Luke Whittaker, one member of a determined trio of junior drivers intent on getting this year’s New Zealand Junior Driver Champs off the ground, is looking forward to his hard work coming to fruition this weekend.
The Cambridge reinsman banded together with Alicia Harrison and Sheree Tomlinson to ensure the competition was retained after funding came under threat following the COVID-19 lockdown.
“Myself, Alicia, and Sheree thought we would try and get some sponsors onboard and we have ended up raising $8,000 and getting it off the ground,” Whittaker said.
“Alicia, in particular, has done some amazing work and most of the kudos should go to her.
“We are thankful to our sponsors McMillan Feeds, New Zealand Bloodstock Standardbred, Cavalier Saddlery and Tim Butt.
“He is sponsoring a trip for the winner over to Sydney for Miracle Mile week, if border restrictions allow.”
The Whittaker and Tomlinson families are also helping out by putting up the six North Island junior drivers for the weekend.
A Cantabrian at heart, Whittaker is looking forward to returning to his home region to compete in front of his family.
“Something I strive for every year is to make my family proud,” he said. “When I go out there I am not only representing myself, I am also representing my family and employers.”
Whittaker will have five drives at Addington Raceway on Friday and Sunday and said he has been allocated a couple of strong winning chances.
“It’s just the luck of the draw with the drives, but we are just happy to be there,” he said. “We are very fortunate and thankful for the trainers to put their horses in and get six races off the ground.
“I have got a couple of nice drives. Adam Patron has been really good lately, winning his last two. Trent Yesberg’s team has been flying, so he will have him ready.
“And Anamajor has probably raced a lot better horses in the last couple of weeks. He won well two starts back and he should hopefully be running on late.”
While looking forward to the weekend, Whittaker’s focus is set on tonight’s meeting at Cambridge Raceway where he has three drives.
The Ross Paynter-trained Rave Nation will be having her second start this preparation and Whittaker is expecting a bold showing from the daughter of Muscle Mass in the Melanie At Harcourts Birthday Handicap Trot (2200m).
“Rave Nation just takes a couple of runs to get back into it, but drops back into maiden company off 30m,” Whittaker said.
“Her trial at Cambridge on Saturday was really good, so Ross is really happy with her.”
Whittaker will jump in the cart to steer Spirit Of Anzac in the Cambridge Rotary Mobile Pace (1700m) for employers Mike Berger and Matthew White.
“I think Spirit Of Anzac is a really good chance in the junior race,” he said. “He has come up with a good draw (10) over 1700m.
“He trialled really well here (Cambridge) on Saturday behind About Turn, so I am looking forward to a very good showing from him.”
Whittaker’s final drive of the night will be behind the Frank Cooney and Tate Hopkins-trained Chalberg.
“He was actually really good at Auckland first-up,” Whittaker said. “He didn’t have a workout or a trial and finished fifth and probably only peaked in the last 100m.
“By the sound of it his work has been great and they think he has got a really good chance.” – Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk