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The Nortern Ireland Standardbred Association (NISA), the officially recognised governing body for the sport of harness racing in Northern Ireland staged their second meeting of the 2020 season at Racetime Raceway in Lisburn last Saturday when Eamonn O’Connors OnTop Black Shark struck again in the meetings finale the consolation final. Six went to post in this hotly contested affair and just when it looked that Ceiron DJ had the race at his mercy OnTop Blackshark dug deep to emerge victorious by ½ length in 2.03.4  Conall McGuigan is a new driver to the ranks at Racetime Raceway yet he drove Tom Wood like an old pro to win the Maiden & Novice contest. Rainstorm II with Eamon O’Connor aboard led them a merry dance in this before tiring late on. Rhyds Premier then took it up before Fold Mischief came with its customary late run but all the while Tom Wood was gradually creeping into contention. When asked for his effort by McGuigan the eight year old gelding sprinted from the pack to land the spoils by a length in 2.06.7 from Fold Mischief with Rhyds Premier another half-length back in third spot. From a new driver to somebody a little more seasoned and the veteran reinsman on duty Billy Bassett showed the younger drivers a clean pair of heels with Derrybeg in the 5 runner Grade 1&2 handicap. Owned by brother John, Derrybeg took up the running going down the back straight for the last time from the favourite Lakeview PanAm and IB Cymru to triumph in convincing fashion in 2.02.5 just a tenth of a second outside the fastest time of the day.  West Cork raider John Barley was all the rage on the bookies board before the start of the preferred free-for-all but the partisan locals then ploughed into Monugs Boy and both of these runners started joint favourites. The race didn’t go according to plan however as outsider of the 4 runners, Vyrnwy Saddlepan, swept past Monugs Boy and John Barley on the second circuit to win going away by 6 lengths in 2.02.4. Monugs Boy fended of the late challenge of Ceiron DJ to claim second a further 2 lengths adrift with the luckless John Barley appearing to have been in need of the run. In the afternoons square trot, Adrian Grahams Avetot exacted sweet revenge on Diva Valentina who beat him narrowly last time they locked horns. This time around Avetots driver employed different front running tactics and despite making ground on the straights the favourite Diva Valentina struggled on the beds and lost valuable ground. Evan Jive had a tardy start and never recovered leaving Avetot a facile winner in 2.14.8 with the distances ten lengths and the same. With Covid-19 restrictions easing somewhat in Northern Ireland a healthy attendance turned up at the venue on the day with local punters joined by visitors from Dublin and from West Cork with track promoter Greg Dean thrilled at the support that the track has built up since its re-opening back in early July. A qualifier was also held before racing and 2 horses managed to better qualifying time, Newmoors Jackie Dan and Blue Top Gun.  by Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink

The Northern Ireland Standardbred Association (NISA), the officially recognised governing body for the sport of harness racing in Northern Ireland, is staging their second harness racing meeting of the 2020 season at Racetime Raceway in Lisburn Saturday and top West Cork trainer Mick Goggin is making the long journey from his base at Goleen to participate. Stable star John Barley will be all the rage in the preferred free-for-all, but Goggin will have to be at his very best in the bike to outfox the wily Hugh Friel and Vyrnwy Saddlepan a proven sub 2 minute performer. Young guns Cieran JD and Monugs Boy will be all out to upset the applecart in what could end up a very tactical affair. Rainstorm II, a £7200 purchase as a yearling in the annual York sale, makes his eagerly awaited debut for Eamonn O'Connor in the afternoon's Maiden & Novice mile. He will have to be at the top of his game however to fend off Tom Wood, Rhyds Premier and recent winner Fold Mischief. All eyes will be on the Mickey Connors owned Streamside Skryne in the Grades 1 & 2 Handicap. By Kikicolt out of the 1:57 racemare Artcastic, the gelding has displayed an abundance of talent in previous runs but he will have his work cut out for him if he is to lower the colours of On Top Blackshark, who landed the spoils in the grand final at the opening meeting and is in the form of his life at present. Throw IB Cymru, Lakeview Pan-Am and Derrybeg into the mix and we have the makings of a really cracking contest. The Swedish bred Diva Valentina is likely to start favourite in the mixed European square trot following her victory last time out, but having been penalised for the win she will be sharing the gate with French breds Avetot and Evan Jive. The former could upstage Diva on this occasion as he was challenging strongly last time out before a break in stride put paid to his chances. "Rising Stars" races will also be held throughout the afternoon and these pony trotting races have proved to be immensely popular at Racetime. Parents and the children are cheered on and applauded by friends and relations as they glide around the track and its hoped that the harness racing bug bites these juniors who will then become our pro drivers of the future. A consolation race will conclude proceedings and this will be free entry for all non winning pacers on the day. If there are more than 6 entries a draw will be held for those consolation spots. As ever Racetime pay out prizemoney on the day in cash. With Covid restrictions now relaxed on public events in Northern Ireland, spectators are welcomed provided they exercise social distancing, so get yourself down to Racetime Raceway on Saturday 1st August where a great days harness racing awaits allcomers. Post time 3pm. by Thomas Bennett, for the NISA

