Industry Boost Announced As Inverness Fetes Best Of 2023

Angus MacEachern, presenter Paula MacDonald and owner Simon Poirier accept the award for Inverness Raceway 2023 Horse of the Year Windemere Best Man
Published: April 19, 2024 10:40 am EDT

Perseverance in the sport of harness racing paid off for Simon Poirier and Chad MacDonnell on Friday, April 12 when Windemere Best Man was named Inverness Raceway’s horse of the year for 2023.

The five-year-old gelding by the sire Malicious and the Artiscape mare Art Blanche won the opening day feature back in May and didn’t look back on the way to a banner season.

Trained by Lanny Hanscombe, Windemere Best Man had 23 starts last season with seven wins – all at Inverness – along with five seconds and two thirds. He set a new lifetime mark of 1:56.4 with earnings of $9,363.

Windemere Best Man, winning at Inverness on May 28, 2023

There was much more to celebrate on Friday as Inverness Raceway celebrated the 2023 season at its annual awards banquet, held at the Inverness Fire Hall.  Two Nova Scotia government ministers were on hand, each bringing some good news to the owners, drivers, trainers, volunteers and fans who had the hall filled.

Greg Morrow, the MLA for Guysborough-Tracadie and the Minister of Agriculture, announced that the Progressive Conservative government was providing an additional $350,000 to enhance the purse money at all three Nova Scotia tracks. The province traditionally provides $1 million to the harness racing industry each year.

The news was well received and Morrow quipped, “Phonsie [MacEachern] might consider voting Tory next election.”

In seriousness, Morrow said, “Al [MacMaster] and I agree how important this industry is to Nova Scotia [and] this is a show of our faith in this industry.”

He added, “Harness racing has been central to our province for many years, affecting family members for generations. It’s a sport and a business, but pretty good fun.”

Inverness MLA and Finance Minister Allan MacMaster also took the podium for a brief word and an announcement of his own.

“Increased support for harness racing, I believe it to be important and that all three tracks are supported,” he said, noting that purse money, veterinary fees, feed purchases and the like go back to the local economy.

MacMaster concluded by announcing that the Irish Road Horsemen’s Association in Port Hood would be receiving a grant of $55,000 for improvements around the training track.

Inverness County Warden Bonny MacIsaac, who grew up next to the track, also gave a few words.

“I have countless fond memories and anecdotes that underscore its significance. Perhaps, I will save some of those for the 100th anniversary dinner? Indeed, while we may boast world-renowned golf courses, it’s the racetrack that truly resonates with us locals – it’s where we feel most at home.”

As warden, she said she witnesses first-hand the efforts of those who keep the various organizations going in the county.

“The enduring legacy of the raceway, spanning nearly a century since its inception in 1926, speaks volumes about its impact on our town. A remarkable feat indeed,” she said, thanking all the volunteers, the dedicated workers, the owners and drivers.

“And we can’t forget the fans who have poured their hearts and souls into this endeavour over the years, right up to tonight.”

Continuing with the horse awards, the mare of the year was JJ Scarlett, owned by Anthony Beaton, who also does the conditioning, and Beverly MacKinnon.  The four-year-old Tobago Kays mare had two wins (the fastest in 1:58.2), five seconds and four thirds in 18 starts for earnings of $5,270.

Iron horse of the year and a perpetual fan favourite was Euchred. Owned by Kayla Habicht Walker and trained by her husband Walter, the 11-year-old continued to perform well in the twilight of his career. In 14 starts, Euchred had four wins, a second and five thirds for earnings of $5,355. His fastest winning mile was in 1:58.1.

Dirty Bobby was named the most improved horse of 2023 for owners Redmond Doucet Jr. and Andy Stewart.  In 20 starts, he had three wins and nine seconds, pacing in 2:01.3. Earnings for the season totalled $5,024.

Another Doucet-Stewart horse, Rotten Ronnie, trained by Lennan MacIsaac, had the fast mile of last season, stopping the watch at 1:54.4.

There was a tie for most wins at Inverness in 2023. Both Windemere Best Man and Kevin MacDonald’s Mr Saturday Night had seven each.

There were also two claimer of the year awards handed out.  In the mare category, it was Watt Machs Me Win, who changed ownership during the season from Zach Mullins and Stuart MacKinnon, to Monica Sutherland.  The mare had four wins, eight seconds and eight thirds in 25 starts.

And the top claimer among geldings was Mr Saturday Night for MacDonald, who also trains the horse.

 Three-year-old filly of the year was East Coast Ms Haney. Owned by Todd Sutherland and driven and trained by Monica, the young filly had four wins, four seconds and two thirds in 15 starts, paced in 2:01 and earned $3,382.

Lyons Swift came to Inverness last season and liked what he saw, becoming the top three-year-old colt for owner J.J. MacDonald and trainer Lanny Hanscombe. In 14 starts, the Stay Hungry gelding had six wins, three seconds and a third. He paced in 1:59.3 and earned $5,015.

The top two-year-old colt of the year was Jack Boswall. He’s owned by Mark and Keith MacDonell, and Blenise Young.

In the drivers category, Redmond Doucet was first among those with 81-plus starts with a UDRS of .404. Rodney Gillis was second at .373 and Monica Sutherland was third at .353. In the 50-80 starts category, Danny Gillis was first at .326. Kevin Bailey was second with a UDRS of .246, and there was a tie for third – Gerard Kennedy and Ardon Mofford both at .213. And among those drivers with 20-49 starts, Walter Walker was tops at .578, followed by Alex “Moose” MacDonald at .318, and Travis MacLean at .269.

Among the top trainers, in the 50-plus starts category, D.F. Beaton was first with a UTRS of .352. Coming in second was Zach Mullins with .316, a tick ahead of Anthony Beaton at .315.  In the 25-49 starts category, Lennan MacIsaac finished with a stellar .577 UTRS. Lanny Hanscombe was second at .496, and Monica Sutherland was third at .397.  And in the 10-24 starts category, Junior MacKinnon won the close race with a .455 average, just ahead of Kevin MacDonald at .449 and Walter Walker at .432.

There was a tie for most wins by a trainer with Zach Mullins and D.F. Beaton each scoring 15 wins.

Additional awards included the following:

  • Senior groom award: Phillip Coole and Malcolm Kennedy.
  • Junior grooms: Colby Timmons, Danny MacDonald, and Ryder MacLean.
  • Fan of the year: Susan Gillis.
  • Standardbred Canada Owner of the Year Award: Owner-trainer D.F. Beaton who had 52 starts with his horses in 2023, picking up 12 wins, 12 seconds and six thirds for earnings of $15,539.
  • Rookie of the year: Monica Sutherland. In 89 starts, she had 18 wins, 17 seconds and 12 thirds.
  • The Gerard Kennedy Financial award for dedication to the sport of harness racing was presented to Alex “Moose” MacDonald.

Stephen Poirier sang and played before and after the meal. The turkey dinner was prepared by Mose Fortune and his helpers.

Sponsors of the event included: D.F. Beaton Service Centre, Beaton Mechanical, Ceilidh Co-op, The Corner Store (miss brenna), East Coast Credit Union, The Joint mobile food truck, the family of Allister MacQuarrie, Denmark Acres, the Shean Co-op, Seaside Fuels, Inverness CB Club, The Inverness Oran, Copley Stables, Freeman’s Pharmacy, Red Beard Welding, and the gift for the guest speaker was provided by Cabot Cape Breton.

(Bill Dunphy / The Inverness Oran; headline photo: Angus MacEachern, presenter Paula MacDonald and Windemere Best Man's co-owner Simon Poirier)

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