Fredericton, NB --- North America's top percentage harness racing driver in 2013 has been named the inaugural winner of the Earl Avery Award.
Gilles Barrieau, the perennial New Brunswick driving champion and leading UDR driver in North America last year with a phenomenal .419 average, edged out Woodstock, N.B. native Ivan Davies in voting for the award by industry leaders in New Brunswick.
Janet Stevenson Davis, Dale Spence, Chris Davies and his horse Dusty Lane Oscar and Philip 'Bo' Sowers were also nominated.
"I'm really honored to win this award," said Barrieau, who maintains a large stable at Exhibition Park Raceway in Saint John, N.B. "Earl Avery was an outstanding horseman and just to hear that I was nominated had already been a special moment for me. My father (Alfred) actually worked for him when he was racing in the United States so I thought that was an interesting connection.
"This award is a fitting tribute to Earl Avery himself and a great addition for the harness racing industry in New Brunswick."
Earl Avery was a native of Knowlesville, N.B., who later moved to Woodstock to begin a legendary career in the sport back in the early 1920s. He was the first member of the harness racing fraternity to be inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 1976; the normal five-year waiting period after retirement was waived for the much-respected Avery.
Avery is the only horseman from New Brunswick to ever be elected to Horse Racing Hall of Fames in both Canada and the United States. He was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1977 and later the same year became the 25th person to be elected to the Living Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y.
It was a fitting culmination of a career that saw him win more than 4,000 races and $3.5 million in earnings and establishing nine world records.
During his career, Avery became associated with arguably the greatest pacing horse in the history of harness racing when he convinced owner Norman Woolworth to purchase Meadow Skipper 50 years ago. Meadow Skipper went on to become a world champion race horse for Avery, pacing Lexington’s famed Red Mile in 1:55.1 in October 1963. He later developed into one of the most prolific stallions of the 20th century and his influences on breeding continue to be felt today.
“This new award creates an opportunity to bring recognition to outstanding harness racing achievements in New Brunswick while also honoring an industry pioneer,” says Brent Briggs, administrator of the Earl Avery Award. “Besides being an outstanding horseman, Earl Avery was also a great ambassador of the New Brunswick industry for over 50 years.
"I think the voting panel made an excellent choice in Gilles Barrieau as he has always been an outstanding representative of New Brunswick harness racing, not just this year but throughout his career. He is widely recognized for his training and driving talents; a complete horseman and gentleman, much like Earl Avery was himself."
Barrieau will receive a check for $1,000 in the name of a recognized charity that he has chosen and will have an opportunity to present it to that charity on behalf of all horse people in the province during the upcoming horse racing season.
The creation of the Earl Avery Award and the prize is a collaboration between Horse Racing New Brunswick and the Horseman’s Associations in Woodstock, Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton.