Lillian Delaney from the Vincent Delaney Memorial

by Victoria M. Howard

The one thing on my bucket list I hope to check off before I check out is to attend The Vincent Delaney Memorial in Portmarnock, Ireland, the second weekend in August.

What has grown into one of the most highly anticipated and exciting weekends in harness racing, the V.D.M. draws people from all walks of life and corners of the world.

In the nine years since the V.D.M. first launched, the festival has transformed into a major international event on the harness racing calendar.

Renown track announcer Roger Huston flies in to call the races and top U.S. drivers Mike Wilder, George Brennan, Dan Noble, Aaron Merriman, Jordan Stratton, Wally Hennessy; Canadian driver Jody Jamieson, and New Zealand drivers Dexter Dunn and Anthony Butt have all competed in the races and enjoyed the lush greenness landscape, smoked Salmon, and Irish Whiskey.

So how did this all begin?It evolved from a tragedy. The Delaneys turned something negative into something positive. In 2011, when the youngest brother, 27-year-old Vincent, suddenly died from a massive heart attack, brothers James and Derek Delaney decided to launch the first Two-Year-Old Classic Race, in honor of the horse enthusiast.

“James and Derek wanted to do something that was going to help racing both here in Ireland and the UK, so they obtained a major high street bookmaker as a sponsor and a substantial purse (race) specifically for 2-year-old pacers, which has helped stimulate the breeding and improve racing. Indirectly, it also helped harness racing in the United States. Thankfully, it has snowballed from there and exceeded all our expectations — something we as a family are very proud of,” said Derek’s wife, Lillian.

The three brothers were born in Dublin and found their way into the sport of harness racing through the ponies and carts of their childhood, collecting scrap, delivering coal, and helping out in a harness racing stable at Newtown Stud.

They were not only brothers, but were the best of friends who united not only by their genes and heritage, but bound by their love of horses.

“Vincent worked with my husband Derek, and brother-in-law James dealt with the pedigrees and breaking the young horses. When Vincent died our family was devastated. We wanted to honor and keep Vincent alive the best way we knew how,” said Lillian, “and that was through his love and passion for harness horses.”

Initially, James did the training until the brothers decided to focus full time on breeding and hired UK trainer Sally Teeboon.

Today, James and Derek own and run a breeding farm called Oakwood Stud. In 2017, Oakwood Stud stood Rachmaniov Seven, (winner at Vincennes) who was the first French trotter in Ireland. That was the first time a French trotter had ever stood in Ireland.

Oakwood Stud also stands the great stallion Foreclosure N. American stallions Sweet Lou and Always B Miki are also available via frozen semen.

Derek’s wife, Lillian, plays a very big part in the annual grand event as hostess who organizes the hotel stays for guests, plans all trips, and hosts the popular Ladies Day.

“Normally our international guests start arriving from Tuesday onwards and stay in The Grand Hotel located in the seaside town of Malahide in North Dublin.

“I organize trips from there into Dublin City and down to Oakwood Stud in Co Offaly for our guests. Friday evening we kick off the weekend at a fabulous restaurant, then it’s racing at Portmarnock Raceway Saturday and Sunday. There is a hospitality tent set up at the track serving food and drink both days and we provide Irish musicians and dancers to perform all weekend for our guests.

“Sunday is ‘Fun Day’ — which is Ladies Day. I arrange the competition and hire some local makeup artists and hair stylists to come to the hotel for our guests, basically turning a hotel room into a beauty salon in the morning.

“Ladies Day has become a social event in itself — the ladies sharing stories and having ‘craic’ — the Irish word for fun. We even vote on Best Dressed Lady, Best Dressed Man, Best Dressed Couple and of course, the Best Hat,” she said. “Basically, I handle all the ‘glam’ things for the V.D.M.”

I asked Lillian how harness racing in Ireland differs from the United States.

“Racing is far more professional in America then it is here. I suppose it’s because it’s an industry with a lot of money in the sport in the USA. We don’t have simulcast off course wagering over here, so it’s more about the fun of winning and the celebration afterwards.”

2020 has been a horrendous year for everyone due to the dreaded onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and sadly, The Vincent Delaney festival had to be cancelled until 2021.

Plans for next year — which marks the big 10-year anniversary of the VDM weekend are now being worked on.

“Although the COVID has settled down a bit here, there are still restrictions and some counties placed a lockdown again last week. It has affected the starting of the season and has stopped the tracks from opening to the public,” said Lillian.

“Anyone can attend the VDM. All they need to do is follow our Facebook page, Vincent Delaney Memorial, and the website or email for any information. We love to welcome international guests to the V.D.M Festival and to Ireland.”