He might not know what number jersey Richie McCaw wears, but that wasn’t enough to stop Rory McIlwrick from winning his way through to the national final of the inaugural Primary ITO Cadet of the Year competition at the end of the month.
The popular Southland junior driver staved off the challenge of his regional peers on Wednesday to book himself a spot at the final alongside Canterbury qualifiers; Dylan Stratford and Alex Veint.
And while his knowledge of rugby players and the numbers they wear on their back might not be one of his greatest strengths – McIlwrick’s ability in the sulky was clearly evident.
In the timed driving test in which cadets are asked to work a horse to specific timings over a 2400 metre heat, McIlwrick shone.
He scored a total score of 59 out of a possible 60 points – an incredible achievement considering drivers lose a point for each second they are outside of the four sectionals.
“The driving aspect went really was, I was stoked to score so well in it,’’ he said.
“I’m copping a bit of stick for not knowing what number jersey Richie McCaw wears though.
“I think I put down that he wears the No. 10 jersey – the quiz definitely wasn’t one of my strongest points.
“I was good on the practical side of things though.’’
As well as his high score in the driving challenge, McIlwrick also scored highly in naming feeds and assembling gear.
In what is the first running of the competition which sees Level 4 cadets from around the country compete to earn a spot in the national final, just how the event would go was always going to be a concern for those charged with organising the event.
But McIlwrick only had good things to say about the day and said the feelings were the same with everyone who competed.
“It was a great day and it’s been a really good idea.
“The chance to interact and compete against each other adds a really exciting aspect to being a cadet.’’
With 14 wins next to his name, McIlwrick has enjoyed a good season in the sulky – justifying his decision to chase opportunities in Southland when moving there two years ago.
“I’m really enjoying it down here, I think it was definitely a good decision.
“My goal was to make the junior drivers championships, but I missed out there so making the final of this is a real bonus.’’
Maruia Parker – who is attached to the stable of Geoff and Jude Knight finished runner-up in the Southland final.
McIlwrick, Stratford and Veint will be joined by the winner of the North Island regional final which will be held at the Franklin track on Monday.
By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)