot for French bred trotters produced the best finish of the day.   Those in the know betting wise "lumped on" Tarnao Josselyn and looked to have got it right when he was produced in the final eighth of a mile to challenge newcomer Cupidon De Breteil, but Matt O'Reilly sat motionless on the John Shanahan trained bay and held on to win by a short head.   Only four went to post in the Grade D & C, but it was a real competitive affair where Western Dreamer held off challenges from all and sundry and the eleven-year-old enjoyed his day in the sun, holding off Rhyds Hearbeat.   Finbarr Quill Jnr , the "pin up driver" in West Cork, was seen at his best on King Wills Arrival in the grade F & E pace. Fairdays Bret set a quick pace but was reeled in by the inner with two furlongs to pace and won from the unlucky Lyons Stallone,   Next Sunday the action moves to the Cornfield Oval in Manch for the first grass meeting on the circuit.   by Tim Kelleher, for Harnesslink   RESULTS GRADE G & G1 PACE 1. Kelleher Bros PANAM COLT L Kelleher 2. Bill Donovan/IB Stables IB COYOTE D Murphy 3. J Payne GET ROCKIN M Payne DIST 2l 3l TIME 2.12.1 6 Ran   GRADE F & E PACE 1. F Quill Snr KING WILLS ARRIVAL F Quill Jnr 2. O Reilly/ O Driscoll LYONS STALLONE C O Reilly 3. J Shanahan FAIRDAYS BRET M Kelleher DIST 2l 3l TIME 2.12.4 5 Ran   GRADE D & C PACE 1. P J Cleary WESTERN DREAMER S Quill 2. A & M Hurley RHYDS HEARTBEAT D Murphy 3. O Farrell/Kelleher Bros BRYWINS PICASSO M Kelleher DIST 1/2l 1l TIME 2.13.4 4 Ran   Le Trot Grade F E D & C 1. J Shanahan CUPIDON DE BRETEIL M O Reilly 2. F Quill Snr TARNAO JOSSELYN S Quill 3. P Hill BRUTENOR Owner DIST SH 2l TIME 2.17.7 7 Ra   GRADE B & A Pace 1. Kelleher Bros MEADOWBRANCH DEMON M Kelleher 2. J Shanahan/J Mycock RHYDS DESTINY L Kelleher 3. J Manning WELLFIELD GHOST Owner DIST C2l 1l TIME 2.09.3  

WEST CORK, Ireland - The 2017 Harness racing season opens this coming Sunday, May 14th at the beautiful Inchydooney Beach venue just a few miles outside Clonakilty. This unique venue sees the Blue Flag Beach transformed into an amphitheatre for standardbred pacers and trotters. Once the tide makes its way out towards the Atlantic the track will be put in place and provides one of the finest half mile circuits any where in the world . With tidal conditions racing gets under way at 12.45 PM. Following on from the annoucncement of the major sponsorship deal for The Red John Memorial in August and the success of the French Trotters program, there is a real "feel good" factor to the sport for the coming season. Now to the equine stars. In recent years the top grade pacers have been a scarce commodity and this season the likely stars include Meadowbranch Demon, Cruise Howard and Rhyds Destiny, who will be joined by Wellfield Ghost, a winner in Portmarnock last week, the versatile Maithi Buachill, Sunnyside Kildare and the recently imported Rhyds Panache. As mentioned earlier, the imported French trotters have become very popular and along with the aged horses Sivano Be llo, Rocky Atout, Adagio de Cebe, and Alienka Darche just a few of new addition with the three-year-old french trotters imported to race in their own age group. Seven of these three-year-olds have been bought by West Cork/ Kerry owners and they bring a new freshness to our proogrammes . A lot of interest will be on the younger pacers who raced in aged racing last season . Among these are IB A Magacian, Lakeview Panam and Hillside Aurelious, who no doubt will improve in their four-year-old season. The Hitman, who won the George Deane Memorial last year, still looks ahead of the handicap and could be one to watch in the final handicaps during the year. Following the Inchydoney meet, racing returns to Fishers Cross on Sunday the 21st followed by the First ITHRF Association Day on the 28th. So all roads lead to the beach at Inchydoney on Sunday with a 12.45 PM  start time and as they, "Time and tide wait for no man" Details of fixtures, entries and news can be found on the ITHRF website www.harnessracingcork.com. by Tim Kelleher, for Harnesslink

A British punter has pocketed the biggest ever pay-out in a bookmaker’s history after winning nearly £1 million on a horse racing bet. The middle-aged gambler, who wishes to remain anonymous, placed a £19 accumulator bet on five horses running at Punchestown yesterday. He waged his money at a Coral bookies on Das Mooser at 10/1, Woodland Opera (9/2), Definite Ruby (7/1), Bacardys (10/1) and Canardier (33/1). Incredibly they were all first past the post in their individual races, winning the punter a massive £822,972.75. But even more astonishingly the gambler didn’t know he had landed his life-changing win until this morning. Having been on a night out, the punter – from Leicester – got home in the early hours of this morning before finally checking the results. "I've been placing these accumulator bets pretty much every day for twenty years, and winning this bet is the realisation of a lifetime dream,” he said. Over the years I've come close landing a big return a couple of times but kept hitting the woodwork, and now I've done it I feel remarkably calm. “I don't know if I'll even carry on betting after this as I feel I've achieved my goal" Asked how he got into betting and what he plans to do with the money, he said: "My Dad was a bookie and got me into it when I was young. “My first winning bet was on Desert Orchid when he won the 1986 King George. “I’ve followed the sport and been placing these bets ever since. “I never place singles, only accumulators and nearly always with three or more horses in them. “I don't know what I'm going to do with the money, as it's only just sinking in, but I have a few ideas and it is going to change my life." The gambler’s win at his Leicester Coral branch spells an incredible two years for the city which has seen bookies pay out huge sums. Simon Clare, Coral PR Director, explains: "This is the most incredible big-win story that we have ever encountered and a just-reward for our customer for twenty years of perseverance placing these 'small-stake big-win' bets day-in day-out. "There must be something in the water in Leicester, as the City's football team landed the biggest shock in football betting history last year winning the Premier League at odds of 5000/1, and now this inspired customer has landed the biggest ever horse-racing win with Coral of over £800k for just £19.” By Nicholas Bieber Reprinted with permission of The Daily Star

Tina Sugarman, author of one of the top equine novels of 2016-2017, Horse Flesh, has agreed to share excerpts of her book with Harnesslink. Horse Flesh is a thriller mystery fiction novel based around a Standardbred racetrack in Ontario, Canada. It is the first novel ever penned by horsewoman, Tina Sugarman. Each week, Harnesslink will feature an excerpt from Horse Flesh. If you wish to purchase the book either in paperback or ereader formats, click here. Here is this week’s 9th excerpt from Horse Flesh! Horse Flesh by Tina Sugarman The fact that he could have won by half a dozen lengths was mere salt in the wound for Theo Vettore. He was screwed. He threw Southview Sabre’s lines at his cousin and stalked off, ignoring Lara’s well meant, sympathetic comments. What was the use? He’d played his only card and, by default, he had lost. He still owed the thirty-five thousand. Part of him felt like cutting loose and heading home early. But with the drivers’ championship up for grabs, he opted to stay. The “collectors” would be coming around to harass him soon enough. There was no escaping them. At last the races were over. Theo changed out of his driving suit into jeans and T-shirt. As an afterthought, he threw on a leather jacket. Ten drives and not a single win. What a night it had been! The Race Barn was almost empty. The last security guard had left his post and gone home, allowing two sinister looking individuals to walk through the gate separating the betting public from the Race Barn. They looked like a pair of bouncers on steroids and they were watching Theo’s every move. “Well if it isn’t Mr. Vettore,” one of them said, sidling up to him. Rationally, Theo knew he was worth more to them alive than dead. But what if they decided to make an example of him? Suddenly he felt terrified. “How about we go to the cafeteria and talk this over?” he suggested, feeling light headed. One of the bouncers shook his head. “Nothin’ doing,” he grunted. Bouncer number two took Theo firmly by the elbow. “We’ll talk outside,” he said. Theo looked around for help. Lara was long gone. There was no one around who knew or cared about his problem. He was alone with the collectors. Maybe it was better that way. Did he really want the whole world to know he was a cocaine addict who couldn’t even pay for his habit? “Let’s take a look at yer car,” bouncer number one suggested, walking him towards the parking lot. “Maybe it’s worth something, eh?” The tight knot in Theo’s cheek relaxed. Maybe he could stall them, convince them he’d get a loan, pay later. Unfortunately, his insurance company was dragging its feet, contesting the claim for his accident even though he’d paid thousands in premiums. He was still driving a rental car. The plates were a dead giveaway, easily spotted under the glare of the lights. The parking lot was deserted, he noted nervously. Everyone else had gone home. Suddenly the floodlights shut down and everything went black. One of the thugs grabbed him from behind and forced his left arm back, twisting it violently. Theo tried to cry out, but rough hands blindfolded and gagged him in two seconds flat, then threw him, face up, onto the ground. He heard footsteps approaching. A moment later he felt something heavy pressing down onto his head: a work boot. The rubber tread dug into his temple. He could smell his own sweat mingled with the overpowering stink of garlic. “Message from the Scorpion for Mr. Vettore,” a man’s harsh voice reverberated in his ear. It was a voice Theo had never heard before, but was never likely to forget. “He appreciates your custom, but he’s not a charitable institution. When you come around, remember this is a warning. Next time, it’ll be for real.” There was an ominous silence, during which Theo fought for breath, his heart hammering in his chest. What with the boot pressing down on his face and the gag in his mouth, he felt like he was going to suffocate right there on the tarmac. Rigid with fear, he waited. The attack began with no warning. Helpless and blind, he had no choice but to silently endure the rain of blows on his head and body, unable to make a sound, let alone defend himself. To his surprise, what he felt mostly wasn’t fear or pain. It was anger. Anger at himself for letting this happen. The humiliation! The King of the Track brought down so low! Then he passed out. When he came to, he was alone. The blindfold was off. So was the gag. When he tried to get up, the pain made him dizzy and sick. So, he lay still, staring up at the big blobs of light shining in the night sky. The throbbing in his head was loud and insistent, like the march of boots coming ever closer. He tried to call out, but his mouth wasn’t working. His face felt like was twice its normal size. Each time he took a breath, pain shot through his rib cage like a red-hot needle. He watched the stars above him until his eyelids swelled shut. Then he lay quietly in the dark on the hard asphalt, waiting for the sun to rise. 5 a.m. The stars had faded. There was a faint glow on the horizon and the promise of another warm day. Reggie Blair, sole proprietor of Supreme Horse Feeds, liked to make an early start when he delivered to Iroquois Downs Raceway. That way, he avoided rush hour on the backstretch. After 6 a.m. the barn area was crowded with horses making their way to the exercise tracks. Horsemen were always anxious to get done early and beat the heat. Reggie Blair’s shock of blond hair made him look younger than he was. But at thirty-eight, he didn’t have a girlfriend, let alone a wife, a loss he felt keenly, especially when he was sitting home alone doing the books of a night. In the semi-darkness, he headed for Andy Price’s barn. Since the introduction of black box testing, Price had bought so many different feeds and supplements for his horses that Reggie could hardly keep up with it all. It was good for business, but it took up a lot of his time. And time was money. After Andy Price, with a lighter load, he took his regular early morning route around the backstretch of Iroquois Downs, dropping off sacks of heavy western oats, bags of sweet feed dripping with molasses, tubs of vitamins and apple treats, carrots in orange string bags, red salt blocks and a dozen other specialty items essential to the well-being of the standardbred racehorse. He even kept a few bags of wood shavings in his truck, in case one of the smaller trainers had run out of bedding. By 7 a.m. Reggie’s feed van was empty. Time to load up again and go out to the training centres. He headed for the stable gate, waving to the security guard in her box as he passed. The huge parking lot was empty except for a sleek black saloon that Reggie didn’t recognize. Then he did a double take. He’d seen something lying on the ground beside the car: a heap of clothes, or a horse blanket perhaps. It was difficult to tell in the early morning light. The long shadows might be playing tricks on his eyes. Intrigued, Reggie drove across the tarmac, his truck lurching back and forth over the uneven surface. When he got up close he gasped and slammed on the brakes. “Jesus Christ! What the hell” he exclaimed, jumping down from the cab. It wasn’t a pile of clothes. It looked like a body. But who was it? Reggie felt sick. The guy was a mess! His face was swelled right up, like it had been stung by a swarm of bees. His jaw hung loose. There was blood everywhere. Reggie feared he was looking at a corpse. Then he realized the man was trying to speak. Reckoning the guy would be frightened by any sudden movement after what he’d been through, Reggie did his best to move quietly. “’S alright. ’S only Reggie. Let’s see who y’are now,” he said reassuringly, reaching inside the torn, sodden jacket. He pulled out an Iroquois Downs Driving licence and gasped. He recognized the man in the photo instantly. “Jesus!” Reggie exclaimed, looking down at the tortured face, the body wracked with pain. He couldn’t believe it was the V Man. But it was him alright! He ran back to the truck and immediately alerted track security. Then he called emergency services and asked for an ambulance. But the woman on the other end of the line kept asking questions. “Can you give me your exact location, sir?” “Iroquois Downs parking lot,” Reggie replied, watching a half conscious Vettore gasp for air. “I’m sorry sir. I need an address.” “It’s a racetrack on First Line.” There was a long silence on the other end of the phone. “Just send the fuckin’ ambulance,” Reggie muttered angrily. “I can’t find that address, sir. Can you see your fire number?” Reggie, standing in the middle of