This time of year may be slow and quiet, with the racetracks in Atlantic Canada dark but that’s not the case for organizers hosting annual racetrack award banquets, as three of the big names in the world of harness racing will be visiting the Maritime provinces over the next three months.
Bill O’Donnell, who retired last summer from active driving assignments and who now works full-time for OHA representing Ontario horsemen, must have had a wonderful time last year in Inverness, as this year he is back with us. O’Donnell has agreed to speak at the Truro Annual Awards night on March 16, 2019 at the Best Western Glengarry in Truro, Nova Scotia. He is a very entertaining individual, a natural story teller, and I’d suggest contacting Kaitlyn Wesley at 902-977-0155 to ensure you have a ticket for what is certain to be an entertaining evening.
O’Donnell, better known as the “Magic Man”, was one of the game’s all-time great drivers and combined with another all-time great, John Campbell, to dominate the harness racing scene during the 1970s and 1980s. He drove Nihilator to victory in 1:49:3, the first sub-1:50 pacer and was the first driver to win in excess of $10,000,000 in a single season. Some of his other great victories came aboard Camtastic and the trotters Valley Victory, Prakas and Napolatino who battled Campbell and Mack Lobell in many great races.
O’Donnell is the son of “Henny” O’Donnell, a familiar and colorful “oldtime” trainer who raced at Truro Raceway and at Sackville Downs where he was stabled with the Captain Jack Cruikshanks owned stable.
Jody Jamieson, three-time Driver of the Year in Canada, and one of the top drivers on the Ontario Circuit for the past 20 years, will be speaking at the Summerside Awards Night scheduled for Credit Union Place in Summerside, April 5, 2019. Jody has banked in excess of $100,000,000 lifetime in earnings and has won The Little Brown Jug, the North American Cup, a multitude of major stakes victories, plus a memorable world record 1:46:4 victory with Warrawee Needy, winning the Haughton Memorial at The Meadowlands. He is also a former World Driving champion and is one of Canada’s best harness racing ambassadors. He is very personable and I am certain those attending the Summerside Awards Night will be in for a fun night.
Wally Hennessey certainly needs no introduction in these parts, having campaigned on the Maritime circuit before moving to the USA in the early 1980s. Hennessey, 62, a member of the USA Hall of Fame, recently passed the 10,000 win plateau, only the 18th driver to accomplish that feat and has banked more than $60,000 lifetime. (See our special section on pages 23 - 25).
He will long be associated with Moni Maker, one of the greatest trotters of all time. He has been a major player on the New York Sire Stakes circuit and today splits his time between Saratoga, New York in the summer and Pompano Park, Florida in the winter. One of his early major victories came aboard America’s Pastime in the 1992 Woodrow Wilson for two year olds. Wally is a charming and personable individual who is hoping the golf courses will be open as he’d like to get a game in the morning of April 13, the day of the PEISHOA annual awards at Murphy’s Rec Centre in Charlottetown. Regardless, it will an entertaining and enjoyable evening. Get your tickets early as this event will likely be a sell-out.
New Jersey passes bill supporting harness racing
Mark Ford, president of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey, is all smiles these days after the New Jersey legislature passed a Bill that supports the harness racing game to the tune of $100 million over five years. This is great news for harness racing especially the Meadowlands who have already scheduled purse increases for March and April at The Big M. This bill also increases support for the Breeding side of the business with enlarged stakes and breeding incentives.
New Jersey and the Meadowlands track combined are an important market for graduates of the Atlantic Sire Stakes program, and this type of announcement will ensure an ever stronger market for Maritime bred horses.
Rene Allard –Charms Sydney, Cape Breton and Area Horsemen
Rene Allard, one of the top trainers in the harness racing world, journeyed to Sydney on February 9th, where he was the guest speaker at their annual awards night. The popular trainer is also fan friendly as evidenced by the great acceptance before and after his presentation. Rene spoke about his humble beginnings and about his early days in Quebec. (See Shane Ryan column, page 20)
Hambo winner Atlanta Sells for Record, $1.55 Million
Hambletonian winner Atlanta sold last Friday at the public on-line auction house OnGait for a record $1.55 million, the highest price ever paid for a harness horse in North America. The sale and the story about four of the five owners wanting to remove the fifth partner, who is also trainer Rick Zeron, caught the attention of the harness racing world and generated enormous activity on the social media outlets. The horse was purchased by the original owners Brad Grant, Crawford Farms, Holland Racing Stable and Howard Taylor. The four year old will race out of the Ron Burke stable in 2019.