This past Sunday, was the banquet I look forward to the most every year, the SPHO-NJ year end awards banquet. As you all know, I am the proud owner of a Quarter Horse, but have become a very active member of the Standardbred community, especially the SPHO-NJ. It started through friends that owned Standardbreds that I spent a lot of time showing with and now has spread to showing some very nice Standardbreds myself. Along the way I have had the opportunity to show friends Standardbreds, such as Valiant Legacy and Don Dinero, and this year I was lucky enough to show the ever wonderful JB, whose rock star capabilities are often written about on this blog.
Anyway, the Standarbred community has always been very kind and welcoming to me and they know how to throw one hell of a party. At this event, you not only see people who ride Standardbreds, but you also see many very well known and highly respected members of the harness racing community, such as Bill Weaver, an owner who attends this event every year and donates quite a lot of money. Jeff Gregory, well known driver, and husband of my friend Helene, assists with MC-ing the event. Many trainers, owners, and drivers also attend such as Julie and Andy Miller, Lou Pena, Tony Alagna, Donna and Jim Marshall, George Brennan, Steve Smith, Dan Dube, and many more. It is great to see such support from the harness racing community at this event.
The main focus of the evening is the year end awards earned by hard working Standardbreds and their owners / riders. Riders came from as far as Maine and Kentucky to accept their awards and celebrate their achievements. This was the first year out of the four or five years I have been attending this banquet that I was going home with an award, and several at that. JB and I had received the award that had been our focus all year: Grand Champion in Model for both the state and national awards! We also received some thirds, fourths, and fifths in the various riding divisions.
The SPHO-NJ gives out gorgeous and very different awards. Instead of a wooden or plastic trophy like most associations give, they give gorgeous, big year end ribbons and very creative trophies. My friend Rob, who chooses most of the awards also tries hard to make the trophies different each year, beautiful, creative, and personalized when possible. For instance, for my year end trophy for the State Grand Champion in Model I received a gorgeous plate in my favorite color.
This is Jeff Gregory and I with my plate for Grand Champion in Model for NJ, as well as, our fifth place ribbon for Showmanship.
JB also proved himself in his many endeavors with Helene. He was Grand Champion is just about every division in which they competed this year and was Horse of the Year for both State and National.
I have to take a moment to thank Helene for lending me the extremely talented JB for the show season and giving me the opportunity to participate more fully in this wonderful organization. She has given me basically free rein with him, as far as his western training, given up days she could have been riding him so I could practice western with him. She also ships him all over for us both to show and is very encouraging and helpful in my goals for him as a western horse and he has proven himself every time.
Anyway, back to the banquet. Besides, the awards, the event also includes a Chinese auction, 50/50, and live auction items. I assisted with selling the 50/50 just as I do every year, which brought in a nice amount of money. The winners, who own the famous race horse Hands Off My Cookie, were kind enough to donate the money back to the club. The Chinese auction always includes fabulous prizes, such as lessons, gift certificates, baskets full of supplies, and much more. I won a basket full of very useful veterinary supplies, such as electrolytes, wormers, arnica cream, vet wrap, and much more.
This year the live auction was expanded beyond previous years. It included a beautiful canvas print done by Vicki Wright, a favorite photographer among NJ Standardbred people. She is very talented and has done work for me, as well as, becoming a friend and go to source for photography questions. Two beautiful framed photos taken by Vicki were auctioned, as well. Two veterinary gift certificates, one for the famous Patty Hogan, and one for Barry Danvers, were included in the auction, as well. Two new items this year were a harness donated by Finn Tack and a race bike donated by Brodeur. All of these items brought the club several thousand dollars!
Helene pulling me around in the race bike as it was being auctioned off
After the awards, Chinese auction, and live auctions comes the dancing! This is the favorite part of just about everyone in attendance. Attendees of all ages hit the dance floor and party like rock stars! It always promises to be a good time and everyone goes home with sore feet from hours spent on the dance floor. Everyone enjoys themselves, has a great time, and gets to drink, dance, dress up, and celebrate with each other outside of the barn (which doesn't happen very often LOL).
This year they added a red carpet to the event, which made it even more special. They also had a back drop with their logo, just like the awards shows do.
Rob and I posing on the red carpet
Many people commented to me and I agree that this year's banquet was the best yet. The SPHO-NJ has out done themselves yet again! It was a fabulous event, with beautiful trophies to recognize the hard work and accomplishments of all the riders. It included something for everyone, and raised funds for the club. There is not one person that did not have a great time and enjoy an evening of celebration, dancing, and smiles. I can't wait until next year!