DOWN THE BACKSTRETCH: Hindsight is 20-20

Looking back at some of the top stories of 2016 at the track

Nicholas Oakes nicholasoakes@hotmail.com
Published on January 5, 2017

George Riley, right, accepts his trophy from Robert Mitchell, centre, the minister responsible for harness racing on P.E.I., and Garth Cole, president of the Prince County Horsemen’s Club, after his two-year-old record-breaking colt, Heart and Soul, was named Horse of the Year during the club’s annual awards night. 

©Millicent McKay/Journal Pioneer

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Harness Racing can be a tough business and 2016 was no exception.

In the coming weeks I will take a look back at this past year in racing, highlighting some of the top stories of another exciting year in harness racing.

30. Big Tag

The biggest claim of 2016 was made on Nov. 6 as trainer Joey Squires acquired Simon Said for $10,000. Previously trained by Ed Harvey, Simon Said is owned by Squires and partners Jack and Albert MacGillivray. 

29. Sorrie But Not Sorry

Do not feel bad for not having a ticket on Pictonian Storm and Wade Sorrie on Jan. 9 at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park (CDP) because barely anyone else did either. The pacer paid $353.70 for a $2 win wager for the biggest winner of 2016. 

28. Complete Player Scorches Cape Breton

In a blazing mile for a two-year-old pacing colt, Complete Player was a 1:57 winner at Northside Downs in Nova Scotia on Sept. 24, setting a new track pacing standard for his age. Mark Bradley was at the lines of the colt for trainer Tom Weatherbie and owner David Kennedy of Charlottetown. The same combination scored a win in the $11,000 Island Breeder’s final held in October in Charlottetown. 

27. Heart And Soul

The Riley family of Kensington had another solid season with their own Heart And Soul winning horse of the year honours at the Prince County Horsemen’s Club Banquet. He later captured the $21,430 Maritime Breeder’s Final for three-year-old pacing colts at the CDP in 1:55.1 for trainer-driver Clare MacDonald and owners Earith and George Riley as he earned $42,162 on the season.

26. Up And Downs On Mainland

2016 marked 30 years since the closing of Sackville Downs outside Halifax but the Truro Raceway found itself on more stable ground this past year after financial issue in recent years. New Brunswick yet again found itself absent from the Atlantic Sires Stakes program with no clear direction from government on their racing file. There has been no Sires Stakes racing in the province since 2012. 

25. MacDonald In The Big Time

Moving to New York in 2012 was a gutsy move for Kingston native Mark MacDonald but it looks to have paid off as he finished 2016 in sixth place at the most competitive venue in North American racing. MacDonald had 199 wins at Yonkers Raceway and earned $3.9 million. He also scored six wins for purses of $160,000 or more with top aged trotter Obrigado. 

24. Making An Impact

Osprey Impact is quite possibly the greatest trotter we have seen on the East Coast. The Federal Flex mare set a new CDP track record of 1:57.2 on Aug. 20 for driver Walter Cheverie and owner-trainer Paul Larrabee of Belle River. Her near dominance was made more difficult by the legitimate challenge of newcomer Freddie for the Three Wiseman Stable of Cornwall.

23. PEISHOA Banquet

The P.E.I. Standardbred Horse Owner’s Association (PEISHOA) Banquet had Dixieland Band heralded as horse of the year in front of a sold-out crowd with Island native Greg Blanchard speaking on his experience as racing manager at Western Fair District in Ontario. 

22. Mitchell Takes The Reins

In nothing short of good news for Island Racing, Robert Mitchell was named minister responsible for harness racing in March. The longtime race fan and former owner is sure to take the successful industry in the right direction in the future under the MacLauchlan government. 

21. A Cowboy Named Beau

It was the Cinderella story of 2016. Beau’s Cowboy was a modestly bred and inexpensive pacer owned and trained by two pillars of the Cornwall harness racing industry. The three-year-old colt had a solid season, but was spectacular later in the year winning five in a row, including the $22,000 Atlantic Breeder’s Crown in 1:56.4 with Adam Merner at the lines as he put more than $30,000 in the bank then was sold to Alberta interests.

Nicholas Oakes' column appears in The Guardian each Friday. He can be reached at nicholasoakes@hotmail.com.