Plenty more to achieve for Tomlinson

NZ HARNESS NEWS

Returning to the reality of stable work on a cold, wet Monday morning couldn’t dampen Sheree Tomlinson’s spirit after a week to remember in sunny Queensland.

The 20-year-old Cantabrian led from start to finish in the nine-heat Australasian Junior Drivers Championship, closing out a comprehensive performance with a second placing in the final heat at Albion Park on Saturday night.

She returned home on Sunday having spent the full week in Queensland to take in some ‘r and r’ as well as catch up with family and says it will take a while to come down from ‘cloud nine’.

“I got back last night and I’m still buzzing.

“It was a great thrill and to be part of that small club of Kiwis to win the title is a real honour.”

Previous New Zealand winners of the championship were Lauren Pearson (1998), Tomlinson’s boss Mark Jones (2000), Jay Abernethy (2006), Joshua Dickie (2011), Andre Poutama (2014) and Robbie Close (2015).

Needing to finish just third last or better in the final heat to secure the title, and having the insurance policy that local Nathan Dawson had to win if she finished last or second last, was still not enough to make that last drive enjoyable.

“I was pretty nervous, to be honest.

“A few butterflies are generally a good thing, I find, but these were a different type of nerves waiting in the drivers’ room before that last race with my friend, Olivia Shinn.

“Anything can happen and, even though I only had to make sure I didn’t finish in the bottom couple, I still wanted to try and win the race obviously.

“Because I knew I was on a nice horse that was well-supported and a strong chance of running in the money.”

They went a 1.53 mile-rate but that didn’t stop Tomlinson’s charge, Parisian Rockstar, from digging in off the front to run second, run down late by a former Kiwi, Shards Halo.

The win continued a charmed 15 months for Tomlinson, who is rapidly becoming somewhat of a poster girl for the industry and the potential it holds for gifted young drivers.

Of course, she stunned the masses when winning our premier trot, the Dominion Handicap, with family horse Amaretto Sun at last year’s New Zealand Cup carnival.

Earlier that month she had a stroke of luck that saw her earn her first trip to Australia as a driver.

“I got to go to last year’s Australasian Champs, and was pretty fortunate to do so because Matt Anderson was too old to get in.

“Between that and the Dominion and now this, I’ve just had a lot of good luck in the past 12 months.

“I’ve learnt to just take every day as it comes and the harder I work, the more the winners come.”

Tomlinson is a Canterbury native, but spent the formative years of her apprenticeship in Southland working for Murray Brown.

But she moved back home earlier this year and credits that with a real upswing in her opportunities.

“Murray was great to work for and got me going, but coming home to work for a bigger stable like Mark’s, and to drive for Grandad (Ken Ford), has been great for me.

“When the opportunity came up at Mark’s, I had to make the move.

“Sam Ottley is the main driver, but Mark has already given me a good go in the past nine months.

“Like when he trusted me to take a team of horses to Manawatu for him.”

Those ‘big ticket’ moments aside, she’s still driven 76 winners in three years as a driver and that takes a lot of support.

“I’m so grateful to everyone who has given me a chance, but especially Mark, Murray, Grandad and Shane Matheson, who has also been a huge supporter of mine down south.

“There are heaps of other Canterbury trainers who have helped me out, too.

“It’s a hard game, not just getting, but keeping drives, and driving winners.”

Long term, Tomlinson seemingly has a career as a professional senior driver locked up, following in the footsteps of her trail-blazing workmate Sam Ottley.

But there’s a few more things she’d like to do before then.

“I still have two-and-a-half seasons left as a junior driver, and I’d like to win the local premiership.”

That could well come as soon as July as she’s currently second on this season’s tally, just one win behind John Morrison.

And the lure of a third-straight Australasian Champs is exciting, too.

“It’s going to be held in New Zealand next year, alongside the Inter Dominions, and with me being the defending champion, there will be four locals involved, so that’s exciting.”

As is often the case, it’s a very tight community, the harness one, and Tomlinson has been inundated with messages of late.

“I really want to thank everyone who messaged me or contacted me over the last couple of days.

“It’s humbling and a very much appreciated.”

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