acres of asphalt quarter of a mile from the entrance could only splutter. “No!” “Can the patient make his own way to the Emergency Room?” “Listen to me you dumb bitch!” Reggie shouted, losing it completely. “The guy’s unconscious and can’t move!” Before she was half done reprimanding him, he cut her off. She’d landed him in a hell of a fix. Track security were nowhere to be seen. He could hear Vettore groaning. Reggie Blair was in the prime of his life. He heaved feed sacks around all day long. He did things himself, his own way. He didn’t intend to wait who knew how long for the emergency crew to figure out his location. After checking that Vettore was able to move his legs, he improvised a stretcher from one of the wooden palettes he stacked the feed on. He laid a bag of wood shavings on top and covered the whole thing with a horse blanket. Then came the tricky part: getting the patient onto the stretcher. But five minutes later, Reggie Blair was driving like the wind. As the sun climbed higher in a blue August sky, Reggie hurtled down Highway 501, weaving his way through early morning commuter traffic and the convoys of long haul trucks. He couldn’t check on his passenger, because he’d had to put Vettore in the back of the van where the feed got stacked. In any case, Reggie was fully occupied dodging the truckers. They were travelling nose to tail like a herd of circus elephants, occasionally blocking the highway completely by lining up three abreast. What with the honking of horns and the hiss of brakes, he felt like he was back driving at Erinsville Speedway, where all manner of dirty tricks were common practice. He was torn between fear and fury. In the end, fury won out. He rolled down the window of his van and gestured wildly. “Friggin’ sons of bitches!” he screamed, his face contorted with rage. A man driving a Beco Bananas truck looked down with contempt at the feed van from the lofty height of his cab. Reggie could see him speaking into his walkie talkie, no doubt hatching some sinister plot to ‘fix’ him, further down the road. The whine of a police car’s siren put paid to the truckers’ fun. Reggie picked up the live cover and followed the police car all the way to the exit, ignoring the signs ‘SLOW DOWN AND BE SAFE’ and ‘SPEED KILLS.’ He reached Erinsville in fifteen minutes’ flat, a record. He just prayed this wasn’t going into any police record books. But thankfully the officers were either hot on the trail of a gang of international criminals (or so desperate for a cup of coffee!) that they didn’t give him a second glance. He pulled up outside the lofty grey building that housed the best medical facility in the area: Erinsville General. The Emergency Room lay beyond two large swing doors. Reggie eyed the entrance and concluded he could make it into ER without any help from anyone. He climbed into the back of the van, took a look at Vettore and was relieved to see that he was still breathing. In fact, he appeared to be resting comfortably on Reggie’s horse blanket, cushioned by the bag of shavings. Reggie wondered briefly what the hospital would make of it, not that he gave a damn. Maneuvering his way through the swing doors while carrying the stretcher proved to be more difficult than he had thought. The bag caught on one of the door handles and ripped open. A little trickle of wood shavings started to leak out. Ignoring it, Reggie made a beeline for reception. Luckily the nurse on duty wasted no time. She summoned the emergency team, which whisked Theo away, still on the makeshift stretcher. A neat trail of wood chips marked the route. Reggie was about to follow it, but he heard an imperious voice calling him back. “Sir! I need the patient’s details. Now!” It was the reception nurse. Her brown hair was pulled back in a severe pony tail. A jutting chin and striking black eyes, which appeared to be boring into Reggie’s head, completed the picture. It looked like he had no choice but to obey her. Also, he wanted his horse blanket back. It was old but it had sentimental value. Emblazoned on it were the words Bronze Stakes Winner, the only one he’d ever won. He couldn’t exactly blame the nurse for waylaying him. She was just trying to do her job. But his heart sank when he saw the mountain of paperwork on her desk. “Name!” the nurse ordered, pen poised. “Mine or his?” he parried. “The patient’s will do for now,” she replied, adding ominously, “I’ll get to you later.” She struggled over the spelling of Vettore. He came up empty on health number, but eventually they were done. Stay tuned in to Harnesslink every week for another excerpt from Horse Flesh! Each week, Harnesslink will feature an excerpt from Horse Flesh. If you wish to purchase the book either in paperback or ereader formats, click here.

Tina Sugarman, author of one of the top equine novels of 2016-2017, Horse Flesh, has agreed to share excerpts of her book with Harnesslink. Horse Flesh is a thriller mystery fiction novel based around a Standardbred racetrack in Ontario, Canada. It is the first novel ever penned by horsewoman, Tina Sugarman. Each week, Harnesslink will feature an excerpt from Horse Flesh. If you wish to purchase the book either in paperback or ereader formats, click here. Here is this week’s 8th excerpt from Horse Flesh! Horse Flesh by Tina Sugarman THE BET On a calm evening in late August, Theo Vettore’s cousin, Lara Vachon, was standing down by the rail beside Iroquois Downs’ oval track, waiting and watching as Theo put Southview Sabre through his paces. It was 7 p.m. The plan was to take Southview Sabre a slow warm-up mile, but speed him up for the last eighth. Any hint of trouble and Lara was going to scratch her boy from the race and take him home. On the night, Theo had stumbled into Ferme Victoire afraid for his life, Lara had been on a vigil at Rivers Training centre, soaking Southview Sabre’s red hot right front foot in a tub of ice water. Lara treated all the horses she trained like her children, not that she had any of her own yet. She was only twenty-eight, after all. Unlike most trainers, Lara did not have the luxury of picking out yearlings at the Annual Sale. Instead, she took on whatever her father Bernie Vachon decided to give her: well-bred fillies with broodmare potential or colts who hadn’t found a buyer. Once in Lara’s barn, they were under her protection. She gave them as much time as they needed to get to the races and treated them all with equal affection, regardless of their talent (or the lack of it) on the racetrack. As Southview Sabre flew past the tote board, looking like a ghost in the dusk, Lara anxiously scrutinized him for any sign on lameness, any break in the horse’s rhythm. She found none. A pus pocket trapped deep inside his hoof had plagued Southview Sabre for weeks, unknown to anyone. After Dr. Winterflood had lanced it, the lameness disappeared overnight. The track lights kicked in, flooding the scene with colour: the green number pad flapping at the horse’s ribcage, the red and black of Theo’s racing jacket and the pale blue sulky with its white wheel discs spinning. Though his warm up run was over, Southview Sabre showed no sign of wanting to slow down. He sailed by a horse flashing four white stockings. Hurriedly, Lara consulted her overnight sheet. It was Mountain Boy, the 3 horse in the second. As both drivers swung their charges through a 180° turn and headed back to the Race Barn, a figure huddled in the shadows at the edge of the track sprang into life. A greater contrast between equine athleticism and human imperfection would have been hard to find. Lara recognized him immediately. As the man shuffled forward and reached out for Mountain Boy’s bridle, she shuddered involuntarily. She had made the mistake of hiring Crawfish Brown as a groom a couple of years back, in an act of charity. But she had discovered to her cost that despite his pitiful appearance, Crawfish was no saint. His left leg was crooked. His left eye was offset and half closed. He was missing several teeth and he always had a plug of tobacco in his mouth. The only time he went anywhere near water was when he was bathing the horses. But that wasn’t the real problem. Crawfish had generally showed up for work on time, unless he’d been out on a binge the night before. He was fairly good tempered, especially on pay day. He was conscientious too, unless he wanted to get away early. He was polite to Lara, unless he had a particular grudge to air. He was loyal, until Lara rumbled him, or as Crawfish put it, asked him to do a lot of things which weren’t a groom’s responsibility. . . She came out of her reverie just in time to avoid being knocked flat by Southview Sabre, who was throwing his head around like he’d had the time of his life out there. Hastily, she grabbed the bridle before she was decapitated. “Was he okay?” she asked anxiously. “He went his last eighth in thirteen seconds! That good enough for you?” Theo replied with a smile, handing her the lines. “I gotta go,” he added, a frown furrowing his brow. “Eh bien! Go!” Lara said, glancing at the tote board clock and wondering why Theo was in such a hurry. Post time for the first race was twenty-five minutes away. Inside the Race Barn, even though they were right next to one another, Crawfish ignored Lara. He busied himself, attaching his horse tightly to the cross-tie chains, as if the meek Mountain Boy was going to try and make a break for it. Lara couldn’t help noticing that, unusually, Crawfish appeared to have spruced himself up for the races. He was wearing a T-shirt without a rip in it, baggy black sweat pants which did their best to cover a pair of filthy, torn trainers and a lurid yellow baseball cap at war with his straggly brown hair, which she happened to know he cut with a razor, rather than getting a proper haircut. As for a visit to the dentist to fix his missing teeth, that was about as likely as a trip to the moon. Crawfish prided himself on being self-sufficient. Lara steeled herself not to feel guilty about firing him. She had to put the welfare of the horses first, she reminded herself firmly. Theo reappeared just as Lara was putting Southview Sabre’s bridle on, prior to race two. It was a struggle as the horse kept throwing his head around. His eyes were on fire. “Easy now, boy,” Theo said, holding onto the horse’s nose and steadying him. “Can’t wait to get at it, eh? Listen,” he added as Lara slipped the bit into the horse’s mouth. “I put three grand on him to win.” “You did what?” Lara hissed. “You do not bet!” “Hey! Lighten up!” Theo replied. “I got 12-1 online. After this race, God willing, I’ll be a free man.” “But they will think I ’ave been cheating with him!” Lara said, feeling outraged. “How could you do this to me, Theo?” “You want me to end up dead?” Theo muttered. Lara gulped. “How’s his foot?” Theo added nervously. “I am not telling you,” Lara replied angrily, glancing at Crawfish Brown in the next stall. She was certain he’d overheard their conversation. If so, everyone in the Race Barn would soon know all about it. “Hey! What d’you think you’re doing? You’ve hooked the lines up to the head halter, instead of the bit, you dumb idiot!” trainer Tom Larson growled at Crawfish, as Mountain Boy’s driver appeared. “Can’t get it right all the time,” Crawfish grumbled, hurriedly fixing the mistake. “What are you standing there grinning for? Lead ’im out!” Larson shouted. Crawfish jumped to it. But Lara noticed him hanging back after Mountain Boy had left the Race Barn, his left eyelid blinking rapidly. Her heart sank. Wherever Crawfish was, trouble was sure to follow. Outside the Race Barn, a crowd of horsemen had gathered to watch the running of the second race. Lara joined them, her heart beating faster. What if she’d got it wrong? What if Southview Sabre was no good tonight? There was so much at stake, not just for the horse, but for her cousin as well. She understood Theo needed to get the money from somewhere to clear his debts. But why did her horse have to be involved? As the starting car sped away, Theo grabbed the lead and opened up four lengths. The move did not go unnoticed. “I got the first eighth in thirteen seconds,” trainer Keith Lazer exclaimed, staring at his stopwatch. “Arrogant bastard,” Tony Hall exclaimed. “He’s as good as won!” Crawfish said excitedly. He was clutching a betting ticket, evidently dreaming of cashing it in. “My horse is getting a great trip!” Tom Cowboy Larsen said happily, watching Mountain Boy narrow the gap with the leader. “Jesus!” he added, ripping his Stetson off his head. “What’s that fool Harper think he’s doing?” Mountain Boy’s driver, Harry Harper, had brought his horse up to challenge Theo for the lead. The horse’s white stockings were pumping like pistons. Lara uttered a sigh of relief when Mountain Boy got to the top. A grudge match was the last thing her horse needed. To her consternation, Theo immediately swung Southview Sabre out to retake the lead and the two horses pulled away, fighting it out head to head. Suddenly Mountain Boy fell back. The crowd screamed. Mountain Boy had dropped like a stone, catapulting Harry Harper up and over the horse’s head. The driver landed hard and lay still. Unaware of the mayhem behind him, Theo carried on. Not for long! “Accident! Accident!” the track announcer called out urgently. “Stop your horses!” With a heavy heart, Lara watched as one of the outriders set off at a gallop, urging her pony on to intercept Theo, who was now fifteen or twenty lengths ahead of the pack. The other drivers were finally slowing down. The racetrack was suddenly crowded with horsemen, running to help the injured. Harry Harper and Mountain Boy lay strewn across the track, both of them ominously still. The vet ran over to Mountain Boy, who lay on the stone dust track, looking like he was made out of stone himself. Soon afterwards, Harry Harper got to his feet, looking a little dazed, too much cheering and clapping. Mountain Boy was stirring too. Tom Larson plonked himself down on the horse’s head and immediately began bawling Crawfish out. “Get this sulky off ’im before he comes to, you retard!” he cursed. “This is all your fault! Take a good look at that hopple hanger! No wonder he fell. It’s popped right out of the keeper. What d’you think I gave you that tape for eh?” Crawfish stood motionless, his face working, as if he had a great deal to say but was afraid to voice it. “You’re damn lucky he’s only winded,” Larson continued angrily. “You could’ve fuckin’ killed him!” “That’s it! I quit,” Crawfish declared, throwing down the bath bucket he’d been carrying and shuffling off. “Hey! Come back ’ere,” Larson said. “I ain’t done with you yet!” Crawfish kept right on going. Leaving Larson in the lurch did little to make up for a thoroughly disappointing evening. But it did cheer him up, just a bit. Stay tuned in to Harnesslink every week for another excerpt from Horse Flesh! Each week, Harnesslink will feature an excerpt from Horse Flesh. If you wish to purchase the book either in paperback or ereader formats, click here.

