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First look at Alex Park for Whittaker

Forty one days after his older brother made his Alexandra Park debut, Luke Whittaker will also drive at northern headquarters for the first time tonight (Friday).

The 17-year-old Cantabrian, who was recently employed by Tony Herlihy (MNZM) at Ardmore, will have three drives at the Auckland Trotting Club’s first meeting of the season.

Josh, who is an equine dentist by trade and has driven one career winner, finished ninth in his only Auckland drive behind the Mark Burley trained This Excuse Is Fine on June 30.

Luke is hoping to better that tonight.

“I’ve got three fairly nice drives, but I just wish I had drawn better. I’m quite excited about racing at Alexandra Park for the first time.

“I’d love to win for Tony. He’s already taught me a lot and I really enjoy working for him. It’s not hard to see why he’s a legend of our sport,” Whittaker said.

The Christchurch-born teenager will get behind his family’s horse – the Dave and Clare McGowan trained Tahlia Franco (8) in the opening event; the Herlihy trained Classy Chapel (8) in race six; and the Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett trained Makarewa Jake (1) in the seventh event.

He said it was largely because of the McGowans that he got into harness racing.

“They are good family friends and got me enthused about the game. I used to come and visit them in the school holidays, and then about two years ago I started to get interested. Dad (Jeff) and Josh loved harness but I never really thought I’d get into it until John Dunn offered me a job.

“I had 11 months with the Dunns and have been at Tony and Suzanne’s almost a month. The Herlihys, John Dunn , Mitchell Kerr, Craig Smith and of course the McGowans (and family and friends) that have helped to get me where I am today,” Whittaker said.

He was especially excited to be wearing the black and white colours of Herlihy tonight. I just want to thank the owners for giving me the chance to driver her.

“It’s a shame she has drawn wide but if I can get a sit with her she has what it takes to win. I think her and Tahlia Franco are my best winning chances.

“She comes north after racing at Forbury in April. She will be better for the run, but as is the case with Classy Chapel, she will only need a good trip to figure,” the former Lincoln High School student said.

Makarewa Jake goes into the $17,000 Garrards Horse And Hound Handicap for the R61 to R96 trotters having won five races on the track and four of them over tonight's 2200m stand.

However, the 8-year-old looks a place bet at best with Lovely Bundy (7) and Yagunnakissmeornot (30m) in the field.

Whittaker has only had one race-day drive. That was behind the McGowan trained Stunning Shadow at Cambridge Raceway on August 3. 

“That was also an amazing opportunity. I can’t wait until Friday. I’m really looking forward to getting out on the track. Even if I could get just one winner that would be a dream come true,” Whittaker said.