THE BLOG

The Day I Owned a Horse - Harness Racing on Prince Edward Island

06/01/2013 13:17 GMT | Updated 06/03/2013 10:12 GMT

The first time the elegant hoof of the equine world came hurtling into my life was back in 1987. The Grand National was on the BBC and the name 'Maori Venture' caught my attention.

"Mother", I might have said. "Can we hot foot it to our local friendly bookmaker and place a wager on a horse that is running in this years showpiece jump racing event?"

"No", said Mother.

A couple of hours later the horse romped home to victory, at odds of about 32-1.

As you can imagine, ever since I have fondly imagined that I am some kind of idiot savant when it comes to backing the nags, and I have seen no reason to betray the fallacy behind this conceit by backing my hunches with money. That was until I went on a cycling holiday in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

My journey along the Confederation Trail took me through Charlottetown, the island's capital. It is a place where they are obsessed by the phenomenon of harness racing - basically a horse pulling a cart around a 500 metre track, whilst encouraged by a silken clad rider and cheered on by the crowd. The brew is irresistible, so when I was offered the chance to be an 'Owner for the Day' how could I refuse? My roll entitled me to meet my horse and rider (Matt Trapper and Brian Andrew) and discuss tactics and strategy with them. Matt and Brian's role entitled them to nod politely and quickly realise I did not know what I was talking about. A match made in heaven - how could we lose?

So that evening we all headed to the magnificent Red Shores racetrack. Our preparations had differed wildly. I had been drinking (legal) moonshine and the finest clams (see video below) whilst Matt Trapper had enjoyed a rub down and some of the finest horse feed known to the gee-gee world. One of us was ready to sit down, the other was ready to race, and that is how it should be.

We were race nine of the evening, which left me plenty of time to study the form and place carefully considered wagers. Yet I became gripped by some kind of betting paralysis. Mentally, I could decide who I thought would win, but physically I was unable to hand my cash over. I guess it was a case of the gambling yips. Amateur psychologists may point back to my childhood flirtation with the Sport of Kings, how the failure to back my Grand National hunch has left me emotionally scarred, and incapable of making a punt. Others who know me a little better would point out that I am extraordinarily tight fisted. I am not sure myself, all I know is that whenever I neared the bookie, confidently reaching in my wallet for the note of the lowest possible denomination, I would literally do a Devon Loch. (I use the word literally in its fashionably unsuitable sense, as A - I did not tumble to the floor whilst about to win the year's biggest race, B - no would-be famous author fell out my saddle, C- The Queen Mother did not reach for the gin in frustration. Google it.)

So what to do? How could I possibly look at Matt Trapper in the eye if I did not even have the guts to back him with cold hard cash? Even if I did, would Matt Trapper have the ability to make any wager worthwhile? This, and other questions are answered in the following video. Go on, take a chance.