Nova Scotia harness racing 'legend' Phil Pinkney dies at 84

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An undated black and white photo of harness racer Phil Pinkney and one of his horses. Pinkney died last week at the age of 84. (Submitted by Dale Pinkney - image credit)
An undated black and white photo of harness racer Phil Pinkney and one of his horses. Pinkney died last week at the age of 84. (Submitted by Dale Pinkney - image credit)

Longtime Nova Scotia harness racer Phil Pinkney is being remembered by family and friends as an avid sportsman, a gentleman, and a patient teacher.

Pinkney, a well-known name in equestrian circles across the Maritimes and in the United States, died last week at the age of 84.

"He's definitely a legend to some people," Dale Pinkney said of his father, who won the Gold Cup and Saucer race in 1978, with Nickname, and in 1986, with Rev Your Engine.

Pinkney is regarded as one of the most successful horsemen in Atlantic Canada, said Lee Drake of Red Shores Racetrack in Charlottetown, P.E.I., which hosts the Gold Cup and Saucer.

"He had a reputation for class, and he had a reputation for hard work, and [he's] just an all-around gentleman," Drake said.

"It's an honour to know him and what he's done over the years for harness racing in Atlantic Canada, and harness racing in general."

Submitted by Dale Pinkney
Submitted by Dale Pinkney

Trainer Brent McGrath was just a young boy when he met Pinkney at the racetrack. He started working for him part-time when he was in the sixth grade.

McGrath said Pinkney was in a "league of his own" when it came to training young horses and racers in Atlantic Canada, much of which can be attributed to his patience on and off the track.

"Horses can't talk. They can't tell you what their problem is or what they're struggling with. You have to figure it out," McGrath said.

"Phil was very good at that and was always very willing to help the young people, or anybody coming to look for advice. He was always good to give it. He was always very open-minded."

Submitted by Dale Pinkney
Submitted by Dale Pinkney

Pinkney remained very involved in harness racing circles until the last few years, McGrath said, though he focused more on training and less on driving as he got older.

"He was a great friend of mine, a great person to work with. Nobody had any bad words about Phil Pinkney," McGrath said, who credits Pinkney with sparking his passion for the sport.

In the 1970s, Pinkney travelled south of the border to race at some of the major tracks along the East Coast of the United States, before eventually returning to refocus his racing in the Maritimes.

Though Pinkney had a busy life as a harness racer, his daughter-in-law said he always took an interest in his children and grandchildren, and enjoyed their visits to their family's barn in Musqoidoiboit, N.S., while he worked with the horses.

"Phil loved having the kids around," she said. "Those are good memories."

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