Around 4.30pm on Sunday Janurary 25th 2015 the Grade A trot at the big annual Road Racing Memorial day in Skibbereen West Cork had just been won by Dream Maker. The presentation area was packed with owners and connections of the winner and the visiting harness racing fans from Dublin, Scotland, Wales and the UK who make an annual trip to “Skibb” for the weekend.

Laughter and smiles were suddenly replaced by sadness and a numbed silence when word filtered through that 27 year old John O' Donovan “Red John” had died tragically on his way home from a night out with the very people amassed on the roadside. Grown men shed tears.

John was a harness man at heart living the life and dreaming of winning in his favourite sport. The following days saw the Harness Racing Community coming out in thousands to honour a fallen hero. They came from near and far to say goodbye to one of the gents of the sport.

After the funeral mass drivers dressed in racing colours formed a guard of honour .Mr Security a horse John had bred and raced to many wins was led to the cemetry gates and the pall bearers stopped for a moment to allow master say goodbye to his loyal servant. In a final tribute as John was laid to rest a recording of some of “Red Johns” biggest wins was played to the crowd. It finished and the crowd clapped for what seemed like an eternity.

Days and months have passed and on Sunday harness racing fans wil gather once again at Manch Raceway. The 2015 Red John Memorial Flying Mile Pacing Handicap is the richest event on the West Cork Calender with €3500 ($4000) in purse money with four heats and a grand final comprising of two qualifiers from each heat.

On the undercard are The 2015 Irish Three Year Old Grass Pacing Championship, The 2015 Le Trot Grand Criterium Grass Championship, The Red John Mile (OPH) also a saddle race and maiden pace. Manch Raceway a half mile grass oval is being primed for the big day with supervised parking, family enclosure and paddock facilities. Members are encouraged to wear red clothing as another gesture to Red John and drivers will wear red armbands in all races.

There is a host of kids treats on the day with free bouncy castles ,face painting and a harness racing themed colouring competion along with our model horse and sulkey bike for kids and adults to get the feeling of sitting behind a pacer.

Sponsors on the day include Red Mills, Friends of Red John Committee (Dublin and UK), Breen & Murdock Family Belfast, Sam Kingston Supermarket Drinagh, Portmarnock Raceway Track Bookmakers, Mervue Equine, Astra Construction, McCarthy Insurance, R & H Hall, Drinagh Co-Op and Chris O' Reilly. The local community in Leap have come on board in droves to help out on the day with sponsorship coming from The Harbour Bar, John Shanahan New Inn Bar & Gararge, Gers Wild Atlantic Way Diner, The Motorcycle Cafe, Fionas Hair Studio, Shanahan Family Lakeview Stud, Ken Anderson Tyres, Shane Crowley, T O' Donovan & Sons, Hill Family Hillside Farms, Cremin Family Mallow, Hayes Caravan Services Owenahincha and Cowhigs Service Station.

A major donation will be presented to local charity group West Cork Autism on the day at the request of The O' Donovan family and Johns Partner Marion who are eternally thankful to all who supported them since the passing of John. With eleven races on the programme it promises to be a special day at “The Cornfield Oval“.

So Manch Raceway is the place to be next Sunday with a 2.30pm start time.

By Tim Kelleher.

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