Junior Champs faces threat
By Michael Guerin
Harness racing's milestone series that Covid-19 couldn’t stop now faces a very different threat.
But determined Waikato horsewoman Alicia Harrison and her mates are adamant they will get harness racing’s Junior Driver’s series off the ground at Addington this weekend.
The junior series brings together the best 12 young reinspeople every season and is the one event every young driver wants to be part of, let alone win.
It’s honour roll contains the superstars of the industry, from four-time winner Maurice McKendry to Tony Herlihy, Anthony Butt and Blair Orange as well as one of its more unusual winners in Harrison.
She was in her first year of driving as a 22-year-old with a science degree when she won the 2018 series.
“I was thrilled just to make it, let alone win and it really set things up for me until I got injured a few months later,” says Harrison
“But the series is a huge launching pad for the young driver’s careers so we couldn’t let it die this year.” That officially happened because of Covid-19 and the presumed restrictions of horse people travelling between islands but with those now long gone the junior drivers asked Harness Racing New Zealand if they could revive the series with quite staggering results.
“We just wanted to drive and have the chance so we asked and HRNZ said yes and then we had to work out how to make it all happen,” says Harrison.
With fellow young drivers Luke Whittaker and Sheree Tomlinson, Harrison hit the phones and social media.
Whittaker’s parents in Canterbury agreed to host four of the young northern drivers, two others will stay at the Tomlinsons. But then the real magic started to happen.
“Tim Butt (champion ex-pat trainer) saw how we were struggling on social media and said he wanted to support the series and if it got off the ground he would fly the winner to Sydney for Miracle Mile week,” explains Harrison.
“Then other people started donating and it grew and grew. We now have $8000 in our fund to cover some of the expenses and the North Island Horseman Association are helping with our airfares.
“So to bring it all together, to make it happen after it was cancelled is so, so satisfying for us all. And now we have some money in the kitty to support the winner going to the Australasian Young Driver’s Champs if they go ahead.”
But the job isn’t quite finished yet. Addington is scheduled to hold three races of the series both Friday and Sunday this week but are struggling for entries for two of Friday’s races.
Racing manager Brian Rabbit says that would even run one or two races of the series with only 10 horses but wants the full fields of 12.
“I’d love to see them get more support and full fields after everything they have done,” says Rabbitt.
So Addington have held open until this morning (Tuesday) their nominations for Fridays meeting to try and find those few extras horses, so trainers can show the industry’s young stars they will be rewarded for drive and ingenuity.
“I have been on the phone all day trying to get more support, it is tiring but it is worth it.
“I know how much this series meant to my career a couple of years ago and I want everybody to have a chance at the same thing.”
Friday meeting will be one of the winter highlights of harness racing’s comeback with the first genuine open class field post-lockdown.
New Zealand Cup favourite Self Assured and stablemates Princess Tiffany and Another Masterpiece will meet three Robert Dunn-trained rivals in a 2600m standing start.
“We have only got six entries but we will run it with that,” confirmed Rabbitt.