Following along on Jonty’s Journey

27 April 2021

As the Motukarara racing year has drawn to a close we have been reflecting on all the contributions made towards a highly successful season. Our thanks go out to our incredible sponsors who lend their support to harness racing at the Mot, among them a special group of people we wish to acknowledge.

Eight-year-old Jonty Smolenski is the centre of attention when his whanau and close supporters come to the races. They are there for an important reason: to recognise harness racing’s support for this brave boy. Jonty has the rare genetic syndrome Trichothiodystrophy, and since his diagnosis at three years of age he has been on a heck of a journey.

Right from the start, the harness racing community has been there with Jonty. The Smolenski/Fletcher/Golding families have close family connections to our club going back decades, and it has become a tradition that they take a prominent part on our Easter race day.  It’s all about acknowledging the help they receive along Jonty’s Journey. And right beside them are Nigel and Brenda Armstrong, generous backers from the beginning.

On Easter Monday we ran the Jonty’s Journey Pace, the Westview Loves Jonty Pace, and the Harness Racing Unhinged Pace, all sponsored by Jonty’s family and friends who were on course in numbers, sharing stories about their part in the journey.

Jonty's Journey

Jonty and supporters with Frosty Reception, winner of the Jonty’s Journey Mobile Pace, Motukarara, Easter Monday 2021

With Jonty’s diagnosis his parents Sam and Maree faced challenges like no other. Doing the best for their boy would be expensive, and financial support critical. That all started with a fundraising auction at the Hornby Club in April 2016. ‘We had 450 people attending, and about half were harness racing people”. Jonty’s mum Maree tells us. “It was an amazing occasion; Sam and I were very emotional afterwards.”


Jonty with Lachie and Ruby. Lachie is wearing the Jonty colours sponsored by Nigel Armstrong and Westview Racing.

Little did Maree know when seeking products to auction and approaching Nigel’s business Paintlab, that things would escalate! Generous to a fault, Nigel got Addington Raceway involved, and the Group One Paintlab Racing 4 Jonty Trotting Derby was run in the same week as the auction. And ever since, Nigel and Brenda’s syndicate vehicle Westview Racing has been donating 2.5% of stakes won to Jonty’s Trust.

Within two weeks of being approached, Nigel and Brenda had arranged a special Jonty logo and racing colours, and there have been other promotions at Addington where Nigel is a steward.  In turn Maree and Sam have organised appreciation events to thank their supporters. Outside of harness racing, organisations such as Riding for the Disabled – which Jonty just loves! – have benefitted, while Jonty’s Trust contributed to Christchurch Hospital’s new children’s facility last year. And of course, their regular involvement with Motukarara and our club.

Trichothiodystrophy is an extremely rare condition, with around 250 children having it globally. The support has been of immense help to Jonty and his family. “It’s allowed us to attend three overseas conferences, and being able to share experiences with other families has been miraculous.” says Maree. “We’ve also connected with medical people doing research on the condition. It’s so rare they haven’t been able to replicate it in mice, so they value every bit of information they can get from families.”

The pandemic has meant that for now contact within the groups advocating for the condition is limited to Zoom catchups. “There’s a weekly forum where we keep in touch, and can offer some support,” Maree tells us. “We’ve become close fields with a family in Wales, and they’ve been finding lockdowns very hard. There are so many sad stories, and it’s so important that we can all reach out to each other”

At Banks Peninsula Trotting Club we are very proud of our association with Jonty and his family. “As a boy Sam would come to the track with his grandfather, so there’s a long family history here., “says Maree. “Being based in Weedons we consider it our local racecourse.”

The affinity is mutual, and what a great day it was when Jonty, his siblings Lachie and Ruby, family and friends joined us for a day of harness racing. There will always be a place at the Mot for Jonty and his team here.

To follow Jonty’s Journey, Like his Facebook page.