By Jonny Turner
In my time in harness racing there has simply never been a season like the just completed 2019-20 edition.
And quite frankly, I hope there will never be another one like it.
And though I have clearly started this look back at the past 12 months from a negative viewpoint, I do not intend to continue that way.
Because no matter the challenges facing harness racing in New Zealand, there is always the good, the excitement, the passion, the great people and of course, the fast horses.
The challenges came right across the season, but obviously the biggest have just recently hit the industry.
The recent Covid19 lockdown, the shake-up of RITA that reduced its media and promotional services, some industry controversies and the closure of several tracks are all included.
Those pale in comparison to the biggest challenge of the season – Ricky May’s fight for his life.
While at the time it was clearly a low point and the most emotionally devastating incident I have witnessed on a race track, it brought out the absolute best in the industry.
It started with Ellie Barron and Lawrence McCormick leaping the outside running rail at Omakau.
It went on to include dozens of paramedics, off duty doctors, horse people and officials.
And it ended up including thousands upon thousands of well-wishers, fans and supporters sending their support to the May family.
Thankfully, Ricky’s scare ended in the best possible result.
A fighting fit Ricky May returning to full health and returning to the racetrack is the best result of the season as far as I am concerned.
There was simply no better victory in the sport.
Last season was clearly packed with the extraordinary, and as always, that included the action on the track.
Ultimate Sniper’s Interdominion performances were breath-taking, Krug has emerged as a genuine star in the making and Amazing Dream beat the boys in an action-packed derby.
Two of my personal favourites stories during the season included the rise of Cracker Hill, who can reel off a 400m split as fast as any trotter in the country.
And Spirit Of St Louis, who thrilled with a win that had to be seen to be believed late in the season at Ascot Park.
For every star horse and big race, there is a little-known horse in an insignificant race.
Some of the things that drive our sport and make it great – the search for the pin up horse, the star trainer and driver and the hotshot in the next race – can overshadow what each horse means to the people that race them.
And what impact that horse can have on people’s lives.
One of my favourite stories of the past season came in two low-key races at Forbury Park and Ascot Park.
Within 48 hours of each other, two octogenarians, who train side by side at Omakau racecourse scored wins that meant the world to them.
Firstly, it was Allandale rattling along the inside in the hands of Rory McIlwrick to win for Lionel Sinammon.
Then Dream Of Pat fighting tenaciously up the straight under the urgings of Brad Williamson to win for Ginger Woodhouse.
Not bad for a couple of trainers in their 80s and due reward for their burning passion for harness racing.
Bring on next season, just without quite so many headwinds.
But we will happily take the fast horses, exciting races, the superstars and the wins for the little guys that mean so much.