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DOWN THE BACKSTRETCH: Owen McGuigan represents next generation falling in love with harness racing

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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Owen McGuigan was having the time of his life on Monday morning.

The five-year-old had no school for the day so he spent the morning with his father, Mike McGuigan, at his family stable at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park.

Mike McGuigan took his son Owen for a trip around Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park behind Whata Foolbelieves on Monday.
Mike McGuigan took his son Owen for a trip around Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park behind Whata Foolbelieves on Monday.

The youngster took a tour of the oval, sitting on his dad’s lap behind Whata Foolbelieves as the two-year-old colt went through his morning workout. Seeing Owen holding the reins while his father showed him everything involved in being a horse person and driver reminded me of one of the most important layers of the business: young people and the future.

Harness racing on Prince Edward Island is a multi-generational business both with the people and the wondrous four-legged animals that we care for like family every day. 2019 has been a great year for the business, with the provincial government furthering its support of racing with a purse pool increase at the start of the season, which Islanders see back tenfold as that money is spread across the province and reinvested by horse people.

Red Shores itself is in the midst of possibly its best year ever business-wise while being guided by its top-level group of managers and staff while continuing to be a major employer in Charlottetown and Summerside.

Topping it off was an exceptional Atlantic Classic Yearling Sale in October in Crapaud where buyers from across the region parted with $1.1 million in hopes of having the next champion.

Even with 2019 being so superb for the industry, the work is never done.

Growing up in Island racing, and being fortunate enough to work with these amazing animals, is something that we far too often take for granted. We are so beyond fortunate to have a dedicated fanbase and a number of past premiers and MLAs who recognized how important this industry is to the province. But it can never be taken for granted.

People from tip to tip on P.E.I. are raising their families around the industry and the next generation is currently in waiting and relying on us to make sure harness racing remains viable for years to come.

Something we don’t talk nearly enough about is just how important these animals are to us. It may sound like a cliché to say standardbred horses are like family but it’s actually true. And, while you’d never notice it, there are retired horses all across the Island that have their racing days far in the rear-view mirror who will be cared for until they die.

I go through it every day with a barn full of horses, including an 18-year-old that hasn’t seen the race track since 2011, but will live out his days in my backyard even though he has likely cost more to keep since his retirement than he ever made on the track.

The love of the animals and the love of the sport come first. Now let’s hope that in 20 years’ time, on a hot Saturday night in August, we get to see Owen McGuigan and all the young people that have, and will have, fallen in love with this business parading their horses in the greatest show in harness racing.

Looking at the joy and passion in Owen McGuigan’s eyes Monday morning would have told you everything you ever need to know about harness racing in this great province. There are so many ways we can continue to show the world everything P.E.I. has to offer.


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

Nick’s Picks

Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park:
Race 1 – Jetta Flys

Race 2 – Elm Grove Misty

Race 3 – Whata Foolbelieves

Race 4 – Charlottes Western

Race 5 – Setting Day

Race 6 – Scoot Out Of Here

Race 7 – Im A Miracle

Race 8 – Freddie

Race 9 – Clare Hall Hanover

Race 10 – Oh To Be Me

Race 11 - Tell Me Why

Race 12 – Dancers Pass

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