Whittaker spreading his wings

By Garrick Knight

Not many junior drivers would walk away from a position in one of the country’s leading stables.

But Luke Whittaker did, and he holds no regrets.

Whittaker left Tony Herlihy’s stable a few months ago and shifted to Cambridge, where he is now indentured to Nicky Chilcott.

He pilots two horses for his new boss at Alexandra Park on Friday night, including classy mare Juice Brogden in the first on the card.

“I was keen for a change, and to open up new opportunities for me,” he said.

“Not just as a driver, but as a trainer, too.

“I’ve just had my trainer’s license approved and that will allow me to train a couple for myself and my family.”

His father, Jeff, has held a license for many years and Luke has yearned to do the same from a young age.

“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.

“I’ve only got a two-year-old trotter in work at the moment, but dad is sending me up a maiden to get ready for next season.”

Whittaker is appreciative for the opportunities he was afforded by Herlihy, which were enough to see him qualify, for the second year in a row, for next month’s national junior drivers’ championship.

“I drove some pretty nice horses in my time there - Tony was good enough to put me on some nice horses like Revolver and The Big Cheese.

“And just last week he put me on Phil Williamson’s trotter, Kenny’s Dream.

“Tony was very loyal, as were Frank Cooney and Tate Hopkins.”

Looking ahead to this week, Whittaker agrees that Juice Brogden, a Group 1-placed mare, looks very well placed, but her wide draw is a concern.

She’s assessed as an 86, vastly highly than the rest of the field.

“It’s kind of hard to work out; I haven’t really got a plan yet,” said Whittaker.

“But she’s dropping in grade and I thought she was very good last week, running home in 26.4.

“That first start she wasn’t fully fit, and last week tidied her up nicely so this week she’s ready to go.”

He also drives Jack Tar, who has drawn the ace in the third race, but thinks stablemate Ferritts Sister is a strong chance of making at an Auckland hat-trick.

“I’ve been driving Ferritts Sister in work and I’ve got a pretty strong feeling about her this week.

“It probably wasn’t the strongest field last time, but it’s not often horses put 10 lengths on a field, especially after running a 41-second lead time.

“She’ll keep on improving I reckon and this week she should go close again.

“Jack Tar is a good place chance; his gate speed is unknown but he feels like he could get out alright.

“Court On The Edge might cross us, but being in the trail or three-pegs might be alright.

“It’s a pretty handy field, and I don’t know if he can beat Ferritts Sister or Gambit, but he’s pretty honest and will be finding the line.”

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