THE Northern Irish Standardbred Association (NISA) have staged harness racing in the region for more than 50 years. Lambeg Stadium (Ballyskeagh) was the first venue that held regular meetings back in the 1960s on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Horses back then raced over 1 mile 100 yards (three laps) for a first prize of £40 at the time. Times for the three laps ranged from 2:45 down to 2:35 and some of the regular participants at the venue included ‘Wild Deb’ (Barney Ross), ‘Falke’ (Brendan Murdock), ‘Dan Gordon’ (Sammy Lyttle), ‘Gay Tartan’ (Norman Brown), ‘Heering’ (Jim McFarland) and ‘Two Grand’ (Eddie Doherty) amongst others.
Antrim Stadium was the first purpose-built hard track facility for the sport, with the dimensions very similar to those of CorbieWood in Scotland. Behind The Ramble Inn, Bob Scott’s venue raced weekly throughout the summer in the 1970s right through to the late 80s. Racegoers were treated to some great racing at the time and ‘Saras Gift’ (Norman Boyle), ‘Miss Bogart’ (Billy Bassett) and ‘Rambling Rover’ (Brenda Dean/ Hudson) were some of the firm favourites, where 2:09 for the mile was considered a top time for the era.
Racetime Raceway, formerly known as Racebowl Raceway, opened up near Lisburn by Greg Dean in the 1980s and ran in parallel to Antrim Stadium. Racetime, being a half-mile track in circumference, was well supported and saw times for the mile edge down towards the magical 2:00 barrier and it was ‘Saunders Rebound’ that held the record back then, clocking this time in a free for all. Other regulars at Racetime included ‘Worth Seeing’ (Bobby Hanson), ‘Silent Running’ (Walter Stewart) and ‘Game Lobell’ (George Hanson).
The 1980s was the golden age of the sport in Northern Ireland and NISA members travelled far and wide to compete both down south in Dublin and across the water to participate on the Mainland – winning some of the sport’s biggest classics, including a brace of wins in the Famous Musselburgh Cup when ‘The Lucky One’, driven by Eddie Doherty and the Crothers Bros’ ‘Airmail’ both brought the prestigious cup back to Ulster.
In addition to the hard tracks of Antrim and Racetime, NISA also staged harness racing at other grass tracks from time to time and meetings were held in the 90s/ 00s at Dundrod and Tyrella. These grass tracks suited horses that preferred softer going and ‘Driven By Design’ (Greg Dean), ‘Armbro Lobell’ (Alex Patterson) and ‘Camden Lover’ (Ciaran Morrison) were some of the stars that the fans followed during this period.
Now as NISA enters its seventh decade staging harness racing in the region with the re-opening of Racetime Raceway, the sport is embarking on an exciting new era with a renewed emphasis on breeding of Standardbreds and the fostering of a new generation of enthusiasts in the region. Each year, NISA membership grows with new faces appearing at the race track and is always inviting new members.
With a new generation of race horses to follow, the thrills of harness racing must be seen to be believed! The breeding of the Standardbreds in Northern Ireland is at all new high, with bloodlines from some of the best in the world.
All races are held under rules and regulations and members pride themselves on their professionalism and their horses’ welfare. All drivers are always finely turned out in their racing colours and their race bikes (also known as a cart) painted to match. Its onwards and upwards for NISA and its members.
Each season, NISA holds 12 meetings, with bookies and hot food in attendance. This season started on May 28 then runs once a fortnight; all dates and other information can be found on the Facebook page “Ni Standardbred Association” and website: nistandardbred.co.uk
This season, NISA will be holding a race meeting on their grass track, which will be located at Nutts Corner. All information will post on Facebook and the website. Anyone wishing for any further information, please do not hesitate to contact Mark Rea on the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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