Samantha Ottley, Andre Poutama, and Simon McMullan will represent New Zealand at the Australasian Young Drivers Championship in New South Wales, Australia, from February 25 to March 2.
Qualification for the Series, which will be run over 10 heats, was completed last Friday (January 31). The final race will be competed for on Inter Dominion grand final day at Sydney’s Tabcorp Park Menangle.
Ottley, with a massive 111 points was the South Island’s leading qualifier – 55 points ahead of second-placed Robbie Close. Third was Matt Anderson on 47 points.
Poutama’s 49 points, was four more than second placed McMullan in the North Island qualifiers. Ben Butcher was six points adrift in third with 39 points. Sailesh Abernethy actually finished first with 64 points, but because he is over 25 years of age he is ineligible to compete.
McMullan won the UDR qualifiers with a strike rate of 0.3403. Abernethy was top qualifier with 0.3810, while Andrew Grant (0.3778) and Nicole Harris (0.3651) actually finished ahead of him, but they only had five and seven drives respectively . They needed a minimum of 15 drives to qualify.
Ottley’s 0.3603 was also higher than McMullan’s but she had already booked her flight across the Tasman as the leading South Island driver.
Ottley and Poutama will be representing New Zealand for the first time, but McMullan has driven in an Australasian Young Drivers Championship previously – that being in the Perth in 2012.
McMullan, who only just qualified this time around with 16 drives, said he had Harness Racing New Zealand’s Marketing and Communications Executive, Stacey Markham to thank for qualifying.
“I didn’t even realise I was a chance of getting there until Stacey rang me up. She said if I finished first or second at Cambridge last Friday I’d qualify,” McMullan said.
McMullan duely won behind the Dream Vacation gelding that he and Steven Reid train named Commander Galleon. The 5-year-old was favourite in the second event and won easily by 3-1/2 lengths.
“I’m delighted to be going again. I think the Perth experience will help me a lot this time around. I want to thank all the trainers who put me on this season, especially Brian Hughes. I had three drives for him and had two wins and a third. That was a huge help,” the Pukekohe horseman said.
McMullan, who is now 24, will be too old to compete in next year’s Series and is desperate to go out a winner this time.
“I finished down the field in Perth, but I did drive a winner. I know there’s a bit of luck involved with the horses and the draws that you get, but when you do get on a good horse you have to make the most of it.
“There have been some really good juniors who have won the Series and gone on to good things, so horsemanship does come down to it. I’ll be watching all the videos when the draws are made and I’ll see how they have been driven,” said McMullan.
Harness Racing New Zealand is providing the three junior drivers with return flights and merchandise.
By Duane Ranger (Harness Racing New Zealand)