AT the moment there is a strong trade for young pacers for export to race in North America.

In the same way that a winner of a four-year-old maiden ‘point’ could well make €100,000-plus at the sales, a three-year-old standardbred that can beat the magic 1m 59sec for the mile in Ireland or Britain is worth at least £30,000 to campaign in the USA.

Raceday attendances may be on the wane in America, but the country is still a massive market with plenty of racing opportunities. Even the proud French, at their museum of trotting in Grosbois, acknowledge that America is the home of harness racing.

Horses generally find seven seconds faster when in their American form, due mainly to faster tracks and the kinder climate.

The export trade to America and Canada has occurred in essentially two waves. The first wave of shipping - according to veteran Morecambe horseman Bob Lee - was instigated by English horsemen such as Eddie Roberts and Arthur Slack alongside the opening of York Raceway in the late 1970s.

“The Saddler went 1.54, then 50 years ago, that was some clock. Young Gee Lee, Bomber, Saunders Perilous, Saunders Pearl and Bettys Boy were all sold to the States. The Scottish horse Mystery Blaze broke the track record at his usual track in the States,” confirmed 81-year-old Bob.

‘Fat Bob’

Bob Kennedy from the Falkirk region was harness racing’s own ‘Greatest Showman’. Bob moved lock, stock, and barrel to Canada in 1980 complete with six horses and several teenage children.

Unbelievably, ‘Fat Bob’, as he was known, won several races at smaller tracks with horses that could not win at lowly Corbie Wood, near Bannockburn.

Fat Bob won a sequence of races with the great Billy Adios, formerly the Irish champion pacer, even though the chesnut was 11 as he got on the plane. The story goes that the management at a Canadian track told Bob ‘don’t bring him back’ as the locals could not beat the old war horse.

Respected breeder and equipment retailer Davy Wilson, also from Scotland, reckons that the first wave of exports came to an end as short sighted dealers started to send out very average horses.

Wilson also believes that in the 1980s Britain and Ireland were full of inferior US stallions which set back the development of the breed.

The second wave

Ladyford Buck with Patrick Kane - the Coleraine-bred went on to race in America \ Sarah Thomas Equine Photography

The latest wave of sales of pacers to the United States owes much to the development of the Vincent Delaney Memorial Race, established in 2012. A placed finish in the VDM proves that a two-year-old can race a heat and a final on consecutive days.

Furthermore, the importation of better stallions by Derek Delaney, Sue Young, Gary Maw, John Wright and others means that the progeny are recognisable to US trainers.

Mark Weaver, a major owner in the 250-horse Ron Burke stable, has engaged the Delaneys to buy on his behalf.

“The Irish and British horses come in battle-hardened and ready to rock. I enjoy buying horses from Ireland but I am concerned that Sweet Lou is not getting the mares this year, I think the larger Irish breeders shouldn’t be scared to use this stallion even though his fee has increased. The name Sweet Lou is a big magnet for US buyers,” he said.

A summary of this nature cannot possibly hope to mention every horse exported, so apologies to any breeders whose progeny does not get a name check. This article intends to concentrate on the past three seasons in the US.

Exported in 2017, the fillies Robyn Camden ($243,000) and Reclamation ($179,000) carried the Irish flag with pride. The British geldings Evenwood Son Of A Gun and Matticulous (a VDM winner) paced 1.49.2 and earned $345,000, respectively.

Blackwell Ruby from the Gavin Murdock barn won nine races and $75,000.

Oakwood Annabella was placed in the $300,000 2021 Jugette, the premier race for three-year-old fillies.

Alan Wallace jnr owned Eva Dairpet, a trotting mare who has been ‘doubly exported’ i.e. she was sold from France to Ireland and then shipped to race in America. Alan told The Irish Field that the mare won her first race in a shade outside the track record at Pocono Downs. She was trained by the famed Nancy Takter.

In recent weeks, the Paddy Kane yard in Trim have been celebrating wins by their homebred Ski From The Top and the Sue Young-bred Stateside Deuce, both at Yonkers.

The horses were sent to the US in partnership with Londoner John Ball. Stateside Deuce made it five wins in a row on Tuesday night past.

Of course, in 2022 the Kanes also shipped top trotter Harry Knows to the Shane Tritton stable although the horse is back in Trim once more.

Bobby Barry’s Ayr Balmoral are currently racing with some success on the east coast for the Ron Burke stable. Walter Stewart’s For A Few Dollars More sired Ladyford Buck and Ladyford Dollar. The latter won in 1.52 first time out at The Meadowlands. The stallion is at stud in Coleraine for 2024.

To sum up, Irish-bred pacers are definitely competitive on the big stage. It is pleasing to see the IR suffix beside horses’ names on American programmes. No doubt the IHRA will emphasise this success story to funding bodies in the coming weeks.

With thanks to Hannah Richardson for help with the statistics.