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Watson's Inverness Youth Movement

Published: April 27, 2020 12:40 pm ET

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The USHWA Youth Membership Committee is pleased to introduce the fourth in a year-long series of 2020 Racetrack Reviews. The focus is on showcasing tracks welcoming to young people and families with children, from the perspective of the youth themselves.

Lily Watson is an active owner/trainer at Nova Scotia's Inverness Raceway. She is also becoming involved in the media side of the sport, as she will be writing a column for the Atlantic Post Calls newspaper beginning in May. She shared how she became involved in racing and why young people are so important to keeping the industry alive, from the grassroots level on up. Inverness Raceway recently postponed its annual meeting and awards banquet due to the COVID-19 situation across Canada, but whenever live racing starts again, its dedicated supporters of all ages will be there. The Inverness season is tentatively scheduled to begin Sunday, June 7, 2020.

The USHWA Youth Membership Committee welcomes inquiries from young racing fans and participants who would like to review their favourite or local harness track, focusing on what makes the track a youth- and family-friendly place. USHWA will be circulating a Racetrack Review every month of 2020. Please contact USHWA Youth Membership Committee chair Melissa Keith for additional details and/or to apply to review a racetrack this year.

A horseman and Standardbred, pictured at Inverness Raceway.

Inverness Raceway: Youth Keep Track Moving Toward Centennial Year

Nova Scotia is a province steeped in harness racing tradition. It also home to many of the sport’s youngest participants and fans. Lily Watson is a 19-year-old horsewoman and newly-minted Atlantic Post Calls columnist, covering racing action and community news at the 94-year-old Inverness Raceway, in Cape Breton.

“I have been coming to the races with my friends since I was 10 years old,” she said. “I started paddocking when I was 13, and I bought my first horse at the end of that summer. This year is my sixth year as an owner, and my third year as a trainer.”

Although there are families with many generations in local racing, Watson’s story is a little different. “I do not have an extensive family history in the sport like many others do,” she explained. “I got involved as a kid and my dad quickly took an interest, too. He’s now an owner, groom, and president of the track’s executive committee.”

Watson takes pride in being a racehorse owner and trainer, adding that she has plans to pursue driving within the next few years. Her role model? “That’s easy, Mary Clare MacDonald. Not only is she a female in the business, but she’s the best, and she does it all,” said Watson.

Watson also spoke highly of Gerard Kennedy, the reinsman who drove both of her horses to victory at Inverness on October 8, 2017, which gave the youngster her first career training wins. “I’ve been a fan of Gerard Kennedy’s driving for a while," said Watson, "and now he drives for me regularly, which is awesome.” The owner of Im Indigo and Tymal Torrance said that apart from her own horses, she had special appreciation for a well-known local favourite, as she stated, “Cam Cool was my favourite horse to watch.”

Young participants are active in keeping Inverness Raceway moving forward. Watson, who will begin coverage of her home track in the May issue of Atlantic Post Calls, wrote about the level of youth involvement — and enjoyment — at the scenic half-mile treasure on Cape Breton’s west coast.

We have lots of fundraisers that go on here, including 50/50 and 'tri-cash' draws and bingo on a regular basis to keep our track going (Inverness does not simulcast its live races). Every year we have a ‘Kiddie Day’ where we fill our grandstand with games and prizes for children, which I think helps them associate our track as a fun place to come to. A couple of years ago, one of our young horsepeople, Melanie Leblanc, organized youth dances at the track to fundraise for a new set of saddle pads that have been a great upgrade for us that everyone has benefitted from and that we will be able to use for years to come.

Fans pictured filling the grandstand at Inverness Raceway.

It can be hard sometimes, as a young person, to understand the importance of the role we play here. But I think it’s safe to say that if Inverness didn’t have the youth involvement that it does, there wouldn’t be enough fans and horsemen to keep the game alive. On any given race day, there are young people around everywhere you look, as grooms, owners, trainers, fans, and staff. That’s something that truly makes our track special, we have got to have more young people involved here than any other Nova Scotia track.

People don’t come to Inverness to make big money, and they probably don’t look forward to driving all the way here or racing around our sharp first turn. They also probably don’t love it when they’re in a full field and draw the six-hole, as Inverness is only six wide. But we get some big crowds, regardless! Something Inverness does have is a strong, family-oriented community with a lot of dedicated fans that never miss a race. The barn side is full of friendly horsemen, young and old, who share a passion for the game. We love when people come to visit our track any day of the week! We especially love to have the chance to show our ‘Cape Breton Hospitality’ at special events like stakes cards that bring even more people and horses to our big blue barn. Inverness Raceway is a place for everyone to visit and feel welcome, we’re all here to have a good time.”

A Standardbred and driver pictured passing in front of the grandstand at Inverness Raceway.

(Lily Watson, with Melissa Keith)

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