Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland-owned horse is hot to trot against Australia's finest

By Lesley Houston

A lifelong harness racing fan has been given the opportunity for his horse to compete in a prestigious equestrian race in Australia - making him the first owner from outside that continent to be selected for the illustrious sporting event.

Belfast man Noel Cowden's Irish champion Meadowbranch DJ, co-owned with Dublin-based brothers William and Mark Flanagan, was chosen over nine other hopefuls from the UK and Ireland - each a record holder in their own right.

Although Noel won't be taking the hot seat with the prized seven-year-old for the Perth race, it's a coup for the owners, Meadowbranch Stables, which have seen off the competition for a place in the Inter Dominion Championships Down Under.

The pinnacle of harness racing in the southern hemisphere, the three-week event encompasses the Melbourne Cup of Harness Racing, which is traditionally held on an annual rotation basis between Australia and New Zealand.

Among the lesser known equestrian racing events, harness racing - in which 'drivers' trot at speed seated in a contraption called a sulky - could fast become more mainstream with the participation of a team from this part of the world.

A financier, Mr Cowden has passed his love of the exciting sport to his children.

"It's just a hobby but it's been a lifelong one and one which my children are now involved in," he said.

As a younger man he drove the horses himself, but has now passed on the reins for Meadowbranch DJ to Dubliner John Richardson.

"I came through it in my younger days and have taken part in the past but now I'm the owner with an active interest in this sport," he explained.

Commenting on Meadowbranch DJ's chances in Australia, driver John said the team, including trainer William, could never have predicted such success.

Speaking after the horse's win at the Anglo-Irish Inter Dominion at Portmarnock, he said: "He's had two hard trips the last two weeks, but it all came off again today - we even took him to the beach to freshen him up in preparation for the racing.

"At the start of the year I didn't think he was going to be the horse for the Inter Dominion, but now, this means everything - I've never been to Australia.

"This is a big achievement for the whole Meadowbranch team. This is what we're in the job for - to live off dreams, and this is a dream now."

Meadowbranch DJ will go into quarantine in Newmarket early next month before travelling to Sydney.

From there the racing team head to Gloucester Park in Perth in Western Australia in preparation for the prestigious series.

Racing Down Under commences on November 27, with the final of the event taking place on December 13.

Belfast Telegraph

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