Jones picks up drive
By Michael Guerin
The world champion who barely drives says he won’t get nervous before Tuesday’s $750,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup
In fact, Mark Jones won’t even be at Addington for the first half of Cup day.
Jones has got the call to drive NSW pacer Our Uncle Sam in the great race even though he had never sat behind him until yesterday.
Our Uncle Sam, runner-up in both the Inter Dominion Final and Hunter Cup last season, is staying at Jones property with trainer Chris Frisby, whose son Anthony has been the regular driver.
But the Frisbys are part-timers, training their horses before they run their produce store in Bathurst, so they wanted somebody more experienced for the Cup.
And Jones has plenty of experience, just not recently.
Remarkably for a man who burst on to the scene 20 years ago, set records and won the World Driving Champs in 2003, Jones rarely drives these days.
He has competed in just three races this season and won only six from 80 drives in New Zealand last year, a far cry from when he partnered 124 winners from 976 drives in 2008.
It is not that Jones’s services wouldn’t be in demand, he prefers training and also prefers winning. And he thinks his best chance of winning is putting on drivers who are out there all the time.
“So I was a bit surprised to get the call up,” says the now 40-year-old.
“I thought that must have gone for the heavyweight option.
“But it will be great to be out there because it is the Cup after all and in some ways it will be easier to drive in because all the drivers out there will be good drivers, which is how it should be for all premier races.”But even a rusty Jones won’t be getting too stirred up by a rare shot at harness racing’s holy grail.
“I won’t think about it too much. It will actually be the first till I’ve been to Cup Day in a few years because I usually watch it on tv. You get to see more as well as the replays.
“I will take the horses in later so I actually will still watch the start of the day on television.”
Our Uncle Sam has had no luck in his two New Zealand starts at Ashburton and Kaikoura but the likely strong pace of the Cup should bring out the best in him and while he probably can’t win, his $100 fixed odds are some of the true overs in the race.
“He has actually impressed me more now I have sat behind him than he does to the eye in track work and I think he is in that bunch behind the big two.”
That big two are favourites Spankem and Thefixer, with Jones sure the latter is the horse to beat.
“I think he has more ways he can win than Spankem and he is a very good beginner so he is the one to beat.”