The official website of Irish Harness Racing Association

IHRA 2018 Review

2018 has been yet another success story for the Irish Harness Racing Association with numerous achievements in the twelve-month period.

As our new year approaches, here is a recap what can only be described as a tremendous year of racing for both of pacers and trotters, with record number of races ran for record prizemoney totally €750,000.

In the first quarter of the year, the IHRA received 100% funding from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to complete the final recommendation of the 2017 Independent Indecon Report into Harness Racing which is the ultimate document which outlines the sports full growth potential on a national and international basis.

This financial injection of €65,000 could not have been achieved by the IHRA grassroots at this conjuncture. The IHRA acknowledges the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine for their support to the Irish harness sector and is greatly appreciated by all, as it started the process for the IHRA to produce its five-year strategic plan which would pave the way for the industry over the next five years.

The IHRA appointed McAdam Consultants to produce the strategic plan and in the following months, open meetings in the three regions took place for all benefiting individuals including members which cemented the foundations of the plan.

Simultaneously, whilst the plan was being prepared, the IHRA’s committee structures were in full flight.

The finance, breeding, stakeholders & race course committees were meeting to discuss issues and agree on many recommendations to be put to the board for approval and to be included in the strategic plan. Equally the Veterinary and Welfare Commission made up of three IHRA stewards and four independent equine specialists, met on numerous occasions to also contribute the strategic document.

Racing commenced April this year and to say we would struggle for entries was a complete understatement. In fact, all tracks were oversubscribed with entries and thankfully all connections were facilitated with races.

In May, the inter conference of world trotting took place in Sweden after the Elittoppet Race Weekend. Here the IHRA representatives took part in discussions which are at the centre of harness racing internationally and had equal voting rights at these meetings on the world stage, alongside our major international federations.

The first major meeting of the year came in June in Dundalk Stadium for the annual PMU races, where Charlie Mills was honoured as the only Irishman to win the prestigious Prix d’Amerique. Five of the ten race card were allocated by Le Trot and PMU to be bet fully by the Paramutial (PMU). On a Sunday afternoon in June, approximately €800,000 was bet online on our five races that which proved to the PMU that Ireland is a major player in their international market. It was a great endorsement for the IHRA and strengthens the association as an International player in their International market.

Next on the calendar, was the Annual Red John Memorial Weekend in Lyre in Clonakilty. Two days of bumper racing was had here, all to the thanks of the hard-working committee and due to the very generous sponsorship of Mr. Bill Donovan and Le Trot, both of whom are responsible for taking racing in the South of the country to a level which is now as competitive as any major race meeting in Ireland & the UK. This year Bill brought a delegation of officials from the Maryland Department of Agriculture with him and it was a pleasure to welcome them all to Ireland. Success at this meeting was had by many across the country with winners coming from all parts of the country with record prizemoney on offer for both pacers and trotters.

The last in a very busy month of June was the Grendon Memorial Weekend who this year teamed up with Sire Stakes Ireland which showcased the best Irish and UK juvenile talent, along with the countries best handicap pacers and trotters. Prizemoney over the two-day meeting increased on last year for both pacers and trotters, making it the richest purse to race for at Portmarnock for open handicap horses, which gave spectators an absolute trilling weekend of racing at Portmarnock.

The newly sponsored three-year-old classic by M50 Skip Hire was the highlight in July. Once again, with record prizemoney for both pacers and trotters for all races outside the major three-year-old classic and handicap final. Connections of this weekend are planning a bigger and better weekend in 2019 and we look forward to this in the coming season.

The race which everyone wants to win in Ireland & the UK, is of course the VDM in August. The Delaney brothers and their respected families did themselves proud. This year the bar was rose yet again by the IHRA as a decision was taken to live stream the races. The livestream reached an audience of over 65,000 people which is an outstanding achievement for the sport in Ireland. This has proved to be very successful and clearly shows that the IHRA have an international market for their pictures abroad. The studio created for the event was also well received as it was a great place to interview international guests, sponsors and winning connections with the great trio of Darren Owen, Sarah Thomas and Bill Hutchinson. The IHRA would like to sincerely thank all those individuals who contributed voluntarily behind the scenes to make the VDM another memorable event.  

