Stacey Markham and J D Fortune (JD) made the long trip from Christchurch to compete in the Standardbred section at Horse of the Year. Hayley Clarke caught up with Stacey to find out how her journey North went and what it felt like to represent the Standardbreds at such a prestigious show.

A lot of time and dedication goes into showing horses and you have to have that drive and want to be better than anybody else to succeed. You’ve also got to go out there and do it for not only yourself but your horse as well. And when you’re showing a retired Standardbred you’ve got to do it for all of their supporters, past and present too.

Stacey Markham is the perfect ambassador for retired Standardbreds. Her horse always comes first and she waited until she had won nearly every wide ribbon in the Canterbury region before she made the decision to tackle the big time – Horse of the Year.

Monday, March 6 saw the start of a long trip North for Markham and her Mum Lyn. Her number one supporter was right by herself to see that JD and Stacey made the trip safely.

“The trip up North was long, we left on Monday morning and arrived late on Tuesday. We stopped over in Blenheim for the night and caught the early ferry on Tuesday morning,” Markham said.

When they finally arrived they were lucky enough to stay with Markham’s good friend Charlotte Hunter, where JD had a nice paddock to relax in.

Not only was the trip up to HOY long but the preparation beforehand was ongoing.

“We prepared for HOY the same we would any other show, we went for a ride most days mixing it up with hacking and schooling. We’d been to a handful of shows throughout the season to qualify for HOY and were lucky enough to take home a Champion or Reserve Champion ribbon at each of them. We had a few other outings including the beach and the Amberley Races where we got to do a life after racing demonstration in the birdcage and lead out the Cup field.”

When the day finally came JD unfortunately wasn’t at his best but the pair were able to take out Best Presented which is a huge achievement at such a big show where you are competing against the best in the country.

“Horse of the Year is a very prestigious show, so everyone works hard to ensure the overall picture of themselves, their horses and their gear is immaculate so to be able to win the best turnout meant a lot to me. I always take pride in presentation and it was such a great feeling to see that pay off.”

“With any show it is hard to go in with any expectations as you don’t know what will happen on the day but just to be there was a huge achievement for us and something that is not easy to do.”

For Markham, HOY has always been on the bucket list and to do it with her best friend JD, was even more special.

“I’d always dreamt of getting to HOY but I never actually thought it would happen. But once the Standardbreds were included I knew there was a real possibility that if we worked hard we could get there. I have a real passion for the Standardbreds due to my upbringing and to get up there with JD and represent the breed was a truly remarkable feeling.”

Markham would love to return to HOY at some stage but for now she is ready to face some other challenges and JD will get a well-earned break before Markham (or JD) decides what his future will hold.

“I’d love to get back up there eventually, if I do it’ll be a few years away yet as I’m stepping back to focus on a few other projects for the next couple of years. But the experience of HOY was incredible and I’d love to do it all over again and have another crack at bringing home one of the elusive titles.”

Markham put in a lot of work to get herself to HOY but there are also many people that she owes thanks to for their support in getting her there.

“I was overwhelmed by the amount of support I received from the harness racing industry, without them all the trip never would have been possible. In particular I need to thank Derek and Adele Jones, Methven and Mount Hutt Trotting Clubs, Jo van der Wored and Gavin Burgess, P3 Equestrian, every one of the companies who donated prizes for my raffle, my partner David and of course my family, especially Mum who was by our side at every show this season and travelled us up to HOY.”

“Also it was great to see Tash Bol take home the Champion Ridden title, she has been part of the Standardbred ring for many, many years and does such a wonderful job with her team of Standardbreds so it was great to see her hard work and dedication pay off on the day.”

As Standardbred’s become more recognised in the show ring Markham is proud of how far they have come and hopes to keep seeing them rise up the equestrian ladder.

“The breed has so much to offer both on and off the track and I think people are starting to notice and appreciate them now more so than in the past. It also helps that the breed is becoming more refined. There are also so many people who are doing such a great job of promoting the Standardbred in their lives after racing which is also beneficial to the breed.”

“It’s so great to see that more and more trainers are getting on board and getting behind life after racing. They are giving the suitable Standardbreds a chance at a new life when they are retired from racing and providing so much happiness to people around the country who take on these horses. The breed is very versatile and can excel in so many different disciplines.”

Markham is clearly doing a great job at pushing Life after Racing for Standardbreds and we will surely see her promoting the breed for many years to come, she is a true credit to the idea of Life after Racing.

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