By Duane Ranger
The joint patron of Waikato – Bay Of Plenty Harness, Cliff Thomas, is delighted that Rangiora
owner Shane Kirwan is the 2018 winner of the Noreen Thomas Memorial Cup.
Kirwan owns the Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett (Waiuku) trained Blood And Whisky, which won the ‘2018 Grass Track Series’ that was contested at Thames (January 13), Te Awamutu (January 20) and Tauranga (January 28) this season.
The 5-year-old Pegasus Spur gelding accumulated the most points over the three meetings and 86-year-old Mr Thomas said it was an honour to award the trophy to the winner.
“Noreen and I were married for 42 years and she passed away 23 years today (February 23). She was 64 when she died. This trophy is in honour of her because she was the greatest supporter of both myself and grass track racing when I was president of Morrinsville Trotting Club.
“I served 33 years on that club and was on the foundation board of Cambridge Raceway. Noreen loved everything harness, especially grass track racing. I started Te Aroha when I was president. We used to have big crowds and she was such a great hostess.
“Hopefully administrators will continue with grass track racing. I just hope it doesn’t wind up, because we now have just three meetings a year when there used to be four,” he said.
Mr Thomas, who is co-patron of Waikato – Bay Of Plenty Harness with Charlie Hunter (OMNZ), believed grass track racing catered for a special kind of horse and trainer – especially those that weren’t good enough to compete at Alexandra Park and Cambridge.
“It brings out a special type of crowd. Owners and old timer trainers who have one or two horses. This trophy is in honour of my wife and I hope it will always be there for people to win it,” Mr Thomas said.
Meanwhile, the Tony Herlihy (MNZM) employed ‘Strike Won’ (Ardmore) duo of Tony Cameron and Luke Whittaker shared the ‘North Island Grass Track Junior Championship’ with 19 points apiece – 10 more than third equal placed Dylan Ferguson (Cambridge) and Jack MacKinnon (Pukekohe).
The ‘Grass Track Junior Series’ is an initiative instigated by the North Island Trainers and Drivers Association which wanted to give the youngsters more opportunities. It was run on a points system over the three grass track meetings – also at Thames, Te Awamutu, and Tauranga.
Chairman, Todd Macfarlane, said his Association was proud to again be promoting harness racing youth.
“This is the second year we have run the concept and it’s a credit to Dave Branch and his hard working team at Waikato-Bay Of Plenty Harness.
“The series gives our young reinsmen and women more opportunities to get out there and drive and improve their skills. We have obtained Rebel Sports vouchers for the first three place-getters but because there was a tie for third this year, the top four will receive vouchers this time around,” Macfarlane said.
He said the Association had a bit of sympathy for the juniors because of their lack of opportunities.
“It also gives them the chance to accumulate points for national and Australasian competitions,” he added.
Meanwhile, Suzanne Herlihy of ‘Strike Won Stables’ was rapt that her two employees shared the major prize.
“That's great. We are lucky to have both guys working with for us. They are talented young drivers. We are also fortunate that we have lovely owners who have also given them the opportunity to drive their horses. The boys are good decent people who are dedicated to the sport. Well done, both Tony and I are very proud,” Herlihy said.