Herlihy close to new milestone

** Harness driver Tony Herlihy, nicknamed The Iceman.

** New Zealand’s winningest ever horseperson in either code.

** Sits on 3497 career domestic wins heading into the Jewels at Addington.

** Career stakes in New Zealand of $37,376,630. 

By Michael Guerin

Champion reinsman Tony Herlihy is willing to swap one of the greatest milestones in New Zealand racing history for a Harness Jewels win this weekend.

 But he admits he might struggle to get either.

 Herlihy took his record total of domestic driving wins to 3497 when Gambit won at Alexandra Park on Friday night, meaning he is a good night at the office away from becoming the first driver or jockey in this country to 3500 wins.

 While 3500 is hardly a number that roles off the tongue every winner Herlihy drives is a new record as Maurice McKendry, who sits next to Herlihy in the Alexandra Park drivers room almost every week, is the only other horseperson to partner over 3000 winners here.

 Ricky May is the next reinsman honing in on the number, with 2913 domestic wins in his career and with Dexter Dunn driving so successfully in North America, it could be a long time before anybody in either code threatens Herlihy’s numbers.

David Walsh holds the New Zealand record for a jockey with 2451 victories.

 But Herlihy could end the weekend still stuck on 3497 as he won’t drive at Alexandra Park this Friday night because he will be in Christchurch preparing stable reps Tickle Me Pink and Bolt For Brilliance for the Jewels on Saturday.

 Bolt For Brilliance is already in Canterbury and won well enough at the Addington trials on Saturday to suggest he is not the worst chance in the juvenile trot but Tickle Me Pink is the second favourite for the three-year-old trot and has been one of the comeback stories of the season.

 Her week has not gone to plan though as she was one of 11 horses whose flight from Auckland to Christchurch has been delayed by fog in Canterbury but with the weather there changing all the horses are expected to make it to Jewels day.

 Herlihy does warn if the worst happened and the flight can’t make it, Tickle Me Pink wouldn’t be risked travelling down by road.

 “It is too late for that so we are sticking with the plane to get her down but it sounds like they will get them here,” Herlihy said last night.

“And it doesn’t matter too much if they don’t fly until Thursday or Friday because they can prepare up at home.”

 While Tickle Me Pink has won three Alexandra Park races in impressive fashion since returning from a nine-month break Herlihy doubts she can beat the best version of Enhance Your Calm should he turn up on Saturday.

“He is a bit of beast and unless he galloped and lost quite a bit of ground he might be too good for all of us,” says Herlihy.

“But our filly has a touch of class and is racing really well. I am very proud of what she has achieved in basically a month of racing after coming back from such a long break.”
 As for the hitherto unreached 3500 wins, Herlihy didn’t even know he was that close until informed on Friday night and knows milestones are impossible to plan.

 “The last time I knew one was coming up was the 3000-win one and the family came to the races a couple of weeks in a row to be there for it and I didn’t drive any winners,” he laughs.

 “So it will happen when it happens, but it will still be a nice number to get too.”

 Now 60, Herlihy is still driving as well as ever but not as often. He rarely drives in New Zealand outside of Alexandra Park, Addington and the better Cambridge meetings, often handing the latter opportunities to stable No.2 Tony Cameron.

 And considering it has take him over eight years to get from 3000 to the brink of 3500 he isn’t even entertaining making it to 4000 domestic career wins, which could mean driving until he was 70.

 “I don’t think I’ll be doing that. Although I am a very young 60,” he says with his customary giggle.

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