Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Traditional Horse Racing Sport Back in the Region

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Traditional Horse Racing Sport Back in the Region

Article excerpt

Byline: Barbara Hodgson Reporter barbara.hodgson@ncjmedia.co.uk @BarbaraHodgson5

TODAY sees harness racing come to Newcastle in a first for Gosforth Park which is being welcomed by fans of the traditional sport.

The spectacle is hoped to draw crowds to Newcastle Racecourse when it makes its debut on the new all-weather track.

Richard Wigan and horse owner George Harrison have been the driving force behind the event, which will see horses race at a specific gait as they pull a two-wheeled cart.

Richard, from Standardbred GB, hopes that harness racing - which has made an appearance at other thoroughbred racecourses in Wolverhampton and Scotland this season - will become a regular fixture at Gosforth Park.

The premiere event has been a long time in the planning for Richard, who is also secretary of NESC (the North East Standardbred Club), and he is grateful for the racecourse's support.

"I went to see them in 2014 and they suggested we wait until they had planning permission for the hard track and said when it happened they would phone me and they kept their word.

"This will be the first time harness racing has come to a racecourse in the North East and hopefully it will be a success and we can put some more on."

The event, promoted by governing body The British Harness Racing Club, promises to make its debut there in style with Friday's programme also including a Dennis Leonard Memorial Trophy and a Best Dressed Lady award.

Races will begin at 5pm and include two trotting races and a mile-long leg of the Standardbred Sales Company-sponsored Battle of the Big Guns.

The Standardbred breed is the horse typically used in harness racing here and in the US, while the sport is also popular throughout Europe, with the Prix d'Amerique in France considered to be the top race in the world.

Harness racing can involve two different gaits: trotting and - particularly common in America - pacing, and there's a real art to the sport. The lightweight cart pulled by the horses is called a 'sulky' but is often referred to as a "bike" due to its bicycle wheels.

It was a popular pastime in many areas of the North East but Richard added: "Putting meetings on grass tracks is getting harder and harder. …

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