Down The Backstretch: Four Islanders in hunt for O'Brien Award

Nicholas Oakes
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Four Islanders will be searching for Joe O’Brien award recognition at the gala event Saturday night at the Delta Prince Edward hotel and P.E.I. Convention Centre.

The cocktail reception gets underway in the Harbourview Room at 6 p.m., while the dinner and awards presentation are at 7:30 p.m. in the Palmer Pope Ballroom. A live video stream on the awards presentations will go live at 9:15 p.m.m AST on, sponsored by the Atlantic Lottery Corporation and Red Shores Racetrack and Casino.

Ken Middleton of the Woodbine Entertainment Group will co-host along with Lee Drake, manager of marketing and sales with Red Shores. Haley MacDonald, daughter of accomplished trainer-driver Mary Clare MacDonald of Antigonish, N.S., will sing the Canadian and American national anthems.

A total of 18 O’Brien awards will be handed out, including five person awards, 12 divisional titles and the horse-of-the-year award. The Standardbred Canada Media Awards of Excellence will also be awarded. Stratford native Patrick Shepherd is up against Manitoba native Travis Cullen in the newly formed future star award category. Shepherd, now residing in Ontario, won 116 races from 440 starts as a trainer in 2013, good for a .384 training average and $555,002 in purse earnings. Shepherd already has 20 wins in 2014  and will send out seven starters on Saturday, including six at Flamboro Downs and one at Woodbine.

Charlottetown native Paul MacKenzie is a finalist in the horsemanship category, against Kelly Hoerdt of Alberta. MacKenzie relocated to Ontario in the late 1980s, rising to be the winningest reinsman in the history of Flamboro Downs. He has a total of 7,808 victories along with $44 million earned in the bike and 881 wins and $4.6 million earned as a trainer. MacKenzie has been sidelined from racing since being involved in an accident in October at Grand River Raceway. Hoerdt was runner-up in the horsemanship category to Marc Campbell at last year’s award ceremonies.

Arthur Blue Chip, co-owned and trained by Summerside native Dr. Ian Moore, is nominated in the two-year-old pacing colt category against $363,000 earner Luck Be Withyou. Arthur Blue Chip is sired by former Moore standout Shadow Play and earned $400,120 in his freshman campaign including wins in the $150,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Mid-Summer Challenge and the $81,811 Nassagaweya stake.

Charlottetown’s Ann MacNeill is a finalist for a Standardbred Canada Media Excellence Award for her photograph of a parade horse watching an Old Home Week race at the Charlottetown Driving Park.

The O’Brien Awards are named in honor of Alberton native Joe O’Brien, who rose to fame as the top trainer-driver in the United States with horses like Fresh Yankee, Armbro Flight, Nero and Steady Star.


Other events

The O’Brien awards weekend will also feature the final card of live harness racing on the Island until April tonight at 6 p.m.  at the Charlottetown Driving Park, as well as the sold-out Island Kitchen Party at 9 p.m. at Charlottetown Civic Centre and a fan forum Saturday at 10 a.m. at Red Shores Charlottetown.

The forum will run until noon, with three panels including one on the state of Canadian horse racing with P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan, Norman Kennedy from the Alberta Standardbred Horse Owner’s Association  and Vince Trudel from the Quebec Jockey Club. The second session will focus on Little Brown Jug champion Vegas Vacation with trainer Casie Coleman and co-owner Adriano Sorella. The third and final panel will showcase some of the best in Canadian racing with top Woodbine Entertainment Group drivers Jody Jamieson, Sylvain Filion and Dour McNair, along with O’Brien Award nominee and top Canadian trainer Patrick Shepherd. All the panels will be a question and answer format with a chance to ask the leaders in racing what they think.


Who’s hot

Charlottetown native Jason Ryan  had a stellar week in New York.

Ryan recorded two driving wins Monday at Monticello Raceway with his own trainee Whats The Hurry and the Donald Sherman- trained La Reata. Tuesday, Ryan recorded three wins with Burton Blue Chip and Johnny Grippa for trainer Rene Allard and CC Stormey for Elmer Smith. Thursday, he had two more Monticello Raceway wins with Superbe Rulah for trainer Raheim Strong and On Alert for trainer Allard.

Ryan is hot in pursuit of the top driver’s title at the Monticello, N.Y., half-mile oval.

Nick's Picks

Tonight at 6 p.m. at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park:

Race 1 – Windemere Eric

Race 2 – JK Queen

Race 3 – Otello

Race 4 – Zip The Lip

Race 5 – Ufit

Race 6 – McDaisy Cutter

Race 7 – Brenda Rose

Race 8 – Panacotta

Race 9 – Miracle Matts

Race 10 – Capitalism

Race 11 – Pictonian Walton

Race 12 – Blu Meadow WIllie

Nicholas Oakes’ can be contacted at

Organizations: Woodbine Entertainment Group, Delta Prince Edward hotel, P.E.I. Convention Centre.The Atlantic Lottery Corporation Blue Chip Island Kitchen Party Charlottetown Civic Centre Quebec Jockey Club

Geographic location: Ontario, Alberta, Antigonish Stratford Manitoba Charlottetown Summerside United States Charlottetown Driving Park New York Monticello, N.Y.

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