'Best kept secret in St. John's'

Darcy MacRae
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Harness racing attracting fans, top drivers to Goulds track

Harness racing is alive and well in St. John's, even if a lot of people don't know it.

St. John's Racing and Entertainment (SJRE), formerly known as the Avalon Raceway, recently started its 2007 harness racing season in Goulds, and by all accounts, it looks like it's going to be a good year for the track. Between 600 and 1,000 fans attended races on both Sunday and Wednesday, and there are twice as many horses running this year as there were in 2006.

"Someone told me harness racing is the best kept secret in St. John's," said Chuck Hamlyn, general manager of St. John's Racing and Entertainment. "The fan interest has been great in an industry that is decreasing in a lot of places in the Maritimes. The interest here is back."

At the gate ( from left), Aurevoir Chance, driven by Gary Fleming; Dusty Lane Badbert, driven by Scott J. Forward; PH Rebel, driven by Frankie Joyce and Little Miss Nuget, driven by Shane Forward start a race behind the start car Wednesday night at the St

Harness racing is alive and well in St. John's, even if a lot of people don't know it.

St. John's Racing and Entertainment (SJRE), formerly known as the Avalon Raceway, recently started its 2007 harness racing season in Goulds, and by all accounts, it looks like it's going to be a good year for the track. Between 600 and 1,000 fans attended races on both Sunday and Wednesday, and there are twice as many horses running this year as there were in 2006.

"Someone told me harness racing is the best kept secret in St. John's," said Chuck Hamlyn, general manager of St. John's Racing and Entertainment. "The fan interest has been great in an industry that is decreasing in a lot of places in the Maritimes. The interest here is back."

One reason the Goulds track may be doing so well is because SJRE has made a night at the races a family affair. There is a playground for kids on site, as well as canteen services and a recently hired chef. Even on nights when it rains, fans aren't forced to get in their cars and go home since they can simply move the fun indoors and continue betting and watching the races.

"We can accommodate almost 400 people inside our building," Hamlyn said.

There are between 50 and 60 race horses living permanently on the grounds and another dozen that ship in and out of town from Ontario and the United States, according to Hamlyn. He admits the track doesn't get the same calibre of horses that big-money facilities in Ontario get, but says the horses fans see here are more than capable of putting on a show.

"The races are very competitive," he said.

Hamlyn is looking forward to several memorable nights at the track this summer, but few will be bigger than July 8 when 10 of the top drivers from across Canada will be a the Goulds track. These drivers will be made available for autographs and will compete driving local horses.

"It will be like the Gretzkys of harness racing coming to town," Hamlyn said. "This is the first time we've done something like this. We're trying to put them in some type of challenge where they race each other ... I'm sure they'll help the young kids and all the trainers. They probably have some advice and can talk to the guys about their futures in harness racing."

In addition to live races, St. John's Racing and Entertainment also offers simulcasting of races from some of the biggest money tracks in the country. The off-track betting is a major financial boost to the Goulds track.

"The full impact of off-track betting has not been reached yet," Hamlyn said.

"That's where most betting dollars have gone these days."

St. John's Racing and Entertainment will also host a bike rally on Aug. 5 and a Charlie Hamlyn (Chuck's father) Memorial Day, honouring industry icons, later in the summer.

Races begin at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays.

dmacrae@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: St. John's, Goulds, Ontario United States Canada

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