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DOWN THE BACKSTRETCH: Online harness racing show proving popular during pandemic

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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

With racing pushed back on Prince Edward Island until at least June due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic, a group of Island racing officials has put together a Saturday night diversion with the virtual tack room broadcasted online.

Foaling season is in full swing on farms across P.E.I. Here is a filly by Hilarious Halo out of Promise Me Hanover born on Garth Cole’s farm in Kensington. Hailey Cole/Special to The Guardian
Foaling season is in full swing on farms across P.E.I. Here is a filly by Hilarious Halo out of Promise Me Hanover born on Garth Cole’s farm in Kensington. Hailey Cole/Special to The Guardian

The show starts at 9 p.m. on Saturdays on a variety of online platforms, including the Universum Media Facebook page and on Redshores.ca.

Kent Oakes, a policy development supervisor with the provincial Department of Finance specializing in harness racing, the former chairman of Standardbred Canada and my father, came up with the concept to bring people together in a time they need to stay apart.

“The opportunity we have as horse people to get together on the farms and in the barn tack rooms has always been part of the enjoyment of being involved in the horse business,” Oakes said. “I was actually driving into the office during the initial time of the distancing restrictions and was thinking about how much we must all be missing that. I realized we had the people and should have the technical capabilities to do it virtually.”

He called friends and Red Shores broadcasters Lee Drake and Peter MacPhee to ask their thoughts, and they immediately bought into the idea.

“We all said we needed Jerry McCabe (an Island racing historian) because of his tremendous knowledge of industry history. Next came Scott MacLean at Universum Media and we were underway. All three have a long history in and passion for harness racing. Lee and Peter always do a wonderful job on the Red Shores broadcasts, and Jerry is an encyclopedia on racing history. Universum is also doing a great job of handing the production side, which has a lot of challenges.”

Oakes hoped to have 100 people watch the initial show a few weeks ago, but the most recent broadcast registered at more than 4,000 views.

“It’s overwhelming,” Oakes said. “Lee gets feedback from all over North America from people who watch.”

Some guests on the show have included celebrated female harness driver Clare MacDonald, O’Brien award finalist Austin Sorrie, Gold Cup and Saucer-winning driver Earl Smith and provincial Finance Minister Darlene Compton.

“To keep telling our stories is the key. We are blessed with so many interesting and successful people who are willing to share their experiences,” Oakes said, while also pointing to the importance of the show’s sponsors.

“We will try and provide an opportunity for folks to hear from people from all across the harness racing world. This week we are planning to have Meadowlands announcer and Old Home Week perennial guest Ken Warkentin and Mitchell Cushing, who won the 2019 Gold Cup and Saucer.”

Condolences

My condolences to the family of Island racing great Bob Webster, 86, of Brookfield, who passed away Wednesday evening. A founding member of the Charlottetown Veterinary Clinic, Webster operated Hollylaine Island Farms breeding a large number of Maritime champions with the Island prefix.


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

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