With only a month of the Australian harness racing season to go I thought it was very timely to look through the different premierships across the country and highlight the big performances. In New South Wales Greg Bennett has raced away with the state drivers premiership again and I think it is important to note that Bennett has won another premiership without the support of any of the leading stables in New South Wales.
If you look through the top ten trainers in the state, Greg is not the regular driver for any of them and while he gets great support from trainers like John Tapp, Kevin Pizzuto, Jim Bennett and Dean Atkinson, he continues to pile up the winners.
Josh Osborn and Jack Painting have been the big movers in the drivers table and both have recorded more than 80 wins in the season to date. The trainers premiership has been a battle between Paul Fitzpatrick and Steve Turnbull and Fitzpatrick has turned around a recent deficit to hold a handy lead with less than a month to go.
David Kennedy has had a massive season with more than 100 winners in NSW and sits third. Nathan Hurst has moved into the top ten and will continue to train plenty of winners next season while Luke McCarthy looks set to enjoy a golden era now that he has relocated to NSW.
In Victoria the premierships are again being dominated by the Douglas brothers, Glenn and Daryl. Daryl has already driven 35 winners more this season than last and still has a month to bring up another 25. Glenn too has had a better season this time around already 12 more than last year. Chris Alford, Gavin Lang and Greg Sugars have all been dominant again in the drivers list however there is a new name in the trainers premiership.
Former Kiwi Brent Lilley has had a remarkable season and is very close to bringing up 100 winners for the season in Victoria. Lilley had trained just 144 winners in his career spanning back to 1997 in New Zealand but his effort this season in Victoria has been extraordinary. He has already trained 96 Victorian winners from just 370 runners this season. The move to Australia has been good for Lilley and the combination with Gavin Lang has been very fruitful.
Queensland is again dominated by the Dixons. Grant has blown away his rivals on the drivers premiership while Bill is assured of another trainers premiership. However there are a number of new names in the top ten drivers list. Brad Cowen has rocketed up the premiership and is on target to drive 100 winners for the season.
Gary Whitaker, Barton Cockburn and Darrel Graham all find themselves in the top ten as well. John McMullen has already trained 100 winners for the season after getting so close last time while Vicki Rasmussen has shot up the list and looks set to run fourth.
In South Australia David Harding has brought up another 200 win season as a driver but there are a number of other participants who have enjoyed a great twelve months. As a driver Mark Billinger brought up 100 wins while Ryan Hryhorec is within sight of 100 winners too.
Jake Webster and Ken Rogers have also driven a lot of winners between them recently and have rocketed up the premiership. The trainers premiership is being dominated by Jon Kingston Mayne and what a performance by his stable. Kingston Mayne has already cracked the century, something that hasn’t been done by the recent trainers premiership winners in South Australia. His combination with Mark Billinger has been lethal.
The Western Australian driving ranks have again been dominated by the ever green Chris Lewis, Australia’s representative at the current World Drivers Championships in North America. Chris Voak and Matt White have both moved into the top ten drivers in the state while Ross Oliveri looks set to win the trainers premiership. Aldo Cortopassi and Debbie Padberg have had good seasons too and have moved up the trainers rankings.
In Tasmania Gareth Rattray hasn’t driven the same amount of winners this season and won’t crack the century this season but is still the leading driver in the state. Rohan Hillier and Alex Ashwood have both worked their way inside the top ten in Tasmania and deserve a wrap for their seasons so far. The trainers list sees Grant Hodges on top and it is great to see that after he has run a close second on a few occasions in recent years.
There is still just under a month to go and there will be some changes but it is very important to highlight just how well some of the drivers and trainers across Australia have performed.
Finally this week it would be remiss of me not to mention the victory of Come On Frank in the Southern Cross Final for the three year old colts and geldings at Globe Derby on Saturday night. Jim Jacques summed up the race perfectly and I turned away from the television with a lump in my throat after the victory. Come On Frank is trained by Darren Billinger and unfortunately tragedy struck the family three months ago when Darren’s daughter Kelly passed away in a car accident.
The Billinger family could have turned out the horses and grieved but in memory of seventeen year old Kelly and especially for her love of Come On Frank they continued on with the preparation towards the feature race. I can’t imagine the feelings going through Darren after the victory but if you haven’t see the race or heard Jim’s call do yourself a favour and have a listen to the replay on harness.org.au it is something very special.
Don’t forget In The Gig returns from its mid year break next Monday and with so much happening since John, Adam and I were together there is going to be plenty to talk about and it is great to hear that Sky Racing 2 will have a special coverage of the Breeders Crown Finals at Tabcorp Park Melton later this month similar to last year. Catch you next week.