The best in Canadian harness racing will be honoured Saturday in Charlottetown.
The 25th annual O’Brien Awards will be handed out during a ceremony at the Delta Prince Edward Convention Centre. It is the first time in the awards’ history they have been presented outside of Ontario.
The week includes a Friday night race card and kitchen party before Saturday’s gala ceremony. The kitchen party sold out (750 tickets) last week and there are 465 guests for the gala.
“We’re tickled with the sales on both of the events,” said Tom Clark, vice-president of the Prince Edward Island Harness Racing Industry Association.
“We far surpassed our initial expectations by a long shot. We couldn’t ask for any more from the racing community, the volunteers, the committees involved with the weekend’s events and Standardbred Canada.”
The awards are named in honour of Alberton native Joe O’Brien, who was born in 1917 and died in 1984. He grew up in a harness racing family and was involved in the sport at a young age. He left the Island in 1947 and went on to win 4,285 races and had money earnings of more than $20.4 million.
Officials started arriving Tuesday for the weekend’s festivities and more will come today with the vast majority being in town for Friday.
Clark is pleased with the enthusiasm for the weekend.
“I’d like to say it’s a little overwhelming,” he said. “But, honestly, on the other hand, it doesn’t surprise me. We’ve always had tremendous provincial enthusiasm here.”
The awards ceremony will be streamed online at www.standardbredcanada.
The video stream will go online live at around 9:15 p.m. Atlantic.
The awards presentations are expected to last for 60 to 90 minutes.
The awards will be hosted by Ken Middleton and Lee Drake. Haley MacDonald will sing the American national anthem and O Canada.
Drake also co-hosted the ceremony in 2004.
“I understand how big it is and what an honour it is for the nominees to be there,” he said. “For it to arrive on Prince Edward Island during the 2014 celebrations, home of Joe O’Brien, and on the 25th anniversary is a really big deal, not only for Canadian harness racing, but for Prince Edward Island.”
Clark said harness racing is entrenched in the fabric of Island communities.
“It seems as though you don’t have to go too far into family trees to find somebody that’s involved in racing.”
What’s Going On
A look at this week’s event for the O’Brien Awards in Charlottetown.
6 p.m. – Special race program at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park.
9 p.m. – Island Kitchen Party at Eastlink Centre. Tickets sold out.
10 a.m. – Harness racing industry forum, Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park.
10 a.m. – Tour of Charlottetown attractions and businesses
1 p.m. – Standardbred Canada national annual meeting at Delta Prince Edward Convention Centre.
6 p.m. – O’Brien Awards ceremony at Delta Prince Edward Convention Centre.
Up For Awards
Patrick Shepherd, future star.
Paul MacKenzie, horsemanship.
Dr. Ian Moore with Arthur Blue Chip, two-year-old pacing colt.
Ann MacNeill, outstanding photography category of the media excellence awards.