Day At The Track

There is no stopping for Ireland’s Brenda Hudson

06:30 AM 03 Feb 2018 NZDT
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Brenda Hudson, harness racing Brenda Hudson, harness racing Brenda Hudson, harness racing
Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat greeting Brenda Hudson at the Ladies International meeting in Malta last May
Nadina Ironia Photo
A smiling Brenda Hudson after a winning drive
Nadina Ironia Photo
Brenda Hudson driving over a muddy track back in the day

BELFAST, IR - Born in Belfast, harness racing brought Brenda Hudson to Dublin in more ways than one. Having raced throughout the UK, America and more recently in Malta, Brenda Hudson is enjoying her ‘elder stateswoman status’ within Irish Harness Racing. Brenda is looking forward to the 2018 season, the traditional Easter Sunday start date having been restored.

Wins at 31 different tracks, trebles at 11 of these venues, 52 wins in Britain, 57 wins with Rambling Rover alone. In Musselburgh in 1996 with Double M, the Irish Derby with Stormy Reveller followed by the 2002 Welsh Classic at Tregaron, the stats roll off her tongue in a matter of fact way. She won the Free For All in Musselburgh with Alec Patterson’s iron mare Ambro Lobell in 2001.

“I reckon I have 504 victories and counting,” Brenda recalls, “but the records from the early days are sketchy. Mrs. Scott of Antrim Stadium helped me collate them some years ago.”

On the down side there were tough days amongst all the success. 27 broken bones, 30 odd stitches, severed tendons and ligaments are a sign of her toughness. Each time she came back, her love of racing undaunted.

Brenda was in reflective mood when I spoke to her recently. The 59-year-old has managed to keep her youthful looks and it’s hard to believe that Brenda (nee Brenda Dean) has been racing since the days of Secretariat, The Dikler and Johhny Roe.

Brothers Gregory, Roddy and Dennis (Dixie) rode jumping ponies to a high standard and Brenda tagged along. Their father Patsy Dean always had a soft spot for a good pacer. Brenda and Westfield were cruising in the lead at Lambeg one night in 1974 when the great Kevock Vale Hero put a leg through her sulky spokes.

“It used to happen all the time before they brought out wheel discs.’’ states Brenda calmly.

The ensuing accident left the teenager badly smashed up. When her late mother decreed that this harness racing was too dangerous and ordered a halt. Brenda produced a defiant huff and took off to work in the Channel Islands.

“I saved all my wages and came home to buy Charlie Chase,” Brenda explained. “My dad went to pick him up at Walter Cunningham’s yard, and bought Little John as well, so we were in business.”

Maybe it was the pretty face, maybe the smile never far away, but nowadays Hudson is quick to credit some of the men (it was a very male dominated sport) who helped her along the way.

“I was privileged to drive for Bobby and George Hanson,” Brenda recalled. “In the States, Delvin Miller took me under his wing and I was there for six months. I took over Dorney Reveller and Silent Running to race there.”

Brenda went on, “Most of Rambling Rover’s success I put down to the fact that one man listened to me complaining that I couldn’t get Rover shod the way I wanted. Robert Steele, of the Lisburn family of vets, actually shod the horse for me and we never looked back.”

Brenda enjoyed the harness racing around the main arena at the RDS. In the early 80’s she took a heat with the flashy chestnut Langton Pride while brother Gregory won the final with Ragman.

Brenda was second, representing Ireland in the International Ladies Challenge at the Meadowlands in 1999 and represented the UK and Ireland against a USA team a few years later.

In 1989 Brenda moved to Dublin and forged a formidable partnership both as a couple and as a training team with Paddy Hudson. They married some years later. With the pair’s innovative and unique approach to conditioning and Brenda’s skills on the track, the two won countless races with Pams Boy, Black in A Flash and Spice Girl, amongst others.

Brenda sighs wistfully when she remembers Leckwith Flashman.

“He’s the one that got away,” Brenda said.  “I was working my way up the handicap gradually with him. I had him placed to win some big pots, and then I lost him to colic.”

Similarly, Hudson was unlucky to lose Kick On last year, another lightly raced improving type. The son of Yankee Lariat had to be euthanised due to complications arising out of a spill at Annaghmore.

Paddy Hudson passed away in 2010 and it must have been hard for Brenda to come back to the sport that brought them together. Again, the reinswoman was grateful to Neville Martin who put her up on some decent sorts at that time.

"Bet Your Miffed and Angelas Kosmos gave me a lift when I needed it, ‘’ added Brenda.

Brenda says that the biggest difference in the racing now and when she started is how the modern horses come to their gait much quicker.

“We used to have tight hobbles and special shoes to get them pacing,” Brenda said. “Now they’re doing it free legged.” (Harness racing jargon for without hobbles)

The veteran horsewoman thinks the sport is becoming an industry.

“Our young people have a chance to make this a career,” Brenda said. “whereas my generation had to work to subsidise the horses.”

Was it harder being a woman?

“Well, early in my career a few guys tried to frighten me on the track,” Brenda explained. “but I gave as good as I got. It’s nice to see some talented young girls coming up now. In Australia, for example, they have a high percentage of female drivers. With better stewarding than when I started, there’s no reason why a girl couldn’t compete with the best of the men.”

In conclusion the accomplished driver is proud that the best horse she drove was Irish bred. Stormy Reveller was by Liam Wallace’s grey Young Commander out of Bobby Hanson’s Springhill Sheba.

Brenda goes a bit coy when asked about the subject of retirement.

“Kelly (her daughter, actually an actress) says that I’ve said every year for five years that this will be my last.” Brenda laughed. “I was hoping that Kick On would let me go out with a bang, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

While Brenda probably thinks she can go on for ever, it is interesting to hear her talk about life after the sulky seat.

“I would love to get involved with the integrity side,” Brenda said. “and also, horse welfare.”

The Irish Harness Racing Association have that rarest of things now before them, a steward with top level experience – just waiting to be asked. In the short term if there are any harness racing owners out there (old or new to the game) looking for a sympathetic pair of hands for a promising trotter…

What a story that would make this summer.

By Dan Carlin, for The Irish Field

This article was first published on www.theirishfield.ie

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