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The annual Central Victorian Young Harness Racing Drivers' Challenge will take place across five races next month from July 8-9. Horses will be randomly allocated to a driver from the following list of invitees - Josh Aiken, Aaron Bain (SA), Josh Duggan, Dylan Egerton-Green (WA), Dylan Ford (Tas), Haydon Gray, Jason Lee, Todd McCarthy (NSW), Zac Phillips and Amy Rees (Qld). The series kicks off with two races at Shepparton on July 8 and continues the following day with two races at Maryborough and one at Ballarat. Shepparton Harness Racing Club racing and operations manager Ian McDonald is looking forward to the series of races. "The quality of participants is the key. To have not only the five leading young drivers in Victoria but the five best from outside Victoria is fantastic," he said. "To have them all in the one forum is a real bonus." Horses which win races involved in the series will not incur a handicapping penalty. CODY WINNELL 

The 2015 edition of the Australasian Young Drivers Championship was decided today at the Timaru Harness Racing Club's meeting at Phar Lap Raceway. Conducted over seven races at four different tracks over four days, the championship was keenly fought for by six young drivers from Australia and four from New Zealand. Robbie Close representing New Zealand's South Island went into the last two races today with a twelve point lead over his nearest rival Andre Poutama and Robbie quickly put the contest to bed when he won the first of today's two heats with a lovely drive on the trotter Saint Michel. Away well from barrier one to lead early, Saint Michel was taken on in the mid stages and ended up three back on the inner going past the 400 metres mark. Angling off the inner on the point of the turn, Robbie pulled Saint Michel out four wide as they turned for home and slowly reeled in the leader Clean Break with Trent Moffat in the bike while Price Of Fame and Josh Aiken flew late for third just in front of Peterhof and Jake Webster. With the 17 points for the win, Robbie had an unassailable lead of 27 points going into the last heat of the series later in the day. Mind you all the other drivers still had plenty to aim for and after a stirring race Coringa Delight and Tom Buchanan had a half head to spare from Secret Lotion and Dylan Ford with 6 1/2 lengths back to Indian Arrow and Josh Aiken and a further 1 1/2 lengths back to Betabcool and Michele Neilson with Robbie Close only picking up one point with a last placing. When all the points were tallied up the final result looked like this. 1st - Robbie Close (NZ)  -  77 2nd - Andre Poutama (NZ) -  52 3rd = Tom Buchanan (WA) -  51 3rd = Michele Neilson (NZ) -  51 5th - Dylan Ford (TAS) -  48 6th - Jake Webster (SA) -  44 7th = Trent Moffat (QLD -  39 7th = Josh Aiken (VIC) -  39 9th - Robbie Morris (NSW) -  27 10th - Ben Butcher (NZ) -  26 This season has been Robbie's best to date with 24 wins so far and 88 wins lifetime which is a great achievement with the limited opportunities for junior drivers overall in New Zealand compared to their Australian counterparts.  We here at Harnesslink would like to congratulate Robbie on winning the title and wish him all the best for the rest of the season. Harnesslink Media

This years Lone Star Riccarton Australasian Young Drivers Championship got under way at last nights harness racing meeting at Cambridge and the defending champion Andre Poutama immediately showed that he wasn't going to give up the title without a real fight. This years series is being run over seven races at four race meetings across New Zealand and last night saw the first two of those seven races run. First blood went to the defending champion Andre Poutama from New Zealand who settled Sapphire Castleton in the trail behind the pacemaking Tereskova driven by Tom Buchanan from Western Australia and then used the passing lane to good effect to nail Tereskova right on the line. Silver Stream off 50 metres with Dylan Ford from Tasmania in the bike ran on well to grab third in front of Madam Simone and Jake Webster from South Australia. The second heat saw New Zealand's South Island representative Robbie Close grab the early lead with Balius with the hot favourite Forever An Angel and Josh Aiken sitting in the death seat after Robbie wouldn't hand up the front with Balius. Passing the 800 metres Forever An Angel went into a wild gallop and caused a bit of carnage back in the field which left Balius clear in the lead. The only danger was Elusive Edgar with Dylan Ford in the bike in the trail and try as they might, they couldn't run down Balius.  Mach Cullen and Andre Poutama flew home late for third after copping a interrupted run with Stars Star and Jake Webster running on into fourth. Robbie Close can count himself a little bit fortunate to win the race as he copped a $250 fine  from stewards for squeezing Elusive Edgar up when crossing to the lead early. After the first two heats the points table sits like this. Andre Poutama     26  Robbie Close        21 Dylan Ford           21 Tom Buchanan     18 Jake Webster       14 Robbie Morris        9 Michele Neilson     7 Josh Aiken            6 Trent Moffat           6 Ben Butcher           4 The series continues tonight at Alexandra Park before shifting to Addington tomorrow and Timaru on Sunday Harnesslink Media  

