Ricki Herbert is well-known for his association with football, coaching the All Whites to an historic World Cup campaign a decade ago, but on Thursday night he made a return to his other passion – harness racing.
More than three decades ago Herbert developed a passion for the sport upon his return from playing international football when he started to help out his father Clive at his stable.
“I had been overseas playing football and when I got back and wasn’t quite sure where to go or what to do, I jumped onboard with Dad,” Herbert said.
“I didn’t know anything about horses back then.
“10 years later I had a really good experience with it and got into the training side of things and then got my (driver’s) license and had 10 drives.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it and then I went overseas and had national team jobs (with football).
“I haven’t been in it for a long time, but it was a strong part of my life and I am really pleased that I have got a chance to be back involved.”
Herbert had 10 raceday drives in the early nineties, for two placings, and is enjoying being back in the sulky after a 27-year hiatus, albeit at amateur level.
He has been working his way to attaining his amateur driver credentials over the last few months, a pursuit that was motivated by his father’s passing 18 months ago.
“My Mum passed away four years ago and my Dad passed away 18 months ago. He loved the game and was heavily involved in it,” Herbert said.
“He had some nice horses and the family is really proud of the colours. I just thought we could try and get back into it.
“I always said to Dad that I would try and have another drive and it’s just come to fruition.
“It’s a sport I love and when I get a bit of time, I enjoy it and I like doing it.”
Together with a group of mates, Herbert bought into the Luke Whittaker-trained Chalberg and he has enjoyed racing the son of Art Official over the last couple of months, highlighted by his maiden win at Cambridge in September.
“There’s eight of us who bought a 50 percent share in him,” Herbert said. “We have had him going around a little bit, just having a bit of fun with him.”
That sense of fun was enhanced at Cambridge Raceway on Thursday when Herbert drove him in the Downbytheseaside At Woodlands Stud Mobile Pace (2700m).
While the pair finished unplaced, Herbert was delighted to be back out on the track.
“Wherever he came was irrelevant, I was just so proud to have Dad’s colours on and being out there driving,” he said.
While kept busy with football obligations, the Cambridge resident said he tries to get down to Cambridge Raceway most mornings to help out local trainer Kyle Marshall.
“I try and get down to the track most mornings,” Herbert said. “I am helping out Kyle Marshall and he has been great. I try and get some early starts and work a couple of horses, just depending on what my timetable looks like.
“I am down there doing something completely different and then it’s a long day of football activity. It’s quite a nice balance.”
Herbert said harness racing adds a healthy mix to his life and helps him unwind from the pressure of football.
“Football has been my life – it’s my passion, it’s what I love,” he said.
“The racing side of it just adds that bit of relaxation and it can just take your mind away and you can chill out a little bit and enjoy other people’s company and have some fun.”
On the football front, Herbert said he is currently enjoying running his own academy as well as being involved with a couple of local football clubs.
“I am Football Development Manager at Hamilton Wanderers and Technical Director of the Cambridge Football Club,” he said.
“I have also got my own academy, we have got 10 centres around the North Island.
“There are some great kids, both male and female, coming through in the game, so it’s exciting times for football.”
While football will always be the leading light in Herbert’s life, he said he is enjoying being back in the sport introduced to him by his late father.
“It’s an industry that I love and it’s good to be back with it,” he said. – Joshua Smith, Harness News Desk