Herlihy returns tonight

By Michael Guerin

Here is a racing statistic you will probably find extremely hard to believe.

Champion reinsman and New Zealand’s most successful ever horseperson Tony Herlihy has averaged less than four drives a week this season.

Not four drives per meeting he has attended, which in itself would be hard to comprehend, but less than four drives per week on average for his season which will end at Alexandra Park tonight.

That Herlihy, who would be on anybody’s list of the top five drivers to even sit in a sulky in New Zealand and is still driving as well now as ever, drives so rarely these day can be put down to a few factors.

He mainly drives the horses he trains because although he is openly available for outside drives, many of those are taken by other stables having regular drivers and with northern fields so small, catch drives are nowhere as common as they used to be.

Herlihy also almost never ventures to the CD circuit and often misses the lesser Cambridge meetings to allow his stable’s second driver Tony Cameron valuable experience.

So while Herlihy may be more selective about where and when he drives by far the biggest determinant of his mere 201 drives in New Zealand this season is the racenight accident he was involved in on May 11, which left him with broken ribs and he hasn’t been back in a racing sulky since.

“It was an awkward fall so I decided to give myself time to get over it and the last two weeks in particular it has improved a lot,” said Herlihy.

“So I am looking forward to getting back out there and then we will be all set for next season.”

With his reduced number of drives Herlihy’s UDR (strike rate) is as good as it has been for nearly 20 years and he still sits alongside Dexter Dunn, Blair Orange and the Butchers (David and Zac) as the drivers most likely to sway New Zealand punters toward their horses.

But The Iceman isn’t expecting a stunning comeback tonight, with just three drives and all of them drawn the second line.

“Forever Pearl might be the best each way chance of them,” he says.

With tonight’s comeback under his belt Herlihy will soon jet off on more serious assignments, with his juvenile trotting filly Tickle Me Pink pleasing in her preparations for an Australian campaign that starts in the Redwood Classic in Victoria on Sunday week.

The clash between the greatly improved Scoob Operator and Zadaka in race eight at Alexandra Park tonight looks the highlight while race six is the best form race.

Further south Orange will be in bonus territory at Addington. Having set a new record of 231 driving wins for the season anything he adds tonight or at Oamaru on Sunday will just make his record just that much harder to break in the future.

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