Sarah O’Reilly wins New Zealand Junior Drivers Championship
By Jonny Turner
Sarah O’Reilly surprised herself by scoring the biggest success of her career when winning the New Zealand Junior Drivers Championship at Rangiora on Sunday.
The 19-year-old saved her best until last to score the maximum points she needed to take out the title by winning its last heat with Flamboyant.
O’Reilly admitted she was far from thinking about winning the competition going in to the final heat.
Her focus was instead on giving Flamboyant every possible chance to win.
“It was a huge thrill and very unexpected,” O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly is enjoying a breakout season in the sulky with 20 wins.
Her success helped her qualify to represent the South Island in the championship.
On Sunday she capped her rise by being crowned the New Zealand Junior Drivers Championship winner.
Its an feat that sits alongside her previous biggest achievement in harness racing – winning the race named in honour of her late grandfather Patrick O’Reilly.
“Apart from winning my granddad’s memorial with Ideal Invasion at Methven, this is the biggest thing that I have done,” O’Reilly said.
“It has been my best season, by far.”
O’Reilly will get the chance to take her career to even bigger heights when she competes in the Australasian Young Drivers Championship later this year.
Her championship victory secured her the chance to compete alongside last year’s winner, Sheree Tomlinson, and a host of top junior drivers in the series.
O’Reilly’s New Zealand Junior Drivers Championship quest did not get off to a winning start when she finished second last behind Dusky Eyre in heat 1.
She then worked her way up the leader board with a second behind Invisible Girl in heat two and a sixth with rank outsider Eja Patron in heat three.
Flamboyant gave O’Reilly what she considered her best chance of winning a heat and the Sue Blake not only delivered that, he would go on to help her clinch the title.
“I knew Flamboyant would be a good chance because he is honest and steps so good,” O’Reilly said.
Victory with Ideal Rule sent Kimberly Butt to the top of the leader board after the third heat of the competition.
Butt had to settle for second placing after being left just one point short of O’Reilly after heat four.
Her charge, JR Fulham, tired from the 400m and finished last with Butt only collecting minimum points.
John Morrison, who led after heats one and two, finished third following his fifth placing with Trompeur and sixth placing with Bakari.
Their top three finishes helped the South Island team score a convincing victory over the North Island in the teams’ competition.