McKendry has had an Interdom to remember
THE MAGIC MAN
Who: Maurice McKendry
Career record: 3259 New Zealand driving victories.
Stakes: $28,846,425 in New Zealand.
Highlights: 10 New Zealand driving premierships.
Next: Pilots A G’s White Socks in the $500,000 IRT Inter Dominion Pacing Final at Alexandra Park on Saturday night.
By Michael Guerin
After 3259 wins it is still there for Maurice McKendry.
Not just the talent. That was never in doubt. Never has been since the little fella left Methven nearly 40 years ago to try his luck in the big smoke.
What is still there is the rush, that thrill a good horse can still give even a legend even in “the twilight of my career.”
That twilight has shone a little brighter during this Inter Dominion after McKendry got the call up to partner A G’s White Socks.
Just three weeks ago A G’s White Socks wasn’t coming to the series and McKendry was resigned to watching it from the driver’s room after his sole Interdom steer, trotter Lemond, was withdrawn.
Now McKendry goes into Saturday’s final with two heat wins under his belt and maybe the best chance to upset hot favourite Ultimate Sniper.
A G’s White Socks reminded us how good he is with his two heat wins and peeled off a sizzling last 800m in defeat last Friday.
McKendry has also had an Interdom to remember, perfectly patient winning his opening night heat, aggressive enough to attack an All Stars runner and wrest control of his second round heat.
So how does it feel to be one of the stories of an Inter Dominion which must have felt like it had passed McKendry by?
“It has been fun,” he says with his trademark half giggle.
“After Lemond got pulled out I thought I wouldn’t be part of it all and then I got the call up for this horse, which I really didn’t see coming.
“I didn’t know what to expect from him but I have really enjoyed it.
“Even at this stage of my career, when maybe I am getting close to winding down a bit, that feeling is still the same when you drive a good horse.
“When they let down and sprint is a great feeling. It is fun, a rush, even now.”
That is one reason McKendry still loves going to work at 64 years old, because the sensation is the same as four decades ago on the training tracks of Mid Canterbury.
“I love the speed. I always have. And when you sit behind the good horses and they let down, it feels special.
“So to be here, driving a horse trained by Barry in the final, it is a real bonus.”
It is odd to think that McKendry needs to remind us of his talents.
He is, after all, one of only two New Zealanders with over 3000 domestic wins. The other is his good mate Tony Herlihy, who McKendry has sat next to in the Alexandra Park driver’s room for as long as anybody remembers.
Like famous Brazilian soccer players they require only one name inside the industry, say Tony or Maurice and everybody knows who you are talking about.
But their Inter Dominion records are vastly different, Herlihy with 37 total career victories at the Interdoms including four trotting finals, McKendry has nine heat wins.
That is not about ability, but opportunity. And those opportunities are becoming rarer.
“It has always been hard to get on good horses, it is a hard game,” says McKendry.
“And it is harder now because there are less horses and less trainers, and many of the bigger stables already have their drivers.
“But I am still getting a few drives so I am in no hurry to retire. I think I’ll know when I have had enough or I am starting to lose it.” The last fortnight tells us that won’t be any time soon.
So what does Saturday hold for McKendry and his rejuvenated Grand Final hope?
From barrier seven A G’s White Socks looks best placed of the favourites to try and bustle to the lead and maybe take a sit on hot favourite Ultimate Sniper? “Hard to tell,” says the understated one.
“It doesn’t look the strongest front line so he might be able to work around them and get in front of Natalie’s horse.
“But if I try and it doesn’t work out that can go bad. I’ll ask Barry (Purdon) what he thinks but he will probably tell me he is fine with whatever I think,” comes the laugh again.
“So you can’t have too much of a plan. Sometimes you go on your gut instinct as the gate pulls away,
“And to be honest, sometimes that is completely wrong.” The good news for A G’s White Socks punters is, 3259 times the gut instinct has been right.