Not even the thought of having to drive back to Nelson from Christchurch last night could wipe the smile off the face of Dylan Stratford after he was crowned the regional winner of the Primary ITO Cadet of the Year competition yesterday.
The 23-year-old horseman fended off the challenge of 12 of his peers from the Canterbury area to claim the first ever regional title in the inaugural running of the competition and will now head to the national final at Addington Raceway next month to contest for the supreme title of national champion.
Stratford, who is now based in Nelson and working in a labouring job, drove South on Tuesday night to compete and then jumped back in his car almost instantly to face the drive back home.
“It’s going to be a little bit easier than if I hadn’t won that’s for sure,’’ he said.
In a three-part competition which pitted the Level 4 cadets against each other in a myriad of challenges which included a driving challenge and being able to correctly name 20 different types of horse feed - Stratford shone.
He claimed the outright top score in three of the six different stages of the competition and finished in a tie for first in another – underlining his all-round knowledge.
“I really enjoyed the competition, it’s been a really enjoyable day and the team in charge of it need to be applauded for coming up with something like this.
“The Cadet scheme has really come along in the last couple of years, what is being offered up to us has been of huge value and a series like this only compliments it I think.’’
Stratford will head to the national final knowing that it will be more than likely be his last chance to win it as he intends on heading overseas later this year.
“If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.
“So I’m working up in Nelson and trying to save up a bit of money and I plan to head to America later in the year.’’
Stratford will be joined in the final by fellow Cantab, Alex Veint.
Due to the large number of Level 4 Cadets, two competitors from the Canterbury region will compete in the national final alongside the regional winners from both the Southern and Northern regions.
Veint scored the highest mark in the driving challenge with a score of 51 out of a possible 60 in what proved to the most popular discipline of the day.
Without a stopwatch the cadets were asked to work a horse over a 2400 metre distance with specific time guidelines set for each of the three 800 metre stages of the workout.
1 point was deducted for each second the driver was out from the set times – but all managed to produce impressive scores considering they weren’t allowed the use of a watch and that a number had never driven around Addington before.
Veint claimed top prize in the challenge, while Denis Van Werhooven finished second with 50 points and Todd Quate was third with 49 points.
The regional finals now move to Invercargill and the Southern Region on Wednesday, July 2 and then the Northern Region final at the Franklin Trotting Club on Monday, July 7.
By Matt Markham (Harness Racing New Zealand)