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Rennie, Watts recognized at awards dinner
The Prince County Horsemen’s Club’s (PCHC) 2018 horsewoman and horseman of the year share one thing in common – a strong passion for harness racing that runs deep in their families.
Melissa Rennie of Charlottetown and Earl Watts of North Wiltshire were introduced as the two major award winners during the PCHC’s annual awards dinner at Credit Union Place recently.
“It’s kind of a family thing,” noted Watts. “I’ve been at it for a number of years now.
“My uncles have been into it on the Watts side and the Hughes side. I’m very fortunate to have great owners, some good horses and with the government support now everything is going in the right direction.”
Watts admitted he was “surprised and happy” to be named PCHC horseman of the year.
“I’m very supportive of Summerside and I love racing up here,” he added.
Watts is involved in training and breeding. He was the leading trainer in Summerside in 2018 with a sparkling .355 average, including 15 wins.
Watts noted there are currently 15 to 20 horses in their stable.
“We have some studs and broodmares that we look after,” he said. “It’s a business for us, an industry.
“I’ve had great owners and that is what it’s all about. We develop a lot of young horses and seeing them get to the races and develop into nice horses.”
Watts said it is a very rewarding experience training horses and preparing them to race. He talked about what goes into that: “When you start with babies we call it breaking them in the fall of the year and teaching them lessons of how to do everything right. You gradually take them along slowly and getting them to the races. It’s very rewarding, especially if you breed them yourself at your home farm.”
Watts acquired his training licence in 2007. In an 11-year career, he has accumulated 416 wins as a trainer racing strictly in the Maritimes. His career highlight was Serious Damage and driver Kenny Arsenault winning the 2011 Governor’s Plate.
Rennie, who grew up in Alma, was introduced to harness racing by her father, Ronnie, and uncle, Dale.
“I’ve been in the racing game probably as young as 15, 16 years old grooming horses here at the Summerside Raceway,” said Rennie, who added a “love of the horses” is what keeps her involved. “Once you get the bug for it, it’s hard to lose it.
“When I was a teenager I kind of strayed away from it in high school, but when it’s in your blood you go back to it.”
Rennie, who acknowledged she was “thrilled” to be named horsewoman of the year, acquired her training licence in 2012. Her 2018 resumé in Summerside included 33 starts, four wins, seven seconds and nine thirds.
Rennie and her partner, Adam Merner, are currently training 17 horses. She noted the couple’s young son, Jaxon, also “loves the horses.”
Although there is certainly a business side to harness racing, strong bonds are also developed between humans and animals.
“There’s quite an attachment,” said Rennie. “I bought a race mare with two partners a few years ago, and we didn’t get to race her very long because she had an injury.
“There was just something that I didn’t want to let her go. I always said I would never get into the broodmare business, I’d never get into breeding. Well, guess what?
“I have a broodmare and I have a yearling and she’s due to foal in June. I’m also in that aspect of it as well as training and owning.”
The awards ceremony opened with the announcement that Walter Simmons of Summerside has been awarded a PCHC lifetime membership. Simmons has been involved in harness racing for over 70 years and was described as having a strong presence and a contributor to the sport.
David Dowling was also presented with an award for reaching the 1,000-win milestone.
List of Prince County Horsemen’s Club awards:
Top driver (50-plus drives) – David Dowling, 42 wins.
Top trainer (50-plus starts) – Earl Watts, Universal Training Rating System (UTRS) of .355 and 15 wins.
Top percentage driver (50-plus starts) – Gilles Barrieau, Universal Driving Rating System (UDRS) of .397.
Top percentage driver (10-49 drives) – Earl Smith, UDRS of .370.
Top winning driver (10-49 starts) – Ambyr Campbell, 6 wins.
Top trainer (10-49 starts) – Terry Gallant, UTRS of .582.
Groom of the year – Michael Stewart.
Rookie driver of the year – Austin Sorrie.
Two-year-old pacing filly – Magical Mistress.
Two-year-old pacing colt – Red Dirt Boomer.
Two-year-old trotting filly – Dusty Lane Mavis.
Two-year-old trotting colt – no eligible recipient.
Three-year-old pacing filly – Bettim Jackie.
Three-year-old pacing colt – Woodmere Ideal Art.
Three-year-old trotting filly – Kiss Me Goodnight.
Three-year-old trotting colt – Windemeredontuworry.
Fan favourite horse – O Christopher.
Aged trotter of the year – Hop Up.
Aged pacing mare of the year – Ramblinglily.
Aged pacing horse of the year – Euchred.
Claimer of the year – Mando Fun.
Horse of the year – Bettim Jackie.
Breeder of the year – Jeff Lilley.
Earl Cannon Memorial Award – Lester Stewart.
Standardbred Canada owner of the year – Ultimate Stable.
Philip and Henry Doucette Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award – Boyd MacDonald.
Garth Schurman Memorial Award – Paul Biggar.
Joe O’Brien Memorial Award – Dale Spence.
Horsewoman of the year – Melissa Rennie.
Horseman of the year – Earl Watts.