The Northern Ireland Standardbred Association (NISA), the recognised body for harness racing in Northern Ireland, staged its opening race meeting of the 2020 season on Saturday 18th July with national broadcaster the BBC on hand to cover the event which was held at Racetime Raceway, just outside Belfast. Three heats of pacers and a concluding grand final provided the main entertainment with a European bred trotters race also held on the day. In the opening heat, William McClelland drove Niall Loughrans Fold Mischief to a narrow victory over Conall McGuigan’s Tom Wood and John Murdy’s Rhyds Premier in 2:04.6 with the distances a short-head and 10 lengths. The penultimate heat was an equally tight affair with Cathal Donnellys Ceiron DJ just prevailing by a half length from longtime leader Derrybeg in 2:02.1 with the favourite Monugs Boy unable to land a blow a further four lengths adrift back in third sport. The remaining heat went to Barry Dean aboard Lucky Cam who outclassed the opposition to score comfortably in 2:03.2 with Ontop Blackshark staying on well for the runner-up spot ahead of Lakeview PanAm with the distances four lengths and two lengths. In the 6 runner final for £1000, an incident on the opening bend resulted in driver Barry Dean being decanted from favourite Lucky Cam. Under a NISA ruling this horse was precluded from taking part in the re-run.  When they finally got underway second time of asking Fold Mischief and Tom Wood engaged in an early battle with the latter getting the better of the exchange and leading them throughout the first circuit. As they got the bell with a lap to go Billy Bassett and Derrybeg surged forward from the chasing pack to take up the lead before readily going five lengths clear. Cerion DJ the favourite was then asked to improve from the tail of the field but Cathal Donnellys charge couldn’t make any inroads despite his urgings. All the while Ontop Blackjack was quietly building up a head of steam and in the final 50 yards when it looked as if Derybeg had the race in safe keeping, the seven-year-old gelding by The Preacher Pan came with a storming late charge to land the spoils for owner/trainer/driver Eamonn O’Connor. The winning time was 2:02.3 with Tom Wood Fold Mischief filling the frame.  A trotters race was also held with mixed Euopean breds and this was won by the Swedish bred seven-year-old Diva Valentina from the French bred Evan Jive with the other French bred Avetot getting disqualified by the stewards for galloping across the line when in contention. The time was 2:14 and winner won by a comfortable six lengths. The afternoon was complemented by a brace of pony trotting races where parents of young boys and girls partnered with their children on the track in some mini races covering the length of the home straight. A round of applause and a trophy was given to each child who participated and such encouragement was to be commended as these kids will be the star drivers of the future in Ireland. A carriage driving exhibition was held on the afternoon and this added to the family friendly atmosphere that was present throughout the day. Interviewed post-racing, Chairman of the NISA, Greg Dean, conveyed his satisfaction with how the opening meeting went, adding that having governed the sport in the province for the past 70 years harness racing under NISA was in safe hands for another 70. Entries are now being taken for all grades of pacer and trotter for the next meeting which will take place at the venue on August 1st.    by Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having won a heat for the past 3 runnings and finishing second in last years grand final, Tommy Camden finally received a just and welcome reward when winning the top harness racicng event of the afternoon at Bells Field, Airth in Scotland last Sunday.   Trailing his 9 rivals 30 yards at the start, the Richard Haythornthwaite driven six year old gradually crept into contention before striking late to deny fellow heat winner Dontstoptheparty in the shadows of the post. Sponsored by the Northern Ireland Standardbred Association (NISA) , a coach load of their members made the ferry journey across the Irish sea to be on hand to present the winners trophy and celebrate with jubilant connections Shane & Claire Fletcher from Wolverhampton. Driver Haythornthwaite was visibly relieved in the winners enclosure having been narrowly denied in the final of the geldings previous start at Musselburgh stating that a big classic win was a long time in coming, but resulted a much deserved victory for the honest genuine No Pan Intended bred. Another classic event was held on the day when 5 colts lined up for the Bells Field 3 Year Old Championship and this ended in somewhat controversial circumstances. A visibly tiring Lose My Mind (Betterthancheddar) drifted off the rail in the home straight causing Oakwood Spur and Bobby Camden to take evasive action but in the subsequent stewards enquiry, the interference was deemed as unintentional and Lose My Mind kept the race, to the delight of connections the Gilvear family from Auchenbowie, Stirlingshire. Having first been staged in 2005, Bells Field has become one of the biggest and most prestigious harness racing meetings in the British Isles and with increased prizemoney year-on-year, this seasons renewal format of £1000 for each heat winner and £3000 for the overall winner of the final was adjudged to be a great success by all in attendance. Sponsors plus guests were treated to a 3 course lunch and complementary drinks in the specially erected marquee whilst a country and western band played late into the evening for all patrons. This type of hospitality is unparalleled in the UK and the hardworking Bells Field Committee are to be applauded for their efforts in ensuring that the meeting was such a huge success. by Thomas Bennett, for Harnesslink  

