Day At The Track

Harness experience going gangbusters

01:59 PM 17 Oct 2019 NZDT
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A jubilant Lou Young and Reece Moore after their win,Harness racing
A jubilant Lou Young and Reece Moore after their win
Mildura HRC

It's hard to imagine a more potent marketing tool for the sport of harness racing than the experience of racing fans being able to actually drive in a race.

The adrenaline rush from thundering hooves, the power of the horse, drivers urging their charges on, the crowd cheering and the commentators call ringing is an authentic horse racing experience only harness racing can offer.

And it's the exhilaration of co-driving a horse under race conditions that's taken Mildura by storm, reviving interest in the sport and reaching new generations and demographics.

The dual seated sulky events are now one of the most talked-about features of the north-west Victorian club's night racing program, and it receives enquiries from potential participants from all over Australia and even as far away as New Zealand.

Watch a dual sulky race here

The concept was introduced at Melton in 2014 -- a brainchild of then-CEO Shane Gloury - and involves a registered driver being teamed with a participant in a purpose-designed double seat sulky, racing in a field of four.

In almost every sense it's a genuine race, betting aside (although we're not saying there aren't a few side bets made along the way!)

Mildura picked up the concept and made double-seated sulky races their own two years ago.

"The whole experience is conducted under real race conditions," Mildura CEO Michelle McGinty-Wilson said.

"There's very strict safety standards. They wear helmets, approved safety vests and are provided with a set of racing colors," McGinty-Wilson said.

"They're given a pre-race briefing, then they're accompanied to the stable area and introduced to their driver to see their horse geared up and get ready to race.

"They have a short pre-race period in the parade ring and then it's out onto the track. Our events are started under mobile barrier conditions and are run over about 1800 metres."

While the registered drivers have control of the horses, their passengers also hold reins which are attached through the rings of the head halters.

The double-seater sulky experience is part of the club's highly successful Club 40 sponsorship package.

In addition members of the public can purchase a $195 Golden Ticket which entitles them to go in the double seat sulky race, naming rights of their horse, a DVD of the event, and their partner gets to ride in the mobile barrier car as well as dinner in the club's upstairs dining room.

"A lot of the people we've had received the 'race' drive as a birthday or anniversary present - it's a bit of a 'bucket list' thing for a lot of people.

"People are absolutely blown away by the adrenaline of it. You can sometimes see that people are having second thoughts once it's actually time to get in the sulky. And we do notice that more often than not, the girls get right into it but sometimes the guys are a bit hesitant.

"But without exception, once they're out and into it, the ones who were a bit scared come back and say they want to do it again.

"Almost everyone comments on the speed, saying it was faster than they thought it would be.

"We've had people up to their 80s do it, and they're thrilled by the whole experience."

A couple from Sale in Victoria's Gippsland region, drove to the Melbourne Airport, flew to Mildura to take part in the double-seat sulky event, and returned home the following day.

"They described it as an awesome night and an absolutely amazing experience," McGinty-Wilson said.

The push for the double-seated sulky races in Mildura came after the previous secretary-manager Tim Scala and several committee members saw the events at Melton.

After some initial scepticism, the club arranged for a number of the carts to be manufactured by an engineer near Melbourne.

"We really had no doubt that it would take off - there's just nothing more exciting than holding the reins for the first time. It becomes an addiction as many can vouch," former committeeman and trainer-driver Geoff Lucas said.

"It's travelled everywhere. A while ago we put one of the races up on YouTube and there was 10,000 hits. A Swedish television station also picked it up and featured it on a news bulletin," he said.

Well-known Mildura plumber and long-time harness racing supporter Lou Young is soon off on a holiday for two to Vanavatu, courtesy of his success in the final of the 2018 season finale.

He last week made it three wins from three "drives" succeeding first in the heat and semi-finals of the challenge, then in the final alongside registered driver Reece Moore.

Stewards overlooked Young's exuberant driving nearing the finish line with jubilant fist-punching - much to the delight of his family and friends in the crowd!

Many leading drivers have been involved in the special event, including Melbourne's John Caldow, who was only too pleased to help out.

Northern region sister club, Swan Hill, occasionally borrows the dual seated sulkies for special events, while a number of other clubs in Victoria and interstate have joined the concept.

 

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR

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