One of the biggest weekends of the winter harness racing season in this country is the O’Brien Awards, which go tonight at the Delta Prince Edward.
Almost 500 tickets for the awards night have been sold and that’s a significant increase on the nearly 300 sold in Toronto last February. It’s a tribute to the love affair the Maritime region has with harness racing and to the collaborative efforts between Standardbred Canada and a dedicated volunteer committee here on Prince Edward Island, as well as the industry association, P.E.I. horsemen’s association, Red Shores, the province, the city and the P.E.I. 2014 committee.
This morning at Red Shores Charlottetown, there are a number of seminars on the go featuring some of the top trainer-drivers in the country.
At the 10 a.m. Canadian Harness Racing Today discussion, the panelists will be Norm Kennedy from Alberta, Vince Trudel from Quebec and Wes Sheridan, P.E.I.’s finance minister and a big supporter of harness racing. The moderator will be Roger Younker.
The 10:50 a.m. seminar will feature Casie Coleman, the country’s leading trainer for the past decade. She will talk about the 2013 Little Brown Jug winner, Vegas Vacation. Coleman will be joined by Vegas Vacation co-owner Adriano Sorella and the moderator will be Kerry Taylor.
The final seminar will have top drivers and trainers like Jody Jamieson, Sylvan Filion, Patrick Shepherd and Doug MacNair and the moderator will be the voice of Woodbine and Mohawk Ken Middleton.
These seminars should make for an interesting morning and set the stage for tonight’s O’Brien Awards.
O’Brien Awards Trivia
u 1 – Tip Abbe won the 1947 Invitational at Bridgewater for the New Glasgow Sporting Club. Joe O’Brien was the driver, the caretaker is still a regular at the city track. Who is he?
u 2 – In 1979, the Francis McIsaac Memorial Pace was held here at the CDP. Joe O’Brien was fourth in that race. This active driver was third, name the horse and his driver.
u 3 – In 1965-66 Sackville Downs hosted the Race of Champions featuring top horses from New England seaboard against the Maritimes fastest pacers. Name one horse Joe O’Brien drove.
u 4 – A driver in that 1966 Sackville Downs race is still active. Who is he and what horse did he drive?
u 5 – This Island sports personality drove in the starting gate the afternoon of the 2013 Little Brown Jug at Delaware, Ohio. Who is he?
P.E.I.’s Mark MacDonald, who set a number of world records last summer with Bolt The Duer, was released from New York Hospital last Saturday morning.
Mark underwent corrective surgery early last week following complications after the Woodbine racing accident three years ago.
The timing of his surgery, which was depending on the schedule of the specialist, resulted in MacDonald missing the wedding of his younger brother James. Nevertheless his brothers Anthony, Curtis, Bobby Drake as well as Paul MacDonell, Jamieson, Bill Davis, Johnny MacKinnon, and Chris Roberts helped fill Mark’s void with an exhibition of lower tower diving at the resort. Hope Jamieson is not planning a repeat performance here this weekend.
UPEI hockey and basketball teams will be in the sports spotlight today as the host Panthers entertain Saint Mary’s and St. Thomas in key games.
The men’s hockey Panthers can virtually lock up third or fourth place in the Atlantic conference with a win over the seventh-place Tommies tonight at 7 p.m. at MacLauchlan Arena.
The Atlantic conference is the toughest in Canada and on any given night one team can beat the other as was evident last week when last-place Dalhousie upset the playoff-bound Panthers 7-3 in Halifax.
The Tommies have beaten first place UNB 3-2 this season, so they’re no pushovers.
UNB and Acadia have clinched the top two playoff spots and earned first-round byes. A win tonight will guarantee the Panthers the extra home game in the opening round of the playoffs against either Saint Mary’s or St. F.X., so it’s an important game.
The women hockey Panthers play Saint Mary’s today at 3:30 p.m. on campus and it’s a game the Panthers must win if they hope to move up in the standings. The Panthers have already beaten SMU in regular season play but need a win in today’s game.
On the basketball front, the Panthers men play their most important game to date, as a victory over SMU today at 5 p.m. will give the locals the tie-breaking edge over the Huskies and UNB in that all important race for second place in the standings, just behind first-place Acadia. The Panthers and Huskies are tied with 24 points each and today’s four-point game is a huge one for both clubs. The Panthers travel to Halifax the weekend of Feb. 28 to March 2 for the regional tournament and going there with a bye makes today’s game crucial.
The women basketball Panthers (8-8) are among four teams at the .500 mark all chasing unbeaten Saint Mary’s and today’s 3 p.m. game is one of four four-point games remaining on their schedule. The women Panthers host the regional tournament March 7 to 9 and want to earn a spot, not just go as the host. A win today goes a long way towards that goal.
Last weekend’s Super Bowl will go down as one of the worst games in Super Bowl history, but the ratings went through the roof proving the event is the biggest show in North American sports by a mile.
The annual Guardian poll proved most interesting as ex-UPEI linebackers Gary Kennedy and Shane Dowling and ex-UPEI running back Jim MacInnis from Calgary all got it right. So did Summerside’s Paul MacWilliams and, of course, The Sports Prophet proved just why he alone answers to that name.
I’ve written previously in this column that Chip Kelly, the Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach, has family roots in Morell.
Here’s another one. David Cutcliffe, the head football coach for the Duke University Blue Devils and the quarterback coach for both Peyton and Eli Manning in their university days, visits Charlottetown occasionally to attend family reunions. He’s a cousin of former Colonel Gray science teacher Byron Cutcliffe and brother Wayne at UPEI. David’s brother Paige travels to P.E.I. every summer and has a cottage in Stanley Bridge.
Of course, harness racing fans fondly remember another Cutcliffe family member, Sinclair Cutcliffe, who drove the CDP starting gate here in the 1950s.
The Island Storm, P.E.I.’s pro team in the National Basketball League of Canada, entertains Halifax Rainmen Tuesday at the Eastlink Centre, and it’s a chance to see talented Antonio Ballard, who never has an off-night.
The Storm has just one more home game, Feb. 17 against first-place Saint John, and then there are four remaining road games before the playoffs.
Basketball continues to grow in this province as is evident by the teams playing in the under-12 girls’ tournament, which started Friday at Sherwood and Spring Park elementary schools and continues until Sunday.
The Charlottetown Tigers, Stratford Mini Foxes and East Prince will face teams from Moncton, Riverview, Amherst, Sussex and Kennebecasis Valley. One of the standouts for the Charlottetown Tigers is Sydney Strain, who I’ve seen at UPEI basketball camps and is talented.
Team Canada begins play at the Olympic men’s hockey tournament on Feb. 13 against Norway.
They also play Austria on Feb. 14 and Finland on Feb. 16. The top two teams, most likely Canada and Finland, advance.
Group A is the toughest division with United States, Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia. The final group features the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland and Latvia.
On the hockey front, here’s another P.E.I. connection. Connor McDavid, the most recent junior hockey sensation in Canada, has Island roots.
His grandmother is Jean MacAulay, who was born and raised in the Souris area near Chepsow.
You gotta love this little Island.
Fred MacDonald's column appears in
The Guardian each Saturday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.