Talented harness racing participant Dylan Ford has been selected to represent Tasmania at the upcoming Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship in New Zealand. The teenager will compete in the series for the second time against drivers from all Australian states and the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Ford, 19, was the automatic Tasmanian selection after being last season’s premier young driver. First licensed as a 16-year-old, Ford finished second in the 2011/12 Tasmanian junior driver award and ninth in the state’s leading driver award.  Ford has won the past two junior driver titles, and after four months of this season, leads the award while sitting sixth on the overall state premiership. Ford finished second in the 2014 Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship in New South Wales after winning three of the 10 heats, including the $50,000 heat at Menangle.  Ford is thrilled to be selected again and is hoping to go one or two better than last year. “I’m thrilled to again be selected as Tasmania’s representative at these driving championships because it is an honor to represent your state in any sport,” Ford said. Ford was presented with the state set of colours in Hobart last night. “I was thrilled when first told of my selection a few weeks ago, but when you actually get the state colours and put them on it feels quite special,” Ford said. Ford also has taken to training and he was quite successful in his first year as a trainer. The Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship starts at Cambridge on May 7 in the North Island of New Zealand followed by Auckland the next day. The series continues on May 9 where the action moves south to Christchurch and concludes the next day at Timaru. PETER STAPLES

Talented harness racing participant Dylan Ford will represent Tasmania in the Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship in New Zealand. The 19-year-old will compete in the series for the second time against drivers from all Australian states and both New Zealand islands. Ford was the automatic Tasmanian selection after being the best performed young driver during the 2013/14 season. First licensed as a 16-year-old in September 2011, Ford finished second in the 2011/12 Tasmanian junior driver award and ninth in the state’s leading driver premiership. He won the junior title in 2012/13 and 2013/14, and after four months of the 2014/15 season, Ford leads the junior table and is sixth on the overall state premiership. Last year Ford finished second in the Australasian Young Drivers’ Championship in New South Wales after winning three of the 10 heats, including the $50,000 heat at Menangle. Tasracing chief executive Eliot Forbes said Tasracing was committed to supporting young drivers. “Tasracing schedules a junior drivers’ race every month and two championship series annually,” Forbes said. “As a result of this programming, our Tasmanian talent is nurtured early in their career resulting in a high level of success for Tasmanian young drivers when competing interstate. “Dylan Ford experienced that in this series last year.” Ford was thrilled to be selected to travel to New Zealand. “This is a real honour to be representing my state in such a prestigious event,” Ford said. “Over the past 12 months I have taken out a trainer’s license and have received tremendous support from my owners while other trainers have continued to put me behind their horses. “In particular, I would like to thank trainer Heath Szczypka and my family for their assistance.” The Australasian Young Drivers Championship starts at Cambridge on May 7 in the North Island of New Zealand followed by Auckland the next day. The action shifts to the South Island at Christchurch two days later and concludes the next day at Timaru. PETER STAPLES

WHEN Brighton harness racing trainer-driver Dylan Ford contacted prominent owner Garry Rogers to inquire as to the whereabouts of former star filly Play Apple Tree he was surprised with the answer. Rogers informed the Tasmanian horseman Play Apple Tree was still roaming a paddock after damaging tendons as a three-year-old in March 2012. Ford subsequently asked if he could work the daughter of Art Major, with Rogers agreeing and dispatching her to Ford on lease. As a two-year-old Play Apple Tree won a heat of the Evicus Stakes at two before finishing second to Cloudy Range in the Final. At three, she won second up, but after two more starts, she was diagnosed with bowed tendons in both front legs, so Rogers had her transported back to Victoria where she stayed until Ford’s phone call last December. Successful at her comeback run last August, Play Apple Tree was unlucky during her next three outings, before scoring at Launceston last week. The talented pacer completed consecutive wins when triumphant with Ford in the cart at Hobart last night. Beginning swiftly to lead from barrier three, Play Apple Tree was simply too swift over 2090 metres to beat Boltnmach – which was gallant after facing the breeze – and Ebabe. PETER STAPLES