Tina Sugarman, author of one of the top equine novels of 2016-2017, Horse Flesh, has agreed to share excerpts of her book with Harnesslink. Horse Flesh is a thriller mystery fiction novel based around a Standardbred racetrack in Ontario, Canada. It is the first novel ever penned by horsewoman, Tina Sugarman. Each week, Harnesslink will feature an excerpt from Horse Flesh. If you wish to purchase the book either in paperback or ereader formats, click here. Here is this week’s 7th excerpt from Horse Flesh! Horse Flesh by Tina Sugarman The instant rumours began to circulate about the introduction of a TCO2 test for soda, trainers began to take evasive action. Keith Lazer got on the internet and ordered a supply of Human Growth Hormone. It claimed to cure almost every common ailment suffered by the Standardbred racehorse, including tying up. Lazer decided to give it a try. There was currently no test for HGH. Tom “Cowboy” Larson had never needed baking soda. His secret weapon was stashed away in the cattle barn. Baking soda had never been Jim Mercer’s crutch either. He was contemptuous of trainers who depended on it. Training a horse a double-header a day was a simple, effective way of dealing with the problem. If the animal couldn’t stand up to that, Jim reasoned, it wouldn’t have been much of a success anyhow. He didn’t believe in mollycoddling racehorses. Trainer Andy Price immediately had a council of war with Doc Meecham. To his relief, the doc came up with a long list of legal remedies for tying up. They didn’t come cheap, but they were effective. Andy told jealous trainers that his success was all down to his No. 1 groom, Crawfish Brown. No one believed him but what did Andy care? Keith Lazer was still top trainer, but Andy Price was hard on his heels. In the end, the horsemen approved TCO2 testing by a small margin. The politicians came up into the money, as Phil had promised. To Al’s great joy, a month after the meeting, TCO2 testing began at Iroquois Downs Raceway. CAUGHT Alastair McTavish was in the winner’s circle. Flanked by his wife and daughter, he was struggling to hold aloft a heavy gold cup. The roar of the crowd was deafening. He awoke to the roar of the vacuum cleaner and realized that sadly, it had been a dream. His wife Sofia was cleaning again. Sunlight was streaming in through the bedroom window of 210, Laurel Drive. It was 8 o’clock on a still August morning in Erinsville, Ontario. Al’s first thought was the phone call he’d received from an exuberant Judge Jewells earlier in the week. “Looks like we’ve caught our first fish,” the judge had reported. “Trainer named Scotty McCoy.” The hearing was at 11 a.m. today. Half an hour later, after grabbing a quick cup of coffee, Al was on his way out of the house. Walter, a three-month-old Maine Coon kitten, was waiting in the hall. When Al opened the door, Walter dashed through it and scampered over to the tall maple tree in the front yard. He ran up the trunk then turned around and stared down at Al with his large green eyes. July’s humidity had given way to the clear skies of August. It was Al’s favourite time of year. The Mercedes was waiting for him in the garage, like an athlete begging for exercise. Al drove with the top down, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the scent of newly mown grass wafting over him. The car had been a present to himself when he’d handed over control of his construction company to his daughter. He was not used to such luxuries. He sometimes wondered if he’d lost his mind spending so much money on a car. But he guessed he’d probably never have another excuse to blow fifty thousand dollars on mere transportation. Neither of his two sons had shown any interest in the business. In the breach, Billie had proved to be far more capable than he could ever have imagined. His one fear was that she would get bored and want to take McTavish Construction nationwide. Al had always been content to be a big fish in a small pond. Swimming with the sharks did not appeal to him. But he knew that Billie’s restless mind could not be contained in Erinsville forever. The radio was blasting out ear splitting beat music. Al hit the CD button. As the soaring notes of Italian opera rang out, he settled back and prepared to enjoy the ride to Iroquois Downs Raceway. He took the scenic route down Appleby Lane, which cut through horse farms and meadows. The road was lined with wildflowers. The big open sky was a brilliant blue. Soon, too soon, he was entering the vast treeless expanse of grey asphalt that fronted Iroquois Downs Raceway. He went up to his office and waited for news. Scotty McCoy was shaking as he took to his seat on the so-called prisoner’s chair in the judge’s office. The hearing was about to begin. It had been a truly terrible week for Scotty. On Monday, he’d lost his three best horses to a rival trainer. On Wednesday, his wife had packed her bags and taken off with the groom to God knew where. And today, he was up in front of the serial killer: Judge Jewells. The hearing was short and to the point. “Raider’s Moon and Annabel’s Fancy,” the judge stated. “Can you confirm that you were the trainer of these two horses as of August seventh, Mr. McCoy?” Scotty nodded. “Speak up, man!” Judge Jewells exclaimed. “Yes sir,” Scotty answered gruffly. “Each horse was over the limit on TCO2, by a significant margin,” Jewells said sternly, frowning so deeply that his eyebrows were virtually meeting. “Can you explain that, McCoy?” “No sir!” Scotty exclaimed, “I just added the odd spoonful of baking soda to their feed. I can’t understand it myself.” “So, you admit administering baking soda to the horses in question?” Jewells said exultantly, evidently feeling he’d scored a point. “Not enough to show up in any test!” Scotty protested, feeling flustered. He thought he’d been so careful. The timing of the black box testing had come as a complete surprise to him and everyone else he knew. The Race Barn had erupted in panic after Mr. Roberts had made the announcement. When the vets moved in to draw blood from the horses that were in the first race, trainers began leaving the Race Barn in droves, taking their horses with them. There were six scratches in the second race alone. Scotty had been slow to react. By the time he realized what was happening, it was too late. He had no choice but to sit tight and hope for the best, taking comfort from the fact that Dave had put far less soda in the drenches than normal. “Step outside while we confer,” the judge said. Ten minutes later, Scotty was invited back into the room. “Here’s our ruling,” the judge declared, looking at Scotty like a turkey vulture spotting a piece of road kill. “Automatic suspension of your trainer’s license for twelve months. A fine of two thousand five hundred dollars, for each horse.” Scotty’s heart sank down to his boots. It didn’t have far to go. Scotty wasn’t very tall. Five grand, he thought, panic rising in his chest. Where am I going to find that kind of money? “Can I appeal?” he asked. “You have the right to appeal, yes,” Jewells informed him. “But you’d have to challenge the accuracy of the test used.” Scotty had no spare cash and no lawyer. Who was he fooling? He’d never be able to appeal. It wasn’t fair. He knew of people who used all kinds of illegal stuff on their horses and got away with it, trainers like Keith Lazer. The guy was a fuckin’ chemist! “Do I get time off for good behavior?” he asked. “This isn’t a jail sentence, Mr. McCoy,” the judge said drily. “But your license won’t be renewed until you’ve paid off your fines in full, after the twelve months have passed of course. Until then, you are banned from all racetracks in Ontario. There’s a reciprocal agreement with the rest of Canada and the US by the way, in case you were thinking of going somewhere else.” Was he imagining it or did the judge look disappointed? Probably sorry it wasn’t a hanging matter, Scotty decided. Better not say anything. It’d only make things worse. He trudged down the stairs to the ground floor. A year’s ban! There’d be no sense in going to the yearling sale now. Not that he’d ever bought a yearling, but he’d miss the buzz and the chance to swap stories and sample the food that breeders served up to lure customers. As he walked across the parking lot to his old Ford truck, he couldn’t quite take in the whopping fine they’d stuck him with. He’d have to try to cobble the cash together somehow. Maybe get his old job back at Erinsville General. They were always short of cleaners at the hospital and the nurses liked him. Or he and his wife could move in with his sister to save on rent. Then he remembered he didn’t have a wife anymore. There’d be no winter racing for him this year. No hot suppers in the track kitchen. No horse’s breath hanging like smoke in the freezing air. He’d miss the spring stakes season, too. And the two year olds. He’d miss their first races, when he and his friend Dave Bodinski exchanged bets on which one of them was going to win the Diamond Stakes Championship. “I’ll be back!” Scotty swore to himself as he drove off. “Those sons of bitches ain’t gonna keep me down forever!” Two weeks went by. Al McTavish waited in vain for the next positive TCO2 test. Meanwhile, the trainers known as ‘the big four,’ Lazer, Price, Mercer and Larson, continued to win most of the races, their performances apparently unaffected by the baking soda ban. It was puzzling, but Al was hoping for the best. Stay tuned in to Harnesslink every week for another excerpt from Horse Flesh! Each week, Harnesslink will feature an excerpt from Horse Flesh. If you wish to purchase the book either in paperback or ereader formats, click here.

