by Megan Semulka
The setting is Portmarnock Raceway in Dublin, Ireland. The time is 1:00 PM. The scene is fairground-like with people everywhere placing bets and horses warming up around the track. The smells are grass and fresh air. The sounds are bookies yelling deadlines to bet, the starting gate buzzing by, and the crowd roaring with excitement. And the feeling is almost unexplainable. In my five years of attending horse races, I have never experienced so much passion and love for the sport at one small racetrack.
This year was the 5th edition of the Ladbrokes Vincent Delaney Memorial Weekend and it was the biggest yet. The weekend full of races was started in honor of Vincent Delaney who passed away in 2011 due to a sudden heart attack. He was survived by brothers James and Derek. Growing up, the three brothers bonded over their love for horses, so what better way to honor him than with a horse race.
Over the memorial weekend, the Delaney family hosted the guests to a carriage ride through the streets of Dublin, a day visit to their farm in Offaly, Ireland, and VIP treatment at the racetrack. They brought several countries, drivers, and people together for one reason. That one reason was for the love of harness racing.
Taking a carriage ride throughout Dublin was quite the memory to experience. We were taken around the streets of the Irish city by elders and teenagers as young as 13-years-old who have grown to live and breathe horses. Some popular names in the industry who were also venturing throughout the city were Roger Huston also known as “the voice of harness racing”, Murray Brown from Hanover Shoe Farms, Heather Wilder from the Meadows Standardbred Owners Association, Adam and Lindsey Bowden from Diamond Creek Farms, and Joe Bellino and family from the Bellino Racing Stables. No matter how involved you were with the industry of harness racing, everyone’s breath was taken away from the sights of Dublin from their horse carriage.
The Delaney’s breeding farm, Oakwood Stud, was so quaint and beautiful on the countryside of Ireland, just an hour and a half away from the city of Dublin. Derek’s brother, James, was there to greet us with hugs and horses to start the tour. The environment of the stables exuded with passion and love for the horses throughout the whole facility. Even the horses were friendly and welcoming, as a bunch of strangers walked around petting and admiring them.
Right outside of their stable was a big field of grass where they placed a memorial for their brother Vincent. The memorial was placed in this field because of the large amount of time their brother spent in that certain area of the farm with their horses. Every year a new plaque is made and placed in the memorial that is inscribed with the representatives that came to support the Vincent Delaney Memorial. This year the plaque included the names of Aaron Merriman, Adam Bowden, Joe Bellino, Heather Wilder, Jo Ann Looney King, and Murray Brown, as well as other trainers from Australia.
The next area we visited was about a mile away that was the home of broodmares and soon to be home of Derek Delaney and his family. As the broodmares were accompanied with some of their foals, the connection they had with each other was incredible. There was a certain colt who would not leave the mare’s side, like a newborn baby could not leave it’s mother. The most beautiful part of this moment was the peaceful atmosphere these horses lived in. No other sounds were heard other than the horses eating their lunch or their hooves galloping through the field. Surrounded by countless mares and their foals in the countryside of Ireland is a memory that will always be a part of me.
That night was the Vincent Delaney Charity Gala full of charity auctions and “grand” memories, as the Irish would say. Items from Foiled Again, Dave Palone, Montrell Teague, Aaron Merriman, Ron Burke, and Brian Sears were auctioned off that would benefit Inner City Helping Homeless in the city of Dublin. Not only did the gala honor the late Vincent Delaney and a nearby charity, but it also showed that the passion of harness racing across the pond can bring everyone together.
The next day was the first race day of the weekend that consisted of eliminations for the final races on Sunday. This racetrack was nothing like I have ever experienced. Although it was small and more of a fairground feel, the passion emanating from the atmosphere made me feel right at home. Something extremely new to me was the bookies placing the bets for you. As I watched them, I could see them calculating the bets in their head. I give credit to them since back here in the United States, we have machines to do that for us.
As the day went on, I walked around the grandstand talking with other harness racing “connoisseurs”. From New Zealand, Australia, London, and obviously Ireland, I got quite the broad outlook of the sport from all over. I found out that most drivers from these countries work other jobs because it does not support families enough financially. Coming from the United States, it is the complete opposite since drivers like Tim Tetrick, Yannick Gingras, and Brian Sears revolve everything around harness racing.
Throughout the races, the only drivers I knew were Dexter Dunn and Aaron Merriman. Dexter had two wins and Aaron had one win in the final race, which was quite the tearjerker. Not only did I get to watch one of my close friends in the industry dominate by four lengths down the final stretch, but I also got to see a victory celebrated Irish-style. Every connection possible to the horse, trainer, and driver joined the winner’s circle with some people even in tears. And the best thing was, they were not worried one bit about how much money they had just made. The joyous celebration ended with a photo of everyone raising their hands and shouting with happiness for the win in the final race of the day.
On Sunday, it was final race day! The post positions were drawn live at 11 AM with the help of Aaron Merriman and Dexter Dunn. Post time was 1 PM and the races were off. The day consisted not only of races, but fashion contests and Irish traditions as well. Dexter Dunn upset the crowd in the Vincent Delaney Memorial Filly Pace Final with IB Coyote. That winner’s circle was also quite the celebration with 80 people joining Dexter to end the day of racing and the memorial weekend. Everything combined for a great day to honor Vincent Delaney.
The Vincent Delaney Memorial Weekend began in 2012 and gets bigger every year with more drivers, horses, and special guests joining the Delaney family. It has now become the biggest and richest race weekend in all of the UK and Ireland.