The success story of this year's Young Drivers Challenge was undoubtedly the rise and rise of Rebecca Bartley. Over the space of three days the Congupna reinswoman, 22, became a household name in Victorian harness racing, winning the first four races in the five-race invitational series. And they weren't aboard odds-on favourites, in fact far from it. Bartley piloted two longshots to victory at Shepparton on Thursday night (Riviera Kiss $26.60 and Boom Boom Hall $18.80) before striking at enormous odds at Melton's Tabcorp Park on Friday night (Smiling Spirit winning at $54.30). To cap it off Bartley won the fourth race of the series at Ballarat on Saturday night (aboard Kankkunen at $10.70) before having to settle for fifth with Belvoirama in the last race to finish with a series points score of 46 - just four points shy of an unprecedented 50 points (the maximum a driver can accrue in the 10-points-per-win series). "She was the story of the series, that's for sure," said Ballarat and District Trotting Club CEO Paul Rowse. "By the time the series finished everyone knew who Rebecca Bartley was." Rowse described the Young Drivers Challenge as a great series and praised the Shepparton Harness Racing Club for developing the concept. "I'd encourage other clubs to follow Shepparton's lead and look at holding similar series in the future," Rowse said. "It certainly added interest to our meeting as we were the lucky beneficiary of the series' final." Rowse said any notion that harness racing was a sport dominated by males had long been debunked, with Victoria's driving ranks filled with top-line women's talent. "It wouldn't surprise me at all now if Rebecca can go on to achieve similar to what Kerryn (Manning), Jodi (Quinlan), Amy (Tubbs) etcetera have been able to do," he said. "It's a good news story for everyone that the girls are going so well in Victoria." Bartley thanked series organisers and her fellow young drivers in her victory speech at Ballarat. New South Wales based driver Todd McCarthy finished second in the series, 14 points behind Bartley, while Narissa McMullen (Queensland), Josh Duggan and Jason Lee all tied for third on 31 points. YOUNG DRIVERS CHALLENGE FINAL STANDINGS 1: Rebecca Bartley 46 2: Todd McCarthy 32 3: Narissa McMullen 31 3: Josh Duggan 31 3: Jason Lee 31 6: Dylan Ford 25 7: Aaron Bain 24 8: Josh Aiken 23 9: Aiden De Campo 22 10: Zac Phillips 18   By Cody Winnell (Harness Racing Australia)

The Shepparton Harness Racing Club, in conjunction with Tabcorp Park Melton and Ballarat, will again conduct their annual Young Drivers Challenge over three meetings, kicking off on Thursday May 29. The two races involved on the card will be the C2 to C3 for four-year-old and older as well as the C1 for four-year-old and older horses with drivers to be randomly allocated from the list of outstanding junior talents. Josh Aiken, Josh Duggan, Haydon Gray, Jason Lee and Zac Phillips will be representing their home state while interlopers Aaron Bain (SA), Aiden De Campo (WA), Dylan Ford (Tas), Todd McCarthy (NSW) and Narissa McMullen (QLD) all converge to try and take the title. In an exciting new turn for the competition, the young drivers will not only compete in two penalty free races at Shepparton, they will also take centre stage at Tabcorp Park Melton the following night. That will be followed up by the chance to compete on one of Victoria’s most popular tracks, Bray Raceway Ballarat the very next night. Shepparton Harness Racing Club Secretary/Manager Ian McDonald was thrilled with the opportunity being provided to those driving. “I think we’ve assembled the best young driving talent in Australia and it’s just terrific to see them get the opportunity to compete in the Young Drivers Challenge,” McDonald said. “This year we’ve added races at Melton and Ballarat to spice things up and it will give all the drivers a chance to drive on one of the biggest stages in the sport. “The fact that the winner of each of the races won’t incur a handicapping penalty just gives trainers the best opportunity to race for good prizemoney.” For more information visit the meeting calendar for the Shepparton meeting calendar here, the Melton meeting calendar here and finally for more on the Ballarat leg, click here. by HRV Media