Harnesslink’s Ireland correspondent, Tim Kelleher, has worked with prominent harness racing owner Bill Donovan, in presenting the following “history of Maven” story. Kelleher and the committee for the Red John Memorial Weekend in Cork, Ireland, August 19th and 20th, have worked out a wonderful sponsorship arrangement with Bill Donovan for the big weekend that includes the inaugural Maven Trotters Derby. Both the Red John Memorial Pace and the Maven Trotters Derby will each race in the final for a purse of $21,000, the richest races ever in the history of harness racing in Ireland. “It is so great that Bill Donovan has stepped up and is helping sponsor these races,” Kelleher said. “We look forward to having him with us in West Cork come this August, especially to present the blanket and trophy to the first winner of the Maven Trotters Derby. “Bill was gracious enough, Kelleher explained, “to agree to tell this story on the history of one of the greatest trotting mares ever, Maven.” Bill Donovan purchased her for $37,000 at the 2010 Lexington Sale. Her original name was "Bella Topona", which while it sounds nice, Donovan was horrified to learn it meant "beautiful rat" in Italian. Her dam was M Stewart and as everyone knows Martha Stewart is the Maven of the kitchen, that became her new name. Maven was on the small side and was slightly toed out as a yearling. Her sire, the Triple Crown winning Glidemaster, only had one crop to race and at the time of the sale, they were judged to be a mediocre bunch and generally were not well received. However, Maven had a great producing maternal family and that's what attracted Donovan to her most. In March of her two-year-old year, trainer Jonas Czernyson was challenged by this young filly in a battle of wills. Maven was simply not cooperating and was falling behind her contemporaries. Jonas believed she had the speed but he was at wit's end trying to get her to keep her mind on business and to stop fighting him. He decided to take her out of formal training and for the next month she jogged every day on a one mile straight training strip at the Sunshine Meadows facility in Florida. At the end of a month, he took her back to the regular training track and she jogged off like she was a seasoned performer. Now that she was cooperating, she advanced in her training and it soon became evident that she had a great deal of potential. After two less than spectacular qualifiers, she turned heads when she went out and won her first four starts, two of them in track record performances. Due to her behavior issues in March, she was lightly staked at two but went on to win 8 of her 11 starts that year, taking a record of 2,1:56f. In her three-year-old season's debut, a Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at The Meadows, she had the sport buzzing when she handily defeated the heavily favored, two-year-old trotting filly champion, Check Me Out. That race portended a great season ahead where the two battled each other for honors. A month later, in a thrilling and furious stretch drive, Maven just missed nipping her rival at the wire for a win in the $560,000 Goldsmith Maid. In early August, the Hambletonian Oaks Final was expected to be the showdown between these two fierce competitors. Check Me Out was coming to this classic event off a five-race win streak, including a win in her Oaks elimination the prior week. Maven was coming in off a four-race win streak that included the fastest Oaks elimination. Around the last turn, Check Me Out had the lead with Maven making her trademark first over move when Check Me Out made a break, came to the outside and interfered with Maven sending her too on a break. This was a most disappointing end to what was expected to be a stretch duel for the ages. Maven rebounded off that loss with a record breaking win in the Moni Maker Trot. That win was followed by four second place finishes. Many thought that Maven had lost her luster. Maven went off as third choice in the Breeders Crown for 3YO Filly Trotters. Most were expecting a win by Check Me Out to be her crowning achievement for the year. What they didn't expect was for Maven to hit another gear and blow right by Check Me Out to trot to an easy win over her highly-regarded rival. Maven ended the year with an easy win in the American National Stake, in Chicago. She was given the winter off to prepare for a much anticipated four-year-old season. Maven debuted in the first leg of the Miss Versatility series in late May. She won easy and followed that up with wins in the elimination and final of the Armbro Flight stake, then two more wins in legs of the Miss Versatility. She looked invincible, but as fate would have it, she experienced a bout of illness and bad luck, winning only one of her next four starts. The most stinging defeat came in the Muscle Hill Trot at Vernon, where she finished fifth to her stablemate, Dorsay. In her next start, the Miss Versatility Final over the half mile Delaware, Ohio track, Maven for the first time all year, Maven was not sent off as the favorite. Perhaps, as bettors had known her defeat in the Muscle Hill was due to a flat tire on her sulky, they may not have lost confidence in her. Driver Yannick Gingras was on a mission that day in Delaware. The prior year, he drove Maven in the Buckette 3 YP Filly Trot and was a heavy favorite. Her connections were expecting a world record performance. Well, there was a world record performance in that race, but it wasn't Maven's, as the Ron Burke trained speed demon Bluff was able to be rated by her first-time driver, Tim Tetrick, and after a moderate half, this speedy filly stole off while Gingras was overconfident and unhurried sitting in fourth. By the time Gingras got Maven rolling, it was too late and the stretch was too short. Bluff had three-quarters of a length on Maven at the wire and the teletimer showed 1:54 flat, a new world record for three-year-old filly trotters over a half-mile track. Remembering that race of a year ago, Gingras wasted no time and sent Maven right to the top, winging past the quarter in 26.4, a breather to the half in 55:4, Gingras stepped on the gas up the backside, flying past the three-quarter pole in 1:23.4 and then opening up and overpowering her competition to trot home in 28 seconds flat for an all age, all sex world race mile of 1:51.4h! This was truly one of the most remarkable trotting races ever. Maven's next start was a win in the Allerage Mares Trot at Lexington, followed by an easy win in her elimination for the Breeders Crown. In the Final, Maven swept to an easy win over a sloppy track. Maven's next race, was meant to be a major test. She was going to race against the boys for the first time. The question her Swedish born trainer was asking, could Maven handle the boys and would she be competitive in one of the world's greatest race, the Elitloppet, raced in Jonas Czernyson's native Sweden. Facing a field that included the 2012 Hambletonian winner, Market Share, as well as such outstanding performers as Uncle Peter, Mister Herbie, Guccio and My MVP; Maven took the lead past the half but could not withstand Market Share's stretch drive and finished a very credible second. After the race, Czernyson and Gingras conferred and it was decided Maven was indeed capable of taking on the world's best in Sweden the following May. It was decided Maven would make her five-year-old debut in the Miami Valley Distaff. After three qualifying races designed to tighten her for the challenges ahead, Maven faced a field of lady trotters and proceeded to leave them in her dust, as she went wire to wire in track record time, winning as she pleased. Driver, Yannick Gingras, wanted to give her another race before she shipped to Sweden, fearing three weeks between races and only one start might prove to be a disadvantage. Trainer Jonas Czernyson ruled otherwise. Maven made the journey to Solvalla. Sweden proud to represent the USA against a field of the world's finest trotters. Most fans do not realize what an arduous trip it is for a horse to make a transatlantic journey. A long flight, followed by a long ship via truck to a country where everything is seemingly different, not just the language. Water, feed, track surfaces and training methods are often different than what one finds at home. While it takes a human a day or two to shake off jet lag, it can take a horse up to a week or longer. Maven arrived in Sweden a week before the race and seemed to acclimate well to her new surroundings. Everything looked good for the race, until the draw. Maven drew the six hole in an eleven-horse field that included three trailers. The style of racing in Europe is much more aggressive than in the U.S. Gingras spent hours watching replays of prior Elitloppet races, as well as other races over the Solvalla track. The six-post position basically dictated a race on the outside for the whole mile and that's how it shook out. Maven was third over and around the last turn made a big three wide move that looked like it might carry her to victory but she tired a bit in the stretch and finished a very good third. She clearly was not at her peak going into the second heat and fought hard to finish sixth. Although her connections were disappointed, they were all very proud of the filly who certainly made an account of herself and proved she belonged with the world's finest. Upon her return to the United States, Maven was clearly not herself. The trip had definitely taken its toll and it was a month before Maven made an appearance. She was not herself and only won one race, an overnight, in her next seven appearances. Meanwhile, her owner Bill Donovan had decided to get out of the breeding business and announced he would be dispersing his Stirling Brook Farms broodmare band at the fall Harrisburg Sale. Donovan gave much thought to Maven and decided it would be a wise business move to offer her for sale as well. He thought her best races might be behind her and the fact he was getting out of the breeding business meant she should have a new home. Maven was entered in the Harrisburg Sale on the first of September. After two more lackluster performances, Donovan made a very controversial decision. He asked Ron Burke to take over training Maven. Burke had trained horses for Donovan for several years and had had good success. It was not unusual for him to change trainers when a horse was not racing well. Donovan had three dozen horses with nine different trainers. He reasoned Burke's different and tougher training regimen might "wake up" Maven. As it was, she would mainly be viewed as a broodmare prospect at Harrisburg. If Burke could win a race or two with Maven, then perhaps prospective buyers would recognize her future racing potential, as well. If that happened her value would increase. Jonas Czernyson was crushed by the move. Donovan gave him full credit for developing Maven and freely stated that Maven would never have been Maven, without Jonas's tremendous patience and training skills. There was a firestorm of criticism on the web about the trainer change. Donovan stood firm and issued a statement proclaiming that his operation was a business and this was totally a business decision, that was his right to make. The criticism continued but was soon silenced when Burke sent Maven to the Muscle Hill Trot at Vernon Downs. The stellar field included the 2013 Horse of the Year, Bee A Magician. Maven and Gingras wasted no time in moving around her major foe and never stopping to win the race in track record time. The sport's media declared that Maven was back, but in five days she would enter the sales ring at Harrisburg. A few days before the Muscle Hill, Donovan got a call from a Swedish sales agent. Would he sell Maven prior to the sale? Donovan replied he would for $400,000.00. The buyers wanted an assurance that the sale would be honored were Maven to win the Muscle Hill. Donovan agreed, but he wanted assurances the buyers would go through with the sale, even if she lost the race. It was determined that the money would be wired from Sweden on Friday, to arrive at Donovan's bank on Monday. The Muscle Hill was being raced Saturday. Maven won. The money was not wired and Donovan withdrew his sale price as the buyers did not live up to their agreement. Monday was the first day of the Harrisburg Sale during which the premier yearlings were offered. While the excitement surrounded these royally bred, it seemed everybody was talking about Maven. Indeed, one of the sport's top media outlets created the "Maven Derby" and offered odds on who the prospective buyers might be. Their headline blared, "Who will win the Maven Derby?" People were opining not only about who would buy Maven, but how much she would fetch. Donovan consigned Maven through Dave Reid's Preferred Equine Marketing agency. On the night before Maven sold, Donovan and Reid discussed what everybody else seemed to be talking about, how much and who. Reid bet Donovan a dinner that Maven would bring at least $600,000.00. They both agreed the most likely purchaser would be a patron of trainer Jimmy Takter. Saturday, early in the afternoon, Maven stepped into the sales ring. The best description of what happened next can be found in most every racing article, "Maven Sells for $750,000". Jimmy Takter took over training Maven for her new owner. Her first start was two weeks after the sale. Takter boldly chose to enter Maven in the Open Breeders Crown, instead of the Mares division which she had won the prior two years. Yannick Gingras drove Maven in 49 of her 52 starts in North America. No surprise, Gingras got the call on Maven from Takter. She won her elimination with flair and entered the $500,000 Final as the prohibitive favorite against nine male competitors. In the Final, Gingras moved her first over past the half and fought valiantly to the wire, finishing a game second behind the winner, Commander Crowe. Maven made one final start in the U.S., finishing a respectable fifth in the TVG Trot Final. Four weeks later, she was shipped to Europe for a winter/spring campaign on the continent. The immediate goal was to win the Prix D'Amerique, raced at Vincennes, France. Unfortunately, the post position gods were unkind and Maven drew the 14th post position. Shortly into the race, she made a break and finished back. Returning to Sweden, she redeemed herself in winning a stake race at Solvalla. Maven made a return to the Elitloppet in May and finished a strong second in the first heat. In the second heat, she tired and was seventh. Maven made her 16th start of her European campaign on July 28, 2015. After finishing sixth, she suffered some soundness issues. Jimmy Takter brought her back to the U.S. with the intention of resting her and then bringing her back to race. Maven did not train back sound and she was retired in March of 2016. Shortly after, she was bred to the superstar trotting stallion, Muscle Hill. There will certainly be a tremendous interest when the foal she's expecting in 2017 sells at the fall 2018 yearling sales. In 70 lifetime starts, Maven earned $2,005,369. With 31 wins, 14 second place finishes and 4 thirds. Her lifetime record is her world record performance over the Delaware track when she scorched that surface in 1:51.4h. In 2013, she was honored to receive the USTA's Dan Patch Award and Canada's Joe O'Brien Award as the sport's top older trotting mare. By Bill Donovan with Tim Kelleher

