Day At The Track

The 'Voak Train' has been a journey!

12:30 PM 06 Mar 2020 NZDT
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Chris Voak,Harness racing
Chris Voak

Lovable larrikin reinsman Chris Voak likes to look back and have a bit of a laugh about his early days of trying to get a start in the sport of harness racing.

Now a star in Western Australia Voak recently posted his 100th winner for season 2019-20 - the ninth consecutive time he's achieved the feat.

But there's no doubt that the accomplished and aggressive reinsman did the hard yards to achieve his dream.

He's one of 10 highly regarded Australian drivers competing in the Decron Horse Care/Noel Smith Memorial Invitation Drivers Championship at Horsham on Monday.

Voak is competing with Victorians Chris Alford, Kate Gath, Kima Frenning, Jason Lee, Greg Sugars and Kerryn Manning; Nathan Dawson (Qld); Mark Yole (Tas); and Ryan Hryhorec (SA) in four ratings-exempt events.

And although he's rubbing shoulders with the best now, it's a credit to the champion - known as the "Voak Train" - that he stuck fat to his dream.

"I guess I was destined to be involved in harness racing one way or another, because right from when I was born, I grew up with horses around me," Voak said.

"My mum and dad, Linley and Danny, always had a couple as a hobby and as they say, once it gets in your blood, it's hard to get out!"

But it wasn't a straight progression into the sport, Voak training as an electrician after he left school.

"That was okay until they put me onto part-time and my bank balance started getting down a bit," he said.

"I needed to do something else and my dad suggested I have a go at driving. I started in 2009 and had a claim but it was hard work trying to get a start.

"My first winner was Impulsive Gift at Gloucester Park on February 14 and in the next 16 months I probably only got about 30 drives.

"I remember getting offered two drives at a Kalgoorlie meeting one night and I took them-I don't know why - because it was about a seven-hour drive and I had no money.

"I had a tank of fuel and $80 cash and went up the night before and slept in my car and froze.

"Both the drives were on the rank outsiders but fortunately I got up on one of them at 99/1. The trainer gave me a $100 sling and I rang my fiancée Asha and told her I wasn't driving back cos I could afford to stay in a motel!"

Voak said his lucky break came after pestering successful Oakford trainer Ross Olivieri for race drives. (Olivieri made his name as a top-flight tennis player who competed on the world circuit before turning his hand to harness racing.)

"I even had a mate sending Ross text messages on my behalf," Voak laughed.

"Then Ross grabbed me aside one day at Pinjarra and basically asked me to stop all the calls because he had a junior driver, but he told me he'd give me a go when there was an opportunity."

And that chance came later when Olivieri's claim driver called in sick.

"Ross rang me out of the blue and said if I could get to a trots meeting within the next two hours, there was two drives for me. I was doing electrical work in Subiaco at the time but I spoke to my boss, who knew how much I loved the sport, and he told me to go for it.

"They were both roughies but I can say I did drive them perfectly and finished in the placings and from that day on, I was the Olivieri stable claim driver."

Voak has now been with the Olivieri team for the past decade (never missing the two-days a week trackwork driving) and has 1243 wins and 2539 placings to his name for $12M in stakes.

"Dad was always big on making the most of your opportunities, so I have to credit him with that. I've learnt the best way in getting the most out of it is just to work hard and make the most of your opportunities.

"But I've also been lucky to have a lot of loyal supporters in family, friends, owners and trainers. You don't get to where you are without that.

"My fiancée Asha has been awesome and her family are involved in the sport. I actually drove a winner for them at Bunbury on Tuesday. I never thought I'd be doing what I am-I'll be so happy if it keeps going well. I keep telling the younger ones to work hard."

Voak says one of his most favorite victories was for his dad on a former Queensland "battler" he had leased.

"Dad's done okay over the years winning a York Cup and a few other nice races, but he took on a horse called Shamrock Tango and won a race in the central wheatbelt region," Voak said.

"That was enough for Dad to decide the horse was good enough to run in the San Simeon at Gloucester Park, which is a heat and final series for metro maidens," he said.

"We were lucky to get a start in the heats because the nominations were light, so we went around at 33/1 and I stayed on the pegs to finish fourth and qualify for the final.

"In the final, dad instructed me to give the horse a chance- to put him three deep at the 1000m. I didn't quite have the faith my family did and I was bit concerned that I could be staring down at a six week stretch for an inappropriate drive! But we ended up winning by a length at 70/1.

"That was my first listed race. It was a Group Two event I think, but what a thrill. The horse actually went on and won six of his next eight starts."

Voak said he'd never consciously made a decision to turn to driving on a full-time basis.

"It's sometimes in the back of my mind that the dream could end. There's so many talented juniors coming through and there's always the thought that one day I might be forgotten and put on the back burner," he said.

"I'm nearly 32, but I'm keen as ever. I'm grinding it out as hard as I was when I started. There's a lot of travelling because I'm doing at least four meetings a week, but that doesn't worry me.

"The closest I've got to winning the State Drivers premiership is a second and a third and I'd love to claim that title this year.

"For the moment, though, I'm looking forward to Monday and getting to Horsham because it's a great chance to catch up with the other drivers.

"I'll be doing my best to win it though - I've been twice before and haven't managed to yet, so all bets will be off when we get on the track!"

 

Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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