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Friday, 26 December 2014

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Horse trainer Lisa dedicates wins to cousin lost in car tragedy

When Solway Sunset and Solway Sam both galloped past the winning post on their way to victories at Ayr this month, racehorse trainer Lisa Harrison was determined to share the credit for the double triumph with a woman she describes as her inspiration.

Lisa Harrison photo
Lisa Harrison

Tragedy robbed Lisa of her best friend and cousin Liz Haughan four years ago when she was killed in a horrific road smash.

Lisa took over the trainer’s licence from Liz shortly after her death in an accident on the A596 at Highscales, near Aspatria.

Liz’s brother Steve Harrison also died at the scene of the accident, and the driver of the other car was later jailed for five years for two counts of causing death by dangerous driving after a judge heard he was driving “like a Formula One racing driver” in pitch-black conditions.

Only hours earlier, Liz and Lisa had been together at Carlisle Races, where they had a number of runners, before tragedy struck when they were travelling together to a family party.

Now, Lisa is determined Liz’s legacy will live on - and every winner that comes out of the racing yard at Aldoth, near Abbeytown, is dedicated to the memory of her cousin.

Lisa admits the past four years have been the worst of her life as the whole family, including Liz’s husband Neil, sons Andrew and Paul and parents Alan and Margaret Harrison, were left utterly devastated by the loss of Liz and Steve.

The row of horses’ heads contentedly gazing across the stable yard provided Lisa with all the motivation she needed to keep going when she would have preferred to lock herself away from the rest of the world in the sad aftermath of Liz’s death.

They needed to be fed, watered and cared for, so life had to go on for their sake, and she knows Liz would never have forgiven her for throwing in the towel.

“I never expected to take over the training licence in such tragic circumstances,” she said.

“We’re such a close family and what happened has absolutely devastated all of us.

“When it all happened I wasn’t sure if I would continue in racing. The horses helped to get me through it as they gave me something to focus on.

“Liz was totally devoted to those horses and she would have hated it if I’d just given up. Even now, I’m doing it for her.”

All the horses at the yard are owned by Alan and Margaret and racing has always been a real family affair for the Harrisons.

Liz used to breed the horses, break them in and prepare them for a racing career with trainer Jonjo O’Neill.

When O’Neill moved his racing operation from Skelton Wood End, near Penrith, to Jackdaws Castle in the Cotswolds in 2000, Liz decided to give training a go herself.

With Lisa working alongside her, Liz’s hard work, dedication and natural ability with horses helped her make her mark in the racing world.

She saddled her first winner – Solway Donal – at Sedgefield in 2002.

Liz had had runners at Carlisle on the day her life was so sadly cut short at the age of just 40.

The family were all heading to the pub at Bromfield for a birthday celebration for Alan, whose passion for racing is funded by his haulage, recycling and quarrying business, when the accident happened on a busy stretch of road only a few miles from their destination.

Lisa, 30, who lives in Westnewton, never expected to take over running the racing yard – but the Harrison family were determined it would continue as a lasting tribute to Liz and Steve.

The double tragedy shocked the Cumbrian racing fraternity which rallied round Lisa, with local trainers Nicky Richards and Brian Storey both providing references to the Jockey Club to support her application for the licence.

Alan and Margaret’s grand-daughters Shelley and Sherrie both exercise the horses and help out at the yard.

Lisa said: “When I first took over, I was really sad about things. Sometimes I didn’t want to be here at the yard. I missed Liz so much and the place wasn’t the same without her. I suppose that’s the grieving process.

“I’ve been feeling a bit stronger this year and I’m more focused on what I’m doing. I know Liz would have wanted me to take over the training licence, but I feel real mixed emotions.

“When I have a winner, I feel I’m taking her glory. But, on the other hand, I feel ecstatic because I know she will be looking down and feeling so proud.

“Alan and Margaret wanted me to keep the yard going. When the horses run well they are so proud, we all are.” Before receiving her licence, Lisa’s first success came at Dalston point-to-point when Solway Sunset won the maiden race in 2005, before following up at Aspatria point-to-point.

Then, in the summer of 2006, she saddled a double at Cartmel with Solway Sunset and Solway Minstrel. It was nearly a treble but Solway Larkin was just pipped on the line. She’s had winners at Haydock, Perth, Aintree and Ayr and, every time she sees one of the horses triumph, Liz is never far from her thoughts.

She said: “Minstrel has won twice for me – and he’s my favourite because Liz used to train him and he won for her at Perth. He’s the oldest in the yard and was one of her favourites so I’ve a real soft spot for him.

“He broke down a couple of times but we’ve nursed him back, and he’s very special to us.

“Whenever I’m wondering about how I should do something or if a problem comes up, I think to myself: ‘What would Liz have done?’ or ‘How would she handle this?’

“She was a very dedicated and natural horsewoman who always knew what to do. When she wasn’t with the horses, she was sitting at the computer looking for races to enter them in.

“She was really enjoying training and was just finding her feet. Liz was a real party animal and we used to love going out together. I’d be sitting in her kitchen ready to go out, getting impatient, and she’d be taking forever getting ready. She’d be shouting: ‘Lisa, bring a couple of glasses of wine up and come and talk to us while I get ready.’

“It used to drive me up the wall! What I’d give for her to be shouting downstairs at me now.

“I was bridesmaid at her wedding, she was my cousin, my employer and my best friend. Horses were our life. Liz lived and breathed horses.

“I’ll never get over losing her. Never.”

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