On the right track - Alicia Harrison
Georgie Bolton from the HRNZ Education team caught up with Alicia Harrison about her Harness Racing career and goals.
How did you get involved in Harness Racing?
My Pop, Warren Taylor, has had trotters since I was born and I always helped out around the farm as soon as I could walk. I got hooked on driving as soon as I saw the first Kidz Kartz pony one Saturday at the workouts and I got my first pony when I was seven- his name was Tiny Tim. I continued through Kidz Kartz and saved up to buy my own unbroken pony when I was 13 and broke him in with the help of my Pop and then on sold him as a riding pony. I started driving racehorses when I was 13- driving Sapphire Castleton throughout her two year old preparation.
What does a typical day for Alicia Harrison look like?
I usually wake up around 4.45am and drive the 20 minutes to my job at Arna Donnelly Harness Racing Stable in Cambridge. We feed out breakfast, muck out a few boxes and then have a quick coffee break to allow the horse’s time to finish their breakfast. The first trip is usually on the track by 6.30am and then we work our way through the rest of the horses. We usually do around four trips each, depending on whether it is a jog day or hobble day. We currently have around 16 in work but this can vary quite a bit. We stop for smoko around 9.30am and get the last trip worked and then it is a matter of tidying up, making feeds, feeding out baylage and doing any other extra jobs on the list. I then get a pretty lengthy lunch break before coming back at 2.30pm and boxing around eight of the horses. This involves giving them a good brush up, painting their feet and any other special attention they may need. After that we feed up, tidy up and head home for the day.
Do you have a favourite horse?
My all-time favourite horse would have to be Sapphire Castleton, who my Pop bred. She was the first ever horse I drove as a two year old and she won four of her six races that season and went on to win ten races, racing until she was nine! I also gained my trials licence on her and she gave me the majority of my trial drives towards getting my junior driver licence, before being my first race day drive and the first horse I ran a place on. She is currently in foal to Peak so I am really looking forward to being able to drive her offspring in the next five years! As for my favourite horse to drive, Imajollywally had amazing sheer speed to sit behind. You definitely can’t beat such a good turn of foot!
What do you love about the industry?
I love how everyone gets along well and the other industry participants are always willing to offer advice on ways you can improve and are just generally really helpful.
What are your hobbies outside of racing?
I love to do a bit of fishing over summer whenever I have an afternoon or weekend off! We have a beach-house at Te Puru so it’s great to be able to drive over after work and relax for a bit!
Do you have any ambition to travel?
I would love to travel Europe one day, especially Russia! I have studied quite a bit of Russian history at school and was always really intrigued by it!
What do you enjoy about working with the horses?
I enjoy most things about working with horses but the most satisfying is probably to work with an individual horse from when it is born or broken in and continue with that horse right through until they reach the races and hopefully win! It is awesome to see how much progression a horse can make with time and patience and very rewarding to see when they get the chocolates!
Is there anybody who has influenced you so far in your career?
My Pop has been the biggest influence from when I was young. I learnt most of what I know from him from a very young age and I probably would’ve never been in the industry if it hadn’t been for him buying me that first pony! I have had small stints working for both Stephen Doody and Brent Mangos while I was at university- both taught me a lot and it is very interesting to see slight little things trainers do differently! I then started working for Arna when I finished at university and I am incredibly grateful for everything she has done to make me a better horsewoman, a better driver and getting me out on the racetrack as often as possible, on horses that are good enough to win. Without her I wouldn’t have had half as many opportunities as I have had and she is also great to work for- I learn so much every day!
Is there anybody you admire in the harness racing industry?
There are a lot of people that I respect and admire. Watching good horsemen like Tony Herlihy and David Butcher drive teaches me a lot. But the biggest two people I admire would be Arna and Sam Ottley. Arna works very hard and is a very talented trainer and is also a very good driver, even though she doesn’t drive as often this season. I am always learning from her and aspiring to be as good a horsewoman as she is! Sam is obviously an icon for any female driver. She has accomplished so much at such a young age having already driven a group winner and being consistently competitive against the top drivers in the country. She is always willing to help young drivers coming through, which I think is s a very admirable trait.
What are your goals for the future in the Harness Racing industry?
I have just graduated from Massey University, but my degree is going to be put on the back-burner while I follow my passion. Hopefully I will make the junior driver champs this season and from there it would be good to get to 15 wins this season, so I can drive at all race meetings. My main goal is to just do my best for every set of owners and trainers I drive for and drive the horse to the best of its ability.