Tina Sugarman, author of one of the top equine novels of 2016-2017, Horse Flesh, has agreed to share excerpts of her book with Harnesslink. Horse Flesh is a thriller mystery fiction novel based around a Standardbred racetrack in Ontario, Canada. It is the first novel ever penned by horsewoman, Tina Sugarman. Each week, Harnesslink will feature an excerpt from Horse Flesh. If you wish to purchase the book either in paperback or ereader formats, click here. Here is this week’s 6th excerpt from Horse Flesh! Horse Flesh by Tina Sugarman A LUNCH APPOINTMENT The Old Mill was the priciest restaurant in the Erinsville area. Phil had expensive tastes. But Al considered that lunch was a small price to pay for Phil’s expert advice. In over two decades, Phil hadn’t steered him wrong yet. Al was profoundly grateful. He was keenly aware that things could have turned out very differently, had it not been for Phil’s guiding hand. Phil had first approached him at a time when Al’s company was struggling to survive. Al was a hard worker but he was no politician. McTavish Construction’s bids for government contracts were missing by a mile. Phil was a wheeler dealer who knew all the right people at City Hall. Phil’s ace bids and McTavish Construction’s quality workmanship had proved to be a winning combination, making a small fortune for both of them. “How’s things?” Phil asked, joining him at the table, looking suntanned and relaxed. “What have you been up to?” Al countered. “Let’s get a couple of beers,” Phil suggested, loosening his tie. The years had been kind to Phil. Perhaps, Al thought, it was because his friend had never married. His eyes were still the same shade of brilliant blue as the day they’d met. Unlike Phil, Al hadn’t found the time for too many vacations over the years. Phil was always off to some exotic place or other. He had it made! The drinks arrived. “Shoot!” Phil said taking a swig of beer. Al laid out his plan for introducing TCO2 testing at Iroquois Downs. “Okay,” Phil said, running a hand through his hair, which was long and floppy and gave him a youthful air, despite a few grey hairs. Al was a short back and sides man, himself. “You got two problems. First, there’s no money for testing. Second, the horsemen will hate the idea.” “That’s it in a nutshell,” Al agreed, feeling things were pretty hopeless. The steak arrived, the most expensive dish on the menu. “You deliver the horsemen and I’ll get you the money somehow,” Phil said confidently, his knife poised over the meat. “How?” Al asked. “Usual channels…leave it to me,” Phil replied cheerfully, waving his fork at Al. “You going to the Maple Leaf game on Sunday?” he added. “I haven’t decided,” Al confessed. “Meaning that wife of yours doesn’t want to go,” Phil diagnosed astutely. Unfortunately, it was all too true. “If she changes her mind, it’s not too late to get tickets. Just give me a call, I’ve got the best seats in the park!” “Sounds good,” Al smiled. Phil was a useful man to know, he’d discovered over the years. Where would he be without him? However, this latest caper, Iroquois Downs, wasn’t working out too well so far. It looked like Al had landed in the middle of a hornet’s nest. He said as much to Phil. “Listen,” his friend said, dropping his voice and leaning across the table. “The racetrack’s up for grabs, you have to know that! It’s right next to the highway.” “Prime building land,” Al agreed soberly, picturing the backstretch sprouting high rises. “Look what they’re doing in the US,” Phil said. “You mean casinos?” “You could have Slots at Iroquois Downs too. The place could be a mini Las Vegas,” Phil declared, taking out a wad of cash, peeling off a couple of bills and tossing them onto the table. “That’ll take care of the tip,” he smiled, rising to his feet. So that was why Phil had encouraged him to get involved with Iroquois Downs, Al realized belatedly. His friend was always one step ahead of him. “Hey! I do believe you’re getting attached to the old place!” Phil exclaimed. “I’d dearly like to turn things around, yes,” Al replied earnestly. “Then you know what you have to do,” Phil said “And I’m right behind you, pal.” Al wondered where Phil really stood on the issue of Iroquois Downs Raceway. Only time would tell. THE MEETING Ten days later as Al McTavish rode the elevator to the sixth floor of Iroquois Downs grandstand, he mentally prepared himself. A tricky and unpredictable morning lay ahead. When he entered the boardroom, he counted heads. Everyone was present, except for Judge Jewells, the man chairing the meeting. The people on Al’s team, from Finance, Publicity and Admin, gave him a friendly wave. He spotted the horsemen’s representatives, Jim Mercer and Bob Summers, sitting at the table looking a little disheveled, with glum faces. They were the only men in the room who weren’t wearing ties. Over by the window, a pair of pasty faced guys in dark suits were avidly sipping coffee from paper cups. They’d be from the Provincial Racing Commission, Al surmised, the body responsible for policing the harness racing industry. He walked over and introduced himself. Then the door opened and the presiding judge, John Jewells, strode into the room. Jewells immediately called the meeting to order, banging his fist on the table and giving those still on their feet a withering glance. “We have a new Director at Iroquois Downs,” he fired off, pointing at Al. “Director McTavish has called this meeting to put a stop to cheating.” Only the horsemen’s reps looked startled. Everyone else was in the know. “You all saw the shambles at the fillies’ Diamond Stakes final a couple of weeks back,” Jewells continued. “Two long shots winning in a dead heat! But there’s gonna be no more cheating at Iroquois Downs from now on. That means no more baking soda, for anyone not keeping up! There’s a simple solution. Test for it. They’ve been doing that in Quebec for months now. If the French can do it, we can damn well do it here, too!” With that, Jewells shut his mouth like a trap and glared defiantly around the room. Everyone started talking at once. “One at a time and address the Chair please,” Jewells roared, bringing his fist down onto the table with such force that it shook. Immediately, order was restored. Al kept a low profile, watching and listening to reactions from the various quarters. Predictably there was outrage from the horsemen, enthusiasm from the Provincial Racing Command, caution from Finance and excitement from Publicity, who could hardly wait to break the good news to the media. “Over to you, Mr. Director,” Judge Jewells trumpeted after everyone else had had their say.  “I’d like to thank you all for coming here today,” Al began graciously, receiving a scowl from Jim Mercer. “Before we go any further, I’d like to share something with you.” He gave a nod to Admin, who began distributing sets of stapled sheets. “It’s a research paper,” Al explained. “By a prominent veterinarian at Erinsville Equine Clinic. I suggest you read it over carefully before we discuss this any further.” Silence descended, broken only by the ripple of pages being turned. Mercer picked his up, took one look and threw it down on the table. Al took a cigar out of his pocket. “Anyone got a light?” Al asked. No one did. Eventually everyone was done reading, or in Mercer’s case, done staring at the table. “Judge Jewells, I’d value your opinion on this,” Al said, knowing precisely what his opinion would be. They had already discussed it at length. “Well,” a beetle-browed Jewells said, looking across at Al, “I think I can summarize this pretty simply. According to Dr. Winterflood, there’s no harm in using baking soda in moderation. But at higher levels, it can cause gastrointestinal distress and in rare cases, death.” “It can cause cardiac arrest,” one of the PRC men exclaimed. “It says it right here on page four!” Dr. Winterflood’s paper had evidently touched a raw nerve. “Time for a prayer?” Judge Jewells responded with a twisted smile. “I’d suggest, ‘Please God, if I come back in another life, don’t let it be as a Standardbred racehorse’, not that I’m a religious man.” A horrified silence followed. “Our members aren’t criminals,” Bob Summers protested. The other PRC man spoke up. “Certainly, we need to decide what levels of baking soda are safe,” he said soberly. “We don’t want to be responsible for horses dying at Iroquois Downs.” “What do we need another test for?” Mercer challenged. “We got enough of them already!” He looked over at Bob Summers, who stared up at the ceiling. Al could tell that Jim Mercer was getting pumped up. Before he could detonate, he jumped in with a rhetorical question. “What do we have to lose?” he asked. “The goodwill of the horsemen who put on the show,” Mercer shouted, red faced. “Where would you be without us? I’m up at 6 a.m. every day, so are the rest of the guys. Don’t get to bed before midnight on race nights. I hardly see my family! I’m out there in the cold freezing my ass off all winter. I don’t ever get a holiday, not that I’m asking for one…” You could have cut the air with a knife. “Look . . . er, Jim,” Al said. “We all value the contribution the horsemen make. But the handle is falling. Aside from major stakes events, the public is staying away.” He paused to let that fact sink in. “It won’t help the horsemen if we have to cut purse money back again. If things get any worse, we could even be forced to close the place down.” “They’ll never do that!” Bob Summers exclaimed. “Iroquois Downs is the top harness racing track in Canada!” “It’s a major racetrack, yes,” Al conceded. “But it’s costing our government a small fortune. We can’t justify this kind of expense indefinitely. We have to get the handle up somehow!” Bob looked beat, but Mercer wasn’t giving up so easily. “This paper doesn’t change a thing!” he retorted angrily. “You can’t do this without proper negotiation. We’re going to have to call a strike.” Mercer’s threat was hardly a surprise. “Go right ahead,” Al said coolly. “But if the press gets a hold of this…” he picked up Winterflood’s paper, “the public won’t have a shred of sympathy for the horsemen. They’ll just feel sorry for the horses. The animal rights groups will be crawling all over us. We’ve got enough controversy already with the betting ring scandal. So, go ahead and strike. You’ll be digging your own graves!” Mercer glowered and said nothing. Not so, Bob Summers. “If you think you can push us around, you’re dead wrong! We ain’t just gonna roll over an’ play dead,” he declared, looking at Mercer for support. “That’s right!” Mercer agreed. “Okay, what are you saying, Bob?” Al asked wearily. Were they going to be here all day? he wondered. He had already played his trump card. “You gotta give us a package. Something we can take back to our members,” Bob said, not unreasonably. It dawned on Al that Bob might actually be on his side. “What’s your idea here?” Al asked. “Give us a bigger percentage,” Bob suggested. “The percentages are set by the politicians. It’s not in my control,” Al explained. Bob hung his head. Judge Jewells jumped in. “You’re just going to have to convince the horsemen that this is in their best interests, aren’t you?” he said, his tone leaving no room for discussion. “Pie in the sky!” Mercer shouted. “You gotta give us more than vague promises,” Bob said, “or…,” he paused. Right on cue, Mercer jumped up off his chair. “We’re ready to walk out right now!” he threatened. The two PRC men exchanged nervous glances. Al waded in. “Fellows, let’s not get too excited here. There are no guarantees but…you all know what’s going on south of the border.” “You mean Slots?” Bob asked incredulously. “Here? At Iroquois Downs?” “There could be a great deal at stake here,” Al replied, noncommittally. “If this is a come-on . . .” Mercer growled. “No promises,” Al said. “But if we can get things cleaned up around here, then anything’s possible.” “I dunno,” Bob replied uncertainly. “What d’you think, Jim?” “Not good enough!” Mercer snapped. “It’s the best I can do,” Al said. “Take it or leave it.” Mercer leaned over towards Bob Summers. A muttered discussion followed, inaudible to Al. “We’re going to have to consult our members,” Bob said at last, “but I reckon we gotta try to get the job done.” Mercer threw his cap on the table. “The hell we will,” he cursed roundly. There was an awkward silence. “Anyone have a better idea?” Judge Jewells asked. No one spoke. “Then I’ll take a vote. Let’s have a show of hands: those for the motion to introduce TCO2 testing?” Not surprisingly Mercer was the lone dissenter. “The ayes have it. Motion carried,” Jewells declared. Al stuck his cigar in his mouth. “Here,” Jewells said, tossing him a lighter. “Can’t bear to see you sucking on that thing a moment longer. Meeting is closed,” the judge added hastily. Everyone but Al and the judge filed out. Mercer was the last to leave, his face like thunder. “We’ve been lynched today!” he muttered. The judge waited until the door slammed shut behind him. “A good morning’s work,” he declared approvingly. “It’ll all come to nothing, of course,” he added. Al stared at him, astonished. “The guys with deep pockets will challenge the test in the courts, get the judgments against them overturned on some technicality and make fools of us all. Besides, there’s no money for it,” Jewells said. “Don’t worry about the money,” Al reassured him, puffing on his cigar. “As for the courts. . . we’ll just have to hope for the best.” “Better put that thing out,” Jewells warned, with a hint of a smile, “before the smoke alarms go off!” It occurred to Al that he’d found an ally in the irascible Judge Jewells and maybe in Bob Summers, too. Right now, he needed all the friends he could get. Stay tuned in to Harnesslink every week for another excerpt from Horse Flesh! Each week, Harnesslink will feature an excerpt from Horse Flesh. If you wish to purchase the book either in paperback or ereader formats, click here. 