We’ve all witnessed memorable clashes before – the National Hunt had Kauto Star Vs Denman, the flat had Grundy Vs Bustino and now harness racing has Matticulous Vs Merrington Movin Up which will be held at Tir Prince this Saturday evening. Both are unbeaten this season and both have been purposely campaigned to avoid each other, but that all ends here at the Welsh venue when they go head to head for the first time. Trainer Alexis Laidler has publicly said that there has been nothing between them in workouts and it’s a coin toss as to what Rocker will drive on the night. This isn’t a two-horse race by any stretch and recent Irish classic winner Stakes On The Pan and Teddy Camden are also likely to make their presence felt. As promoter Dave Wilson has highlighted during the week, theres more than just the Matticulous Vs Merrington Movin Up showdown to look forward to on Saturday night as its Breeders Crown Finals night with over £50,000 in prizemoney up for grabs over 10 equally mouth-watering events. Heats and Final will be held for the 3 year old fillies division and all eyes will be on the freak that is Robyn Camden. This Irish trained multiple record breaker looks to have this classic at her mercy and Saturdays contest represents one last chance to see her in action before she jets off to the US to continue her career against the best pacers in the world. 15 other fillies will be all out to lower her colours and of these Rhyds Sapphire, Rhyds Reflection, Lyons Attack, Wellfield Witch and Isabella Camden have shown enough form to give Robyn Camden a real fright. The 4 Year Old Breeders Crown Colts Classic looks a formality on paper for current track record holder Rhyds Rock Star however recent Starmaker Series victor Father Ted has been improving in leaps and bounds this season and will certainly make his presence felt. The 4 Year Old Fillies equivalent looks a lot more competitive and any one of the 9 runners could land the spoils here. Lyons Lememay and Rhyds Mystique were a pair of champion 2 and 3 year olds but both have failed to fire on all cylinders this season. All this could change on Saturday and it would be no surprise to see either bounce back to claim the £2000 first prize. Teatime Preacher, Olivia Camden and Borntorun are others to consider in this wide-open event. The 2 Year olds are a golden batch this season both colts and fillies. £5000 is first prize for both divisions and with such valuable pots on offer these will be the most hotly contested of the night. In the colts Oakwood Inittowinit, Christy Camden and Shadowcaster are fancied by connections to run big races whilst The Mocking Jay, Loose Change, Springhill Miss Kate, Elski and Lyons Queen are the ones to watch in the fillies final. With a couple of Le Trot contests also scheduled to complement the Breeders Crown Finals, the night features something for everybody so don’t just sit at home and pray somebody transmits some blurry Facebook live videos, make your way to Tir Prince to soak up the atmosphere, see old friends and be part of history. Saturday is guaranteed to be choc-full of “I was there” moments. Don’t miss this meeting under any circumstances. Thomas Bennett      

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

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

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

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

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