Herlihy reaches new milestone

By Garrick Knight

Tony Herlihy isn’t much for adulation or fanfare.

But he’s had to grin and bear it over the last ten days.

He became the first driver to reach the 3,500 New Zealand win milestone when driving Gambit at Alexandra Park on Friday night, less than a week after recording two wins at the Harness Jewels in Christchurch.

“I’ve been congratulated more in the last week than I have in my entire career,” he joked.

Recording inaugural milestones is path he has forged for most of his 40-year career; he was already the first to 2500 and 3000 as well, though good mate Maurice McKendry beat him to 2000 by four months in 1999.

But ticking off achievements isn’t something that’s on his radar.

In fact, it was only after watching Trackside that he even realised he was close to the milestone.

“I didn’t know until about three weeks ago when Mark McNamara mentioned it.

“I suppose it is nice to be the first one to get there – they can’t take it off you.

“For me it’s just a matter of driving winners. Getting as many as you can for your owners and those who support you.”

Long gone are the days of him travelling all over the north island for drives and that’s seen his tally slow down markedly in recent seasons.

His 32 winners last term were his smallest seasonal number since 1981, though he’s back up to 45 with two months left in the current season.

“I’ve virtually shut down compared to what I used to do.

“I’m quite happy just to drive at Alexandra Park on a Friday night now; I don’t even travel to Cambridge much anymore.

“It’s a long way from when I used to drive at every north island meeting, including Hutt Park. I was never home.”

Nowadays, Herlihy is just focused on training his own team in the hope of having horse capable of going to feature meetings in Christchurch or across the tasman.

“A big bonus for me is taking horses to meetings like the Jewels or to the features in Aussie.

“Taking Temporale over there for the carnivals, those are the sort of meetings you live for.

“Over the years I’ve made a lot of friends in Australia and I love getting over there and racing against them.”

That trend looks set to continue thanks to Jewels-winning trotter Tickle Me Pink, who has a big future ahead of her.

Herlihy has no retirement plans at this stage, so 4000 wins could be a possibility, though at his current rate, the 60-year-old would need to drive for at least another decade to do it.

A more achievable goal is a specific race he is yet to win, surprising since you’d think he’s won nearly everything there is to win in Australasian harness racing.

Outside of the Harness Jewels, he’s won every pacing Group 1 in the country except the Queen of Hearts, and he does have a Jewels Emerald on his resume as well.

In Australia, he’s won the Miracle Mile, Hunter Cup and Victoria Cup and both the Victoria and New South Wales Derby.

He’s even won four Inter Dominion Trotting Grand Finals.

But there is one race that eludes him.

After 3500 wins – probably closer to 3600 when you factor in his wins in Australia – there’s not much that motivates him, but this does.

“It would be nice to win an Inter Dominion Pacing Grand Final.

“That’s the one big race I haven’t won in my career.”

He’ll get a chance on his home track later this year, probably with Star Galleria.

But you never know, maybe his brother in law, Mark Purdon, might come to the party and put him on one of the All Stars squad that is likely to include Spankem, Turn It Up, Thefixer and Cruz Bromac.

Wouldn’t that nicely round out the story of the man honoured by the queen for his achievements in harness racing? 

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