Tina Sugarman, author of one of the top equine novels of 2016-2017, Horse Flesh, has agreed to share excerpts of her book with Harnesslink. Horse Flesh is a thriller mystery fiction novel based around a Standardbred racetrack in Ontario, Canada. It is the first novel ever penned by horsewoman, Tina Sugarman. Each week, Harnesslink will feature an excerpt from Horse Flesh. If you wish to purchase the book either in paperback or ereader formats, click here. Here is this week’s 5th excerpt from Horse Flesh! Horse Flesh by Tina Sugarman TCO2 The next day Director Al McTavish was driving into Iroquois Downs listening to the local radio, when he heard some worrying news. “This is your local station with today’s news and weather at the top of the hour. A single car accident occurred on the Indian Trail last night. From the skid marks on the tarmac, police believe the driver lost control of his car and left the road. The car ended up in a cornfield. The vehicle is registered in the name of Theo Vettore, leading driver at Iroquois Downs Raceway. We understand Mr. Vettore was unhurt, though suffering from a few scrapes and bruises…”  Al McTavish switched off the radio. He’d heard enough. Another piece of bad publicity for the racetrack. That’s all I need, he thought, as he pulled into Iroquois Downs’ empty parking lot. The sky had cleared overnight and the only evidence of the storm was the pools of water lying on the asphalt, steaming in the morning sun. It was going to be another hot day. After shuffling papers for a couple of hours, Al rode the elevator to the judge’s office on the seventh floor. “Got any news for me yet, John?” he asked, peering through the doorway. From the look on Judge Jewells’ face, Al surmised the news wasn’t good. He went and perched himself awkwardly on the only other chair in the room, the so-called prisoner’s chair. That was where horsemen accused of wrong doing sat, facing Judge Jewells on his leather throne. “No evidence, had to let ’im go,” Jewells revealed, his mouth set in a virtual straight line. So, Dave Bodinski had got away with daylight robbery, Al thought. It was disappointing to say the least. His gaze strayed to the racetrack far below where a few lone horsemen were still exercising their horses. There was so much that needed changing, Al reflected, on so many fronts: the low handle, resulting in slashed purses, the lack of funds to fix the decaying buildings. There wasn’t a shred of commercialism in the entire enterprise. “What do we do now?” Al asked. “If you’re serious,” Jewells replied looking him in the eye, as if to gauge his fortitude, “then you gotta get rid of the baking soda boys!” “Baking soda!” Al laughed. “Is that all they’re using? It doesn’t sound so bad.” “Take it from me,” Jewells replied emphatically, “If you want to clean up racing around here, you have to put a stop to soda. It’s far too easy for the horsemen to cheat.” “So, you think those two mares last night…” Al said, catching on. “Must’ve had a huge dose of it, yes,” the judge nodded. “Take a look at their previous efforts,” he added with a grim smile, tossing over the previous night’s race program. “I never would have picked either of them to win if I was a betting man,” Al acknowledged, feeling a little bewildered. “Take a look at Jolie Dame,” the judge directed. “Proof positive.” Al frowned. “She’s from Quebec,” Jewells said, fixing Al with a penetrating stare. Wilting under Jewells’ stern gaze, Al wracked his brains. But he still had no idea what the judge meant. “They’ve got black box testing in Quebec,” Jewells said in an irritated tone, as if explaining that two and two equaled four. “Had it for a while, TCO2 scores are closely monitored. Stops the baking soda boys in their tracks.” “Ah,” Al said finally getting it. “So, you think Price gave Jolie Dame baking soda? You think that’s why she improved so much down here?” “Don’t think it, know it! Can’t do anything about it of course,” Jewells said with genuine regret. “Well, it seems to me, we’ll have to find a way to test for baking soda at Iroquois Downs,” Al replied, relieved that there was such a simple solution. “Not so fast! It’s not cheap. Where are you going to get the money? Besides there’ll be a lot of resistance from the horsemen.” “And?” Al prompted. “Good chance they’ll go on strike.” Al frowned. “Refuse to race,” Jewells clarified, assuming Al wasn’t keeping up. “A strike. That’s all I need,” Al groaned. What have I got myself into here? he wondered. But he didn’t intend to give up at the first hurdle. His good friend and longtime business associate Phil Harman had convinced him to take on this job knowing it would appeal to Al’s sense of justice and fair play. Phil was counting on him to clean up racing at Iroquois Downs and Al was determined not to let him down. “Leaving the money aside for now,” he began, ignoring Judge Jewells’ pursed lips, “I need your input on getting the trainers on board.”  “Trainers!” the judge said contemptuously. “The winners are crooks and the losers haven’t figured out how to beat the system yet.” “Nevertheless,” Al argued, “we need to neutralize them if we’re going to be able to accomplish anything here. We can’t afford a strike. There’s little enough money as it is.” “Got any ideas?” the judge asked. “Not yet,” Al admitted. “How about you?” “None!” the judge replied sourly. And on that note Al departed. As he rode the elevator down to his office, he couldn’t help feeling a sneaking admiration for this Dave Bodinski character. Just sitting on that stool was enough to make a guy feel guilty and want to confess all. But Bodinski had faced Judge Jewells and come out of it smelling like a rose. In Al’s limited experience, horsemen were a pretty clever bunch. Anyone who didn’t take that into account would get nowhere with reforming a lost cause like Iroquois Downs. When he got back to his office, Al grabbed a cup of coffee and dialed McTavish Construction. Since his appointment as Director of Racing at Iroquois Downs, he had handed over the day to day running of his building company to his daughter, Billie.  It still felt odd not to be there himself every morning. “Good morning, sir. I’ll put you through to Miss McTavish right away,” the operator said. “Dad!” Billie McTavish exclaimed. “I’m glad you called. I wanted to get your take on that housing development, the one on Appleby Line.” “There’s something I want you to do first,” Al said. “Okay,” she replied, a little unwillingly, he thought. “I need you to find out everything you can about baking soda.” “Baking soda?” Billie asked. “You baking a cake or something? You don’t ever cook!” When Al didn’t reply, her tone changed to one of concern, “Is your stomach bothering you, Dad?” “No! Nothing like that!” Al replied hastily. “Believe it or not they use it on horses. It stops them tying up.” “I’m not even going to try to go there,” Billie laughed. “Just tell me what you want to know, okay?” Al pictured her: the look of exasperation mingled with amusement on her face, the mane of brown wavy hair. “I want you to find out if there have been any studies about the effects of high levels of baking soda, adverse or otherwise, on racehorses,” he said. “Okay!” Billie replied immediately. She sounded like she couldn’t wait to get started now.  “Plus,” he put in quickly before she could get off the line, “I need to know how you test for it and how much testing will cost.” “Fill me in here, Dad.” “They’re testing for soda in Quebec,” he explained. “Start from there. How soon can you get back to me on all this?” “If I google it,” Billie replied, “about an hour.” Al didn’t have any real understanding of how googling worked. Like the majority of his generation, he’d been reluctant to use the internet. However, he’d learned that in Billie’s hands at least, it produced excellent results. While he was waiting for his daughter to get back to him, he put in a call to Jim Mercer, one of the horsemen’s representatives, intending to feel him out on the baking soda issue. But all Mercer wanted to talk about was Theo Vettore’s accident the night before. “They made it sound like Vettore was out on a drunk,” Mercer retorted angrily, when Al introduced himself. “That’s a damn lie! Everyone knows what’s going on at the track! And what are you guys doing about it? Nothing!” When Al asked him to elaborate, Mercer got even hotter under the collar. “Don’t give me that!” he shouted. “Give you what?” Al replied feeling a little outraged himself. The guy wasn’t giving him a chance. “I haven’t got time for this!” Mercer muttered. He must have put the phone down, because all Al heard after that was a loud dial tone. ’Well, that went well,’ Al thought, gazing out of the window. It was so hot; the air was shimmering. The other rep, Bob Summers, was supposed to be the nice guy. But he wasn’t answering his phone. It looked like this job wasn’t going to be so easy. Then Billie called. “You’re not going to believe this!” she said exuberantly. “There’s a veterinarian doing a study, wait…here it is…a Doctor Jay Winterflood – that’s such a great name! – anyhow, he’s written a paper on the effects of sodium bicarbonate on the equine athlete…” “That’s…,” Al interrupted. “Baking soda, yes,” Billy confirmed. “Also, known as cooking soda, bicarbonate of soda, sodium hydrogen carbonate…or, if you want to get really technical, the chemical compound is NaH…” “Stop!” Al begged, his head spinning. “CO3,” Billie continued. “And listen to this. Doctor Winterflood is based right here in Erinsville…at the equine clinic!” That’s my girl, Al thought happily. “Perfect,” he said. “What’s wrong? You don’t sound very pleased,” she replied, her disappointment obvious. “Oh, I just got my head chewed off by someone,” he explained hastily. “Nothing to do with you, Billie. You did a great job. How about the cost?” “Of testing, you mean? I already asked Jeff. He’s got a lot of contacts in the States. He’ll be able to get us a good price,” she said, recovering somewhat. “Your friend Jeff Lamare,” Al smiled into the phone. “He’s got his fingers in so many pies!” “He’s a dotcom millionaire!” Billie corrected a little huffily. “And he’d be doing this as a favour to me, actually. It’s got nothing to do with his internet business.” Billie acted a bit like a porcupine at times – all prickles and humped back, Al reflected. But she was fiercely loyal to those she cared about and she’d never let him down yet. Did all fathers appreciate their daughters as much as he did? he wondered. His only disappointment was that neither of his sons had expressed any interest in taking over the family firm. However, Billie made up for both of them. “Thank him,” Al said humbly. “And Billie…” “Yes?” “The next meeting is in two weeks’ time.” “Okay,” she said doubtfully. She had the capacity to put a score of different meanings into that word. “I’d like to have everything ready to go by then.” “Okay!” she replied, suddenly business like. “Leave it with me, Dad. I’ll see what I can do.” The magic phrase, which nearly always brought results, had been uttered. Al leaned back in his chair and relaxed for the first time since Heart of Darkness’ humiliating defeat by two long shots the night before. After the weekend Al put in a call to Phil Harman to get a read on the political side of things. He had to leave a message on Phil’s answering machine. The next day, Phil called him back. “What’s up?” Phil asked. “How about I tell you over lunch at your favourite restaurant tomorrow?” Al suggested brightly. “No good. I got a lot on this week,” Phil replied. “How about next week then?” Al asked.  “Sounds like a plan. Long as you’re paying, pal!” Phil laughed. The Australian girl was lying on the terrace of André Fontainbleu’s hilltop fortress, soaking up the sunshine. Other than a large pair of sunglasses, she was wearing only the briefest of bikinis. André Fontainbleu, whose dark brown eyes had never needed protection, even from the harsh Caribbean sun, was resting his hand on her bare belly, palm down, fingers outstretched, in a habitual gesture of possession, pleased to observe the bruising on her breasts, testimony to the violence of their love making, just hours before. The clinking of silverware and glass and the discreet scraping of chairs informed him that lunch was ready to be served. “Get dressed,” he said roughly, tossing a towel at the girl. “After we eat, we shall go to Bailey’s Boatyard!” She opened her eyes and stared up at him. The flicker of resentment was still there. It meant nothing. He was holding all the cards. That afternoon he showed her the boat he was offering her: a wreck that had cost him nothing, washed up on the shore like the girl herself, another consequence of the storm. Afterwards, he drove slowly back up the mountain to the Hermitage, which was his personal, private sanctuary, bought dearly with blood and tears (not his own, of course). “You can leave now if you wish,” he told her, the sun in his eyes reducing her to a dark silhouette. “Leave?” she asked, with no attempt to hide her surprise. “Why, yes,” he replied, sure of himself now, reading her easily. The combination of arousal and confusion, with just a soupçon of surrender, interested him. “What if…,” she asked, her voice breaking. “What if I was to stay?” She was so young, he thought without a trace of empathy. The weekend was already a week. But it was not convenient for him to take on any surplus baggage at present. Stay tuned in to Harnesslink every week for another excerpt from Horse Flesh!

