Old established sport of harness racing still opening new ventures

Dan Carlin

Just before Easter 1967, the Irish News carried a piece about a forthcoming match race between Mr Joe Murdock’s Volunteer and Mr Barney Ross’s Wild Deb and other information about the then Northern Ireland Trotting Association’s new season.

Fast forward 55 years and the sport (better known as harness racing ) while still a minority interest is still fighting it’s corner in Northern Ireland.

None of Barney Ross’s successors currently race but Joe Murdock’s nephew Gavin is a public trainer and has a barn of over 20 horses at Annaghmore Raceway, County Armagh.

The track is nowadays under the auspices of the Irish Harness Racing Club (IHRA) the all-Ireland governing body with seats at the World Trotting Conference and affiliation with the UET (Union Europeen de Trot) or European Trotting Union.

A hardy band of volunteers have managed to keep a facility open at Annaghmore after Lambeg Stadium (nowadays Drumbo Park dog track) and Antrim Stadium closed as trotting venues.

County Armagh sports ground specialist Clive Richardson owns the facility at Annaghmore and leases the track to the IHRA.

Racing is held roughly every three weeks in rotation with a track at Portmarnock, Dublin. This weekend will see a much bigger than usual meeting at Annaghmore. The hardworking local committee at Annaghmore will welcome raiders from Leinster and Munster on Saturday and Sunday for a gala meeting to mark the opening of the new clubhouse.

An estimated £ 20,000 prizemoney is up for grabs.

The ubiquitous Murdocks will compete alongside the Stewarts and Hansons from Coleraine, the Galways from Twinbrook and the Coreys and Cowdens from North Belfast.

Admission is £10 with bookmakers, hot food and entertainment in the clubhouse. 1.30pm start both days with an eight-race card. The track is signposted from Junction 13 of the M1.

The top 16 trotters in the country and the top 12 pacers will run in heats and finals over the two days. A filly and a colts division for three-year-old pacers, a four-year-old trot and the first two-year-old pace of the season all make for good entertainment.

For those who like a flutter, here is some informed opinion.

Colleen Camden was tenderly handled at two and will be keenly anticipated in the three year old fillies. Duca de l’Eau was very impressive at the recent American weekend but Celui la Laye will take a bit of beating in the top grade trot. Rhyds Rival will be short if he gets his nose on the gate in the open pace although the enigmatic Newtown Rock likes to come off a sharp pace.

Avenir du Vauvert skipped Portmarnock last weekend and the connections are hot first time out. Churchview Camelot looked special in winning recently. Ayr Harbour is a real natural and it will take a good two-year-old to beat him.

Full results, this weekend’s cards and general information can be seen at Annaghmore Raceway is at junction 13 of the M1.

Newcomers are welcome and if they ask for a committee member, a close-up visit to some of the horses and drivers can be arranged.

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