The final premium meeting was held in Annaghmore in September and the grassroot members travelled from all parts of the country to the Armagh venue to support them with their meeting. Record prizemoney was raced for, for both codes of pacers and trotters and an exciting thirteen race card was on offer.     

Notwithstanding any of the race meetings, it is fair to say that the non-premium meetings were equally a success with increased numbers of entries, races and prizemoney for pacers and trotters.

However, when Irish based horses, leave the Emerald Isle and head stateside, it is in fact far more impressive and this has not been case for a long time. Robyn Camden, Rebel Rouser and Reclamation, all three of which left soon after the VDM to continue their career amongst the best pacers in the USA. With the evidence and form we have to date, the racing careers of all three horses is going to get better and the IHRA in its entirety will be getting behind all three as they race via the many live streaming available to us. We would like to wish all their connections the very best of luck in the weeks and months ahead as their horses fly the Irish flag internationally.

Within the season, we also had driver representation in Europe and the USA. First up in January, Luke Kelleher represented Ireland in the Prix Coupe D’Europe des Amateurs in Vincennes during the Prix De Amerique weekend and whilst his drive broke, ahead of the home straight, he was subsequently disqualified but his participation was one for the history book as he became the first juvenile Irish driver to compete officially in France.

Veteran champion driver, John Richardson, competed in the European Championships for a spot at the World Driving Championships in Sweden next May. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be for John as a single disqualification pushed him out of qualifying for the WDC.

The next driver to wear the tricolour on the bike was Grace Kelly when she participated in the International women’s race in Solvalla in Stockholm over the Summer where she was placed in the race.

The final set of drivers to take to the International stage was our 8 professional driver and for the first time our 8 apprentice drivers who took part in the Annual French-Irish day held in Argentan Racecourse in Normandy in November.

Jack Killeen spent three months in the USA with Mike Wilder and his team to further his career in the sport. Jack, a graduate of the IHRA’s 2016 pilot integration programme has successfully rose through the juvenile driver codes here in Ireland and has become a trainer and somewhat a master hand at trotters gained valuable experience, knowledge and many memories in the short time in spent with the Wilders. During his time there, he made his driving debut in the States where he picked up several drives and some wins.

The IHRA would like to take this opportunity to thank all our drivers who competed abroad this year and represented Ireland so well in doing so. 

As you currently read through this and think of your own successes throughout the year, you will think of all great times, however this year, the IHRA in its entirety lost a great supporter of harness racing in Ireland, Jack Galway. Jack, a gentle, humble, giant of a man that always had a word for you whether it was in the paddock, at the betting ring or in the club house. He travelled extensively to race meetings all over the country and abroad. He is and will be sadly missed, as racing continues in the years ahead.

Finally, as the curtain comes down on 2018, a record year for prizemoney was had by all members for both pacers and trotters. With €750,000 in prizemoney been raced for and a record number of race entries, the IHRA looks forward to the incoming season, with a bigger increase planned for 2019.

Prior to the Christmas break, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine has officially signed off on our five-year strategic plan, with recommendations from senior Department officials, based on the five-year strategic plan being given to the Minister Creed. The IHRA, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture & Marine will officially launch the Strategic plan in mid-January 2019 and communication regarding this launch will be given to members, once the date is confirmed between the IHRA and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine.

In early February, the IHRA will hold its next Trotteur Francais sale and full details regarding the sale will be published in due course.  

On 17th February 2019, the AGM of the IHRA will take place for current members and the first Island of Ireland IHRA Awards will take place on this date also. The full list of award winners will be published early in the new year.

The 2019 season begins on March 17th as proposed by the IHRA Stakeholders committee earlier this year. The race course committee have agreed the 2019 calendar, which will be published once the board of directors approve the document. Prizemoney in March and April is enhanced, and the two months will be classed under the Winter season. Full details of the calendar and its new structure will be published shortly.

To conclude, the board of Directors of the IHRA would like to wish all of our members, stewards, officials, land owners, bookmakers, staff and the many individuals who work behind the scenes on a voluntary basis for the industry, the very best of health and happiness in 2019, and look forward to welcoming you back racing on 17th March in Portmarnock for the season opening.  


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