Local horseman Matthew White may have had his first raceday drive in more than two and a half years, but he showed no signs of rust at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday night, recording two wins and a placing from just four starts.
He recently returned home from a decade living in Australia and the talented reinsman picked up where he left off, driving home As Free As Air to win the Pro Pack Removals Trot (2700m) for local trainer Ross Paynter, who quinellered the race with Aoraki.
“I actually won my last drive in Australia,” White said. “It would have been in November 2016 at Bunbury in Western Australia. So, I have won two in a row, but it was a couple of years apart.”
White continued his winning ways in the Cambridge Jockey Club Mobile Pace (2700m) when reining home Spirit of Anzac for new employer Mike Berger, before capping the night off with a placing in the Nevele R Stud Mobile Pace (2700m) behind Arty Pharty.
It was a successful return to the sulky for White, who recorded 133 wins in New Zealand before heading overseas, including the Listed 3YO Diamond (1609m) behind the John Green and Brian Hughes-trained Safin at Cambridge Raceway in 2008.
White was delighted to be back in winning form on his home track and said he was pleased with his book of drives heading into Thursday.
“The trotter I drove of Ross’ I drove at the workouts the week before and she felt nice and Spirit of Anzac went good as well,” White said.
“I knew they would race well and they just got a bit of luck on the night and got the right runs really.”
It was also a pleasing start to a new association between White and Berger.
White will take out his trainer’s license in the new season and essentially acquire the majority of Berger’s stable, with Berger electing to scale back his training operation.
“It has been in the pipeline for the last 12 months,” White said. “Brigette (wife) and I just wanted to get home and be closer to family and we thought it was the right time to get back and settle down.
“I’m working for Mike and I’ll be getting my trainer’s license in the new season and start training a few. Mike will start to ease out of it and I’ll start to ease into it.
“We’ll work in together. I’ll have horses in my name, but he will still have a few and still be involved.”
White said it was great timing for both horsemen and he is grateful for the opportunity to essentially inherit a going stable from his former employer.
“I did work for Mike, when I was younger, for a couple of years. We have always been friends and kept in contact.
“We were looking to come home and he was looking for someone to take over, so it worked in well.
“It’s a good start for me to come back and get that opportunity and having a couple of ready-made horses up and racing.”
It won’t be White’s first foray into training, with the Group One-winning driver having trained in Western Australia for a number of years.
“We were over in Western Australia for seven and a half years,” White said. “It was great, I enjoyed my time over there and I had a fair bit of success over there too. I made some good friends, but it is just so far away.
“I worked for Andrew De Campo for about four years before I went out training on my own.
“I started off as a private trainer for Barry Howlett, who buys a lot of horses from the yearling sales here in New Zealand.
“Brent Mangos got most of them up and going and then he was sending them over. I had some nice horses.”
White had plenty of success in Western Australia but highlights winning the Gr.1 Western Australian Derby (2536m) behind New Zealand-bred pacer Three Blind Mice as his biggest achievement during his time in the Golden State.
“I was the unofficial trainer of him at the time. (Unofficially) training and driving him was probably the highlight,” he said.
After training for three years, he and wife Brigette then took up an opportunity with thoroughbred giant Darley and moved to New South Wales for two years.
“We were looking for a change and to move closer to home. My wife was pre-training and breaking-in gallopers and this job at Godolphin came up to break in their yearlings,” he said.
“We were there for a couple of years. I was working with the stallions, it was a great experience.
“I got to meet some pretty influential people and work with some very valuable horses. It’s just amazing the facilities they have over there.”
White said the change in environment has him refreshed and eager heading into his new venture back in New Zealand.
“I enjoy the training side of things. I’m feeling fresh too, so that helps, so I’m really keen to get back into it.” – Cambridge Raceway