Arna Donnelly amped for Jewels
By Michael Guerin
For the rising star of Waikato harness racing this Sunday means everything.
Because while Arna Donnelly is on target for the best training tally for a Waikato trainer in nearly a decade, on Sunday she gets to fly the flag at group one level and she is confident she can provide a rare win for the racing-rich region in the IRT Harness Jewels.
While Waikato may be famous as one of the world’s great thoroughbred nurseries it also has a proud harness racing heritage, with its share of New Zealand and Auckland Cup winners.
Jewels winners have been harder to come by but five local trainers have reps at the Cambridge mega meeting on Sunday. Yet only the Donnelly-trained Kango in the four-year-old male pace is in the market as a serious winning hope.
He is second favourite for the group one mile and 40-year-old Donnelly can’t hide her excitement, especially as she has stablemate New York Minute in the same glamour race of the day.
“I am buzzing and I think it is great we have a real winning chance in the race with Kango,” says Donnelly.
“It is hard to get horses who can be competitive, let alone win, at this level but he has never been better, he has the right draw and the biggest name in the race Copy That has drawn the second line.
“So I think we get our chance because he has really turned the corner lately. His coat has turned again and he looks great.”
Donnelly has emerged as leading trainer in Waikato this season with a career-best 34 training wins. Only Sean McCaffery with 35 in 2014 has trained more from the region in the last nine years and Donnelly will surely pass that before the end of the season.
“It has been a great season and the highlight so far was training three winners on Auckland Cup night in December from only four starters,” she offers.
“That was very satisfying but this week is group one racing on our home track and we want to represent the region well.”
While Kango can win stablemate New York Minute probably can’t but Donnelly loves the fact he is in the race for two reasons.
“I am thrilled Alicia (Harrison, junior driver) gets to drive him in a Jewels on her home track and one of the guys who owns this horse is a 94-year-old called Ken Piercy.
“He lives in a rest home in Timaru and he loves his racing. He is thrilled about having a horse in the Jewels and will be watching from his room there and everybody there will know Ken has a horse in the Jewels.
“So that is very cool and we are excited for him.”
With his gate speed Kango could well lead the hot shot front line to the first bend and then the king of Cambridge Raceway, David Butcher, will likely have a choice to make: take a trail or play catch me if you can.
“That is David’s decision to make and there is nobody I’d rather have making it,” says Donnelly.
“I won’t be telling what to do, why would I?
“But we are excited about the whole day. It is going to be a long day because we are in the last but we will be cheering the other locals on too.” Kango is the $4 second favourite for the thriller, with Copy That into $3.20 favouritism.