WEST CORK, Ireland – The conditions and rules are posted for the Red John Memorial and the new Maven Trotters Derby that will be held August 19 and 20 in picturesque Cork. This special tribute to the late “Red” John O’Donovan in 2017 will see all records be broken with prize money in excess of €90,000. Horses competing in both events will be required to race in elimination heats Saturday, August 19 and then return Sunday, August 20 for the final. First nominations are due Monday, April 20. This year the Red John Memorial and the Maven Trotters Derby are being sponsored by USA’s Bill Donovan, the owner of the world champion mare Marven. For more information go to http://www.irishharnessracing.com/ . By Tim Kelleher, for Harnesslink The conditions and rules for both races are below: RED JOHN MEMORIAL CONDITIONS 1. OPEN TO PACERS BORN ON OR BEFORE 2013 2.  NOMINATION FEE €100 DUE BEFORE APRIL 20th       FIRST SUSTAINING PAYMENT €100 DUE BEFORE MAY 20th       FINAL SUSTAINING PAYMENT €100 DUE BEFORE JUNE  20th  SUPPLEMENT FOR LATE ENTRIES €2000 3. TO BE RAN UNDER IHRA RULES  4. HEATS AND FINAL TO BE RAN OVER 1 1/4 MILES  5. A MAXIMUM OF 8 ELIMINATION HEATS WITH A MAXIMUM OF 8 RUNNERS IN EACH HEAT WILL BE HELD AND RAN AS PREFERRED HANDICAPS 6. FINAL TO HAVE EIGHT QUALIFIERS AND RAN AS A HANDICAP   7. HEATS TO START AT IHRA HANDICAP MARK GRADE F. ENTRIES WHO FALL OUTSIDE THE HANDICAP WILL BE FACILITATED IN OTHER RACES AND THEIR NOMINATION & SUSTAINING FEES RETURNED. 8. UK HORSES WILL HAVE THEIR BHRC MARK TRANSFERRED TO IHRA MARK  9. IN THE EVENT OF LESS THAN 8 HEATS ONE HORSE TO QUALIFY FROM EACH HEAT WITH THE REMAINING QUALIFIERS GOING TO THE FASTEST   2nd PLACED HORSES. 10. IN THE EVENT OF ANY HORSE WHO HAS QUALIFIED AND DOES NOT RUN IN FINAL NO REPLACEMENT HORSE ALLOWED  11. PURSE MONEY FOR FINAL €20,000 ELIMINATION HEATS €1600 (ESTIMATED) 12. DISTRIBUTION OF FINAL PURSE    1st €10,000 2nd €5,000 3rd €2,000 4th TO 8th €600 EACH  DISTRIBUTION OF HEAT PURSES WILL DEPEND ON FINAL DECLARATIONS  13. CONSOLATION FINAL PURSE €5,000 SAME PERCENTAGE DISTRIBUTION AS FINAL 14. CONSOLATION FINAL FOR THE 8  SECOND PLACED HORSES FROM EACH HEAT  .IF LESS THAN EIGHT HEATS THE FASTEST THIRD PLACED HORSES TO QUALIFY . 15. A MAXIMUM OF TWO QUALIFIERS FROM ANY ONE TRAINER AND OR OWNER WILL RACE IN THE FINAL  16. IN THE EVENT OF INTEGRITY TESTING PURSE MONEY HELD UNTIL TEST RESULTS ARE PUBLISHED  17. HORSES NOMINATED MUST COMPETE IN THREE "BETTING RACES" IN 2017 IHRA/BHRC SEASON  18. THE RED JOHN MEMORIAL COMMITTEE DECISION WILL BE FINAL IN ALL MATTERS  THE MAVEN TROTTING DERBY CONDITIONS 1. OPEN TO FRENCH TROTTERS BORN ON OR BEFORE 2014 AND PART OF THE LE TROT SCHEME  2.  NOMINATION FEE €100 DUE BEFORE APRIL 20th      FIRST SUSTAINING PAYMENT €100 DUE BEFORE MAY  20th       FINAL SUSTAINING PAYMENT €100 DUE BEFORE JUNE  20th SUPPLEMENT FOR LATE ENTRIES €2000 3. TO BE RAN UNDER IHRA RULES  4. HEATS AND FINAL TO BE RAN OVER 1 1/2 MILES  5. A MAXIMUM OF 8 ELIMINATION HEATS WITH A MAXIMUM OF 8 RUNNERS IN EACH HEAT WILL BE HELD AND RAN AS PREFERRED HANDICAPS 6. FINAL TO HAVE EIGHT QUALIFIERS AND RAN AS A HANDICAP   7. HEATS TO START AT IHRA HANDICAP MARK GRADE F. ENTRIES WHO FALL OUTSIDE THE HANDICAP WILL BE FACILITATED IN OTHER RACES AND THEIR NOMINATION & SUSTAINING FEES RETURNED. 8. UK HORSES WILL HAVE THEIR BHRC MARK TRANSFERRED TO IHRA MARK  9. IN THE EVENT OF LESS THAN 8 HEATS ONE HORSE TO QUALIFY FROM EACH HEAT WITH THE REMAINING QUALIFIERS  GOING TO THE FASTEST   2nd PLACED HORSES. 10. IN THE EVENT OF ANY HORSE WHO HAS QUALIFIED AND DOES NOT RUN IN FINAL NO REPLACEMENT HORSE ALLOWED SEAON  11. PURSE MONEY FOR FINAL €20,000 ELIMINATION HEATS €2800 (ESTIMATED) 12. DISTRIBUTION OF FINAL PURSE    1st €10,000 2nd €5,000 3rd €2,000 4th TO 8th €600 EACH  HEAT PRIZE MONEY TO BE DISTRIBUTED AS PER IHRA/LE TROT PERCENTAGE  13. CONSOLATION FINAL PURSE €8,000 SAME PERCENTAGE DISTRIBUTION AS FINAL 14. CONSOLATION FINAL FOR THE 8 SECOND PLACED HORSES FROM EACH HEAT. IF LESS THAN EIGHT HEATS THE FASTEST THIRD PLACED HORSES TO QUALIFY. 15. A MAXIMUM OF TWO QUALIFIERS FROM ANY ONE TRAINER AND OR OWNER WILL RACE IN THE FINAL  16. IN THE EVENT OF INTEGRITY TESTING PURSE MONEY HELD UNTIL TEST RESULTS ARE PUBLISHED 17. HORSES NOMINATED MUST COMPETE IN THREE "BETTING RACES" IN THE 2017 IHRA /BHRC SEASON  18. THE RED JOHN MEMORIAL COMMITTEE DECISION WILL BE FINAL IN ALL MATTERS 

WEST CORK, Ireland - The Red John Memorial was set up in 2015 following the tragic death of "Red" John O Donovan in January 2015. John was only 27 when he passed away but was a life long supporter of Harness racing in his native Cork and far beyond. The 2015 Memorial was a one day event but in 2016 the Red John Memorial became a two day event with the main race of the weekend The Red John Memorial Handicap carried a total purse of  €5000. In 2017 all records will be broken with prize money in excess of  €90,000. The Red John Memorial weekend takes place on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th August. This year Lyre, approx 2 miles from the bustling town of Clonakilty, will be the venue for what promises to be the biggest ever harness meeting staged in the West Cork region. The venue is owned by Ger Hegarty who has long being involved in the sport and boasts a natural grand stand which gives race goers a panoramic view of this half mile all grass oval. Clonakilty is around an hours drive from Cork International Airport and is on the gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way in West Cork. The Red John Memorial Handicap is for pacers born in 2013 or before, is of course, the feature of the weekend. The final which will be made up of eight qualifiers from elimination heats and will have a total purse of  €20,000 with a winners prize of €10,000 making it the richest handicap race in all of Ireland and the UK. The committee are indebted to Bill Donovan from Florida who has generously agreed to sponsor the event for the next three years .Donovan is president of a large trucking business based in Boston and has links to several more transport companies. His passion for standardbreds both trotters and pacers has put him in a position of one of the leading owners on the USA harness racing circuit. Bill has ancestoral links in Skibbereen and has forged strong links with the Murphy family from Baltimore through IB Coyote a mare jointly owned by Bill and the Murphy brothers Tadhg and Donal who won the prestigious Vincent Delaney Memorial two year old championship in 2016 and this was the catalyst for him getting involved in sponsoring the weekend. Bill has also sent a few of his own horses over from the USA to be trained and raced here in Ireland. Bill has also stepped in to sponsor "The Maven Derby" another handicap event this time for trotters born in 2014 or before. Maven was one of the greatest trotting mares ever to race in the USA and actually raced for a time in Etilop in Sweden. In 70 lifetime starts, Maven earned $2,005,369. With 31 wins, 14 second place finishes and 4 thirds. Her lifetime record is her world record performance over the Delaware track when she scorched that surface in 1:51.4h. In 2013, she was honoured to receive the USTA's Dan Patch Award and Canada's Joe O'Brien Award as the sport's top older trotting mare. This will be ran on the same lines as The Red John Handicap with eliminations and the grand final also for a total purse of €20,000. The Le Trot organisation from France are joint sponsors with Mr Donovan for this race which honours Maven, a horse owned by Bill Donovan. Bill says himself "Maven was a dream come true for me a mare of a lifetime but I have been blessed to have owned some great horses besides Maven including Ashleys Husband p,1.49.1 $250,736, Band Of Angels p,3 1.50 $487,150 , Bettor B Lucky p,3 1.50 $750,936 , Holier Than Thou p,3 1.50.1 $152,778 (World Champion) , Im On Cloud Nine p,3 1.54.2 $214,374 , Jolene Jolene p,2 1.52 $239,637 (World Champion) Lauderdale p,1.53.2 $386,189 , Medusa p,1.49 $432,012 Mistery Woman p,4 1.51 (World Champion) and Shared Past p,3 1.53 $416,606. "They have all given me so much success in harness racing and coming here to Cork to support the Red John Weekend gives me a chance to give something back to racing here where my fore fathers emigrated from many years ago " With the success of The Vincent Delaney Memorial in Portmarnock,The Red John Memorial weekend takes place on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th August which is the week after The Delaney weekend and it gives harness racing followers a week long of top class racing both in Dublin and here In Cork and The overseas visitors will be guaranteed a great time . Both The Red John and Maven Derby will see owners paying three sustaining fees of €100 per horse. The organisation of such a big event could not happen without the help of so many people and the harness racoing community here in West Cork are really pulling out all the stops to ensure this weekend will grow from humble beginings and become "The One" all owners and trainers want to win. "No matter what we ask of people putting up the track, sourcing stables for the visiting horses and garning sponsorship, there is always a positive outcome and without all this help such a weekend would not happen "said Micheal O'Donovan (brother of the late Red John) "What can we say, only Bill Donovan has put us in a great position with his generous sponsorship and I'm sure Red John will be looking down on us smiling on how big the weekend has become," added Caroline Collins of the Red John Committee. Following on from last year, Oakwood Stud will again sponsor the Three Year Old Grass Pacing Championship, which was a huge success in its first year. "Derek Delaney rang me last year and said why not try a three year old series which he and his brother James would sponsor, so we did and hopefully that grows just the way the VDM has." said Tim Kelleher of the committee "This year Derek rang and said they were again coming on board and to be honest we must mention all the rest of our sponsors from near and far who have been so generous " added Kelleher " We are always looking for new sponsors and The Clonakilty Chamber Of Commerce have been most helpful " The programme of events reads as follows THE RED JOHN MEMORIAL HANDICAP 1 ¼ MILES Heats €1600 (Estimated) Final €20,000 Consolation Final €5000 THE MAVEN TROT DERBY 1 ½ MILES Heats €2800 Final €20,000 Consolation Final €8000 THE OAKWOOD STUD IRISH 3YO GRASS PACING CHAMPIONSHIP Estimated prize fund €5000 THE PJI ENGINEERING FREE FOR ALL Estimated prize fund €3000 There will be a full supporting programme on both days with bumper prize money for all races. The on-line entry system will be available shortly as will details of Stabling and hotels. by Tim Kelleher, for Harnesslink    

