By Duane Ranger
The ‘Godfather’ of the amateur driving movement in New Zealand – Steve Phillips – sets out on his first New Zealand title quest at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday night.
Phillips and his wife Anne recently relocated to the Waikato and Phillips said he would dearly love to win the first of the three New Zealand Championship heats scheduled for 5.10pm (Race 1).
“We were going to have two heats - the same as Rangiora on May 27, but sadly we couldn't get enough horses for another field. Big thanks must go to Ray Darby for nominating three horses in tonight's heat.
"I'm also grateful to Wade Castle for lining up Charlie Harper. I've drawn the ace,” Phillips said.
“It’s all about luck in the running and what horse you draw, so this way we all get an even chance,” Phillips added.
The amateur driving movement in New Zealand has been going for 16 years and has had 12 New Zealand Championships. Though runner-up numerous times, Phillips is yet to claim his first national title.
“I represented New Zealand at the first World Champs when it started out and then I replaced another winner who didn’t have enough wins to qualify for the World Champs. I would so much love to win this. It’s something that has eluded me for a while now,” Phillips said.
“Without a doubt many of the people actively participating as amateurs would not be involved if it was not for the amateur movement. Since its inception 16 years ago amateur participants have contributed significantly to harness racing not only financially but also keeping a large number of horses in work and competing,” Phillips said.
“Unfortunately this goes unrecognised by many in this business,” the former director on the HRNZ Board said.
The New Zealand Amateur Driving Championships received an extra $2,000 in stakes money added to Thursday night’s card via sponsorship from the Flatbush, Botany Downs, Highland Park and Somerville TABs.
Jeff Darby, president of the North Island branch of the NZ Amateur Drivers Association, said the stakes increase will make up the shortfall from other races as amateur stakes are less than other carded races on the programme.
“I just want to thank Waikato-Bay of Plenty, all the owners and trainers, and our sponsors for making this happen. It doesn’t matter if you are a trainer of an amateur horse or not – the training, travel and vet costs etcetera are still the same,” Darby said.
The feature event on Thursday is race six – the $15,000 Haras des Trotteurs Waikato Trotting Oaks – and it looks a two-horse war between the John and Josh Dickie (Clevedon) trained Sex On Fire and the Nicky Chilcott trained Monaro Mia.