Day At The Track

Blair's big numbers

02:00 PM 12 Jul 2017 NZST
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Blair Orange

Blair Orange has a goal for next season --- he wants to buy Dexter Dunn more food.

Like lots of food. In fact, he would be happy to buy Dunn dinner every weekend next term.

Because as it turns out the two men who dominate the national harness racing driver’s premiership spend a huge amount of time together.

 “I joked to my wife the other day I spend more time sleeping in the same room as Dexter than I do with her,” says Orange.

Orange and Dunn have won over 400 races between them this season, Dunn setting the new national record of 221 last Friday.

Largely lost in that clatter is the fact Orange has reined 183 winners, the closest any other driver has ever got to 200 wins a season.

“I won’t get to the 200 for the season now, I’ve run out of time,” admits Orange.

“But it gives me a goal for next season. It is a lot of travel and a lot of hard work but to be honest I’ve enjoyed it.”

Orange and his racetrack nemesis Dunn are great friends off the track, which is just as well as they travel to almost all meetings outside Canterbury together.

 And that is a lot of meetings. They have both had well over 1000 drives this season while Matthew Williamson with 711 is our next busiest driver.

 By comparison, Samantha Collett with 846 rides has been New Zealand’s busiest jockey with only Alysha Collett and Chris Johnson also having ridden over 700 mounts.

  “We do travel a lot and often that means driving six hours each way to Invercargill and lots of Forbury trips,” says Orange.

 “So having Dex there, somebody to talk to and share the (car) driving with is a huge help.”

 Surely it must frustrating, spending so much time with the person keeping you from the harness racing crown? “I’d love to win the premiership but Dex is like a good horse. I can get close but I can’t get past him.

 “But the reality is we are happy for each other when one of us has a good day.

 “The rule is the one who has the better day has to pay for dinner or a few beers. So I hope I end up buying him dinner more often next season.” The thought of the two men who so thoroughly rule the premiership traveling together will raise suspicions among the cynics but Orange says tactics are rarely discussed.

“If I am driving a horse that Dex drove the previous week I’ll ask him what he made of it.

 “But we don’t talk about how actual races are going to pan out and neither of us actually drive like that.

“Some people might think we have an idea what is going to happen in races but when you drive as many different horses under as many different circumstances as we do you learn to take the races as they come because things rarely go to plan.
“So I don’t have a plan these days.”

 Orange says his workload has made him a better driver now then when he was a regular group one winner working for the All Stars.

 “When you are driving as much as I am now you are always updating you knowledge base on horses because you are out there all the time.

 “And I do more video analysis now than I used to. When I was working for Mark and Nat it didn’t matter as much because the horses I was on were so good.”

 An official kick up the arse at the start of last year when Orange was fined and suspended for being over the alcohol limit on a race day after a social night helped refocus him.

“I learned my lesson and it helped me take things more seriously. Talking to a few people after that happened made me realise I’m lucky to have the career I do.”

 With key supporters like Nigel McGrath and Paul Court having good numbers for next season as well as the continued support from part-time bosses Ken and Tony Barron, he thinks cracking the 200 next season is possible.

 “That is one of my aims before I look more into the training side of things in maybe five years or so,” says the 39-year-old.

 “To break 200, win a premiership and even get to the World Drivers Champs would be great while I’d love to win a Rowe Cup or the Dominion, because I love the trotters.”

Drives for season: 1080.
Wins: 183 (53 on trotters)
Stakes earned: $1,984,616.
Achievements: 2nd on premiership.
Group one wins:  Anzac Cup, Jewels 2-yo fillies and NZ Trotting Champs.

 

Michael Guerin

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