Tina Sugarman, author of one of the top equine novels of 2016-2017, Horse Flesh, has agreed to share excerpts of her book with Harnesslink. Horse Flesh is a thriller mystery fiction novel based around a Standardbred racetrack in Ontario, Canada. It is the first novel ever penned by horsewoman, Tina Sugarman. Each week, Harnesslink will feature an excerpt from Horse Flesh. If you wish to purchase the book either in paperback or ereader formats, click here. Here is this week’s 4th excerpt from Horse Flesh! Horse Flesh by Tina Sugarman CORNERED Theo sprinted to his car through the pouring rain. He fumbled with the key, shaking like a leaf. He knew all about those guys in dark glasses. If they thought he hadn’t done his best to win, however untrue that was, he’d be in big trouble. He’d been feeling pretty low about losing with Heart of Darkness. That now seemed insignificant. Somehow, he got out of the horsemen’s parking lot without running into anything. Then he hit the road. The rain was cascading down like Niagara Falls. It had grounded every sane driver, so he was alone out there. The windshield wipers simply couldn’t cope with the torrent, but he desperately needed to put some distance between him and the racetrack. Moose had scared the shit out of him! Things were getting way too complicated at Iroquois Downs. There was plenty to worry about driving in a horse race without all that. He took the Indian Trail. It was slow going, as the road meandered through the bush. But Theo struggled on, using the blurred, watery house lights that appeared from time to time to guide him. At length, he reached open country and a straight road. The rain was easing up. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was almost home. Ferme Victoire, his Uncle Bernie’s place, was just around the corner. His relief was short lived. A pair of headlights materialized out of thin air. He had a fleeting glimpse of a vast combine harvester coming straight at him, as he slammed on the brakes. He put his hand down on the horn and held it there, but the headlights kept on coming. Was the maniac at the wheel deaf as well as blind? And what the hell was it doing out at this time of night, in this weather? Suddenly he knew. A split second later, another set of lights shone in his rear-view mirror, half blinding him. He was trapped! He had to get off the road! He swung left and instantly regretted his decision. An ugly looking barbed wire fence lay on top of a steep bank. He swerved to the right. His tires squealed in protest, but he put his foot down hard on the accelerator and prayed. There was a deafening crash. The air around him exploded. Theo watched, fascinated, as tiny air bubbles floated slowly across his line of vision. The car rocked violently, then landed right side up. Everything stopped. His headlights were shining on a sea of green corn. It was eerily quiet. The passenger door was pressing right up against his right arm. But by some miracle, he was still in one piece. He forced his way out and glanced up at the road. What he saw there made his heart stop. Two massive guys were silhouetted in the headlights streaming from a long black limousine that looked like a hearse. But the men looked nothing like undertakers. They were wielding powerful flashlights which, in their hands, looked like lethal weapons. But it was the sight of the long knives hanging from their belts which really scared him. He didn’t wait to find out more. He pushed his way through corn stalks, floundering on the heavy ground, ankle deep in mud. He’d heard stories about these guys, terrifying stories. He struggled on, his progress maddeningly slow, his imagination running riot. But despite his urgent need to put in as much distance as possible between him and them, he could feel that he was running out of steam. He and his cousin Lara had been in plenty of scrapes as kids, but this was no game! He hunkered down, listening intently. Smash! Bang! They were trashing his car, breaking the windows, slashing the tires. The headlights dimmed, then died. A piece of Theo died with it. Apart from his race bike, the car was the only thing he owned. Bastards, he cursed silently, afraid to make a sound. Suddenly everything went quiet again, a silence filled with menace. Now they were through with the car, they’d come after him, he guessed. He froze, peering through the rows of corn, hearing nothing, seeing even less. After what felt like an eternity, a powerful engine no hearse would ever possess roared into life, its dark outline menacing, even from a safe distance. This was no ordinary vehicle, Theo realized. Its front end was built like a battering ram. He shuddered as it rolled away down the road, its red tail lights glowing in the dark. Theo rose cautiously to his feet and looked about him, wondering what to do next. There was no sense going back to his car. It was a total write off. As he squelched through the mud to higher ground at the edge of the field, he realized the rain had stopped. He sat down and emptied the water out of his shoes. What now? he asked himself. Dave Bodinski waited for a break between cloudbursts before setting off for home, a one-bedroom walk-up on Erinsville’s east side. It didn’t bother him so much that he had to go see the judges in the morning. He and Scotty McCoy had to sing from the same hymn book, is all. But the rumour running around the Race Barn about some guys losing a big bet in the fourth, that had bothered him. Big time! He knew in his gut that Raiders Moon’s win had a lot to do with it and, thanks to the judges practically arresting him in the grandstand, there was a big fat finger pointing directly at him. Every couple of minutes he took a peek in his rear view mirror, looking out for a guy on his tail, even though he had no idea what he’d do if he was being followed. To his relief, he reached his building without incident. On his way up the stairs, the phone started ringing. He unlocked his front door in record time and ran inside, but the phone cut out, right after he picked up. Normally he’d have cared less, but he had to wonder. Who’d be calling at this time of night? And why? When no one called back, he assumed the worst. He locked all the windows and double bolted the front door. He was thankful that his apartment was on the second floor. It gave him a sporting chance. He decided to take Scotty McCoy with him to cash in the tickets. Scotty wasn’t big, but he was stronger than he looked. He was bull headed too. If anyone tried to jump them, Scotty wouldn’t take it lying down. Hoping for the best, Dave switched off his phone and barricaded himself in the bedroom. He fell into a fitful doze, listening to the sound of the rain on the window panes. The road was far too dangerous, Theo realized. He went in the opposite direction, walking along the narrow ridge of grass on the edge of the field, listening intently to every sound, trying to ignore the sinister rustling in the corn stalks. He was doing okay till an owl hooted in his ear. Eventually the corn field gave way to bush. He hesitated for a moment. Then he began fighting his way through the undergrowth, feeling very much alone. The moon, his only source of light, had disappeared behind the clouds. If he’d got it right, his uncle’s farm wasn’t far off. If not…he’d just have to hole up in the woods and wait till dawn. He’d reckoned without the coyotes. The first howl, too close for comfort, sent shivers down his spine. It was quickly joined by others. A deer came bounding towards him, nearly running him down. The pack was on the hunt. The clouds rolled back and he made out the shadowy forms of the coyotes snaking in and out of the trees, their eyes glinting. They were after something. He just hoped it wasn’t him! For the fifth time that night, Scotty McCoy left the pay phone and made his way back to his barn. He was cold, wet and worried sick. Where was Dave when he needed him? Raiders Moon wasn’t acting right. If she got any worse, he’d be forced to call the vet and that was the last thing he wanted to do right now. It was like calling the police after you’d committed a crime. Nevertheless, after looking over the mare one more time, Scotty knew he had to bite the bullet. Things had gone too far. Even Dave couldn’t help him now. Coyotes didn’t generally attack people, but they’d take a puppy or a pet cat in a heartbeat. Better safe than sorry, Theo reasoned, getting down on his hands and knees and groping around for something to throw at them. Eventually, his fingers closed on a dead branch. Pretty soon he spotted the coyotes’ intended quarry: a clutch of round eyed baby raccoons, trying to shimmy up a tree trunk, the picture of innocence. As the pack edged forward, he brandished his tree branch, yelling at the top of his lungs. To his relief, the coyotes turned tail and ran. Ousting them gave him a much-needed boost, but when he looked around for the raccoons they had disappeared. There’s gratitude for you, he thought. A hundred metres further on, the outline of his uncle’s hay barn loomed up, it’s reassuring light shining like a beacon through the mist. He was almost home! Then the barn light cut out, plunging him into darkness. Minutes ticked by. Theo was afraid to make a move. Was this an ordinary power cut, or were the Undertakers out there somewhere, waiting for him? Rain hit veterinarian Jay Winterflood smack in the face the moment he left the comfort of his truck. Getting to Scotty McCoy’s barn was like fording a swollen river, something he’d had plenty of practice at on the Cree Reserve in Quebec, where he had spent the first fifteen years of his life. Inside the barn, a man was sprawled on a rickety chair, half asleep. He jumped up when he saw Jay. “Doc!” he exclaimed. “Scotty McCoy?” Jay asked. Scotty nodded. “She’s bad, Doc, real bad,” he said hurrying over to one of the stalls and opening the door. The horse inside was obviously in distress. She’d backed herself into a corner. Her head was almost touching the floor and her flanks were heaving. There was a chill in the air which had nothing to do with the temperature. It clung to the hay bales stacked in the aisle way and lingered on the upturned jog carts and the harness bags hanging from the rafters. Involuntarily Jay shivered.  “I don’t understand it!” Scotty said, scratching his head. “She raced great tonight. She won!” “How long has she been like this?” Jay asked, gesturing at the cowpat-like manure strewn around her stall. Scotty hung his head. “Two, three hours,” he confessed. “I figured she’d come out of it, see.” “I need to know exactly what she was given today,” Jay said gravely. “Nothing!” Scotty replied indignantly. “If you want me to save your mare, you’d better tell me the truth!” “Three boxes of baking soda,” Scotty mumbled. “An’ a box o’ cake sugar.” “You know,” Jay said, “you guys think that baking soda is harmless.” “I never used it before!” Scotty cut in. “And in small doses, it is harmless,” Jay continued “But you can see now, used in excess, it can have a devastating effect.” “You take cash?” Scotty asked, evidently anxious to put a stop to the lecture. “You need to bring her into the clinic right away,” Jay said firmly. “My preliminary diagnosis is intestinal distress and extreme dehydration. I can’t treat her here.” “The clinic!” Scotty exclaimed, looking horrified. “They killed the last one I sent in there. Stuck me with a bill for three grand anyway.” “Not on my watch,” Jay replied. “I’ll meet you there in twenty minutes.” He picked up his bag. “I’m hoping we won’t have to operate,” he added, walking towards the door. “Operate!” Scotty repeated. Time was slipping away, Jay could feel it. He was blessed and cursed by an uncanny ability, a sixth sense. The gift had come to him from his mother’s people. It made most Canadians uneasy, so he’d learned to keep it to himself. “I don’t want no trouble, Doc!” Scotty said. “Load her up,” Jay replied, losing patience. “The sooner I start treatment the better her chances.” “You mean she might not make it?” Scotty asked, looking terrified. “I’m not making any promises,” Jay replied grimly, heading out into the downpour. The house was pitch black. Even the porch light was out. Clawing his way through the dark, Theo clambered up the porch steps, trying to avoid the one that creaked, a legacy from his teenage days. Uncle Bernie used to leave an emergency key in a flowerpot. He groped his way towards it and felt around. To his surprise, it was still there, buried in the earth. Gingerly, he opened the heavy front door only to be bombarded by the thud of boots and blinded by a flashlight. This time there was nowhere to run. He was cornered! “Theo?” he heard Uncle Bernie’s voice ask uncertainly. “What’s going on? It’s two o’clock in the morning! Look at you!” he exclaimed. “Marta!” he called out. “It’s alright! It’s only Theo.” A few minutes later Theo was sitting at the kitchen table wrapped in a horse blanket, drinking hot milk with a slug of brandy. Shadows cast by the candlelight were dancing on the walls. The electricity was still out. “You look very bad,” Marta pronounced. “Tell him Bernie. It is true, yes?” “You got yourself in some kind of trouble?” Bernie asked, looking worried to death. “I’ll tell you,” Theo replied shakily, finishing off the brandy. “I’ll tell you the whole sorry story. You’re not going to believe this!” André Fontainbleu was sitting in his private study watching the video he had secretly made of him and Anya making love earlier that night. He was pleased with his performance. Two females had given him pleasure tonight: Anya and the filly, Jolie Dame. Stay tuned in to Harnesslink every week for another excerpt from Horse Flesh!

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