FIRST out and first home tactics paid big dividends for connections of four-year-old Cooked Books that led throughout in the opening race on the 10-event harness card at Tattersall's Park in Hobart. The Dylan Ford-trained and driven gelding began well from gate three and had no trouble in holding the front with Top Party (Ricky Duggan) content to sit parked in the breeze. Ford dictated the raced with a pedestrian tempo and when drivers of those in rearward positions were content to sit back and wait until well into the back straight to make their moves the race was presented to the leader. Cooked Books (Live Or Die-My Lady Rainbow) hit the line with plenty to spare over Top Party with Anothermetro, which trailed the leader throughout, hanging on for third ahead of Odins Call Girl that made up good ground late. Listen to what trainer-driver Dylan Ford had to say about Cooked Books' win. By Peter Staples

TALENTED young harness racing drivers Alex Ashwood and Dylan Ford produced only the second tie in the 28-year history of the Bullock Consulting Youngbloods Challenge series at The TOTE Racing Centre in Launceston on Sunday night. The only other tie was shared by Tammy Mollross and Tamra Fawdry in 1998. It was a thrilling finish to the series with Ashwood holding a six-point lead going into the final heat. Ford partnered Livia Degerolstein into second place in the last heat to earn enough points to draw level with Ashwood who guided Elsudoku into fifth place. Ashwood is now domiciled in Victoria where he has driven 19 winners this season and is earning a reputation as one of the most promising young reinsmen in that state. Ford has gone from strength to strength since he acquired his driver's licence talking out the novice driver's premiership in Tasmania last season. He is on his way to achieving that feat again with 28 winners so far this season that also places him sixth on the overall drivers' premiership table. Ford also has just returned from NSW where he finished second in the 2014 Australasian Young Drivers' Series held in conjunction with the Inter Dominion. Justin Howlett ended the series by winning the final heat aboard Chopstix Boris for Beaconsfield trainer Rohan Hillier. Final points tally for the 2014 Youngbloods Challenge series: 46 - Dylan Ford, Alex Ashwood. 41 - Matthew Howlett. 39 - Duncan Dornauf. 35 - Nichols Brockman. 34 - Justin Howlett. 33 - Lyarna Graham. 32 - Samantha Freeman. 27 - Braden Howlett, Brady Woods. By Peter Staples

Dylan Ford proved yet again why he is one of the best young reinsmen in Tasmania when he partnered Go Lika Saab Lombo to a last stride win in the Lachlan Hotel Division One Stakes over 2090 metres at Tattersall's Park n Hobart on Sunday night. Ford had the five-year-old gelding settled at the era of the field from his outside back-row draw but always travelling comfortably on a solid pace set by the favourite Estevao (Todd Rattray). Rattray lifted the tempo heading down the back straight and Ford responded by easing his charge wide to make his charge. Estevao ($2.90) kicked clear at the top of the homer straight but under strong driving from Ford Go Lika Saab Lombo ($8.30) hauled in the leader close to home and hit the line strongly to defeat the favourite by a head with Vande Velde a half neck away third and just in advance of Original Art. Ford showed the patience of a far more experienced reinsman and it is this and other sought after traits possessed by the teenager that have earned him the respect of all in the industry. It was Go Lika Saab Lombo's first win of the season from six tries but he had run three minor placings in the meantime to help pay his way. Go Lika Saab Lombo, prepared at Brighton by Rodney Ashwood, has been to the races 32 times for five wins and seven minor placings for career earnings of $just under $28,000. By Peter Staples

THE popular Bullock Consulting Tasmanian Youngbloods Challenge continues at Devonport tonight with the second round of heats of the six-race series to be staged on the seven-race card. Dylan Ford and Duncan Dornauf share the lead on 23 points going into the third and fourth heats tonight and Ford could hand rival driver Nichols Brockman a winner as Ford trains Cooked Books that has drawn gate three in the first of tonight's two heats while Ford will drive outsider Inner City for Northdown trainer Geoff Smith. There is not a lot of solid form around the eight runners but Cooked Books was an improved second at his most recent outing and would be hard to beat of Brockman can urge him to find the front. The second heat also comprises eight starters and it would be an ironic result of Dornauf can win on the Dylan Ford-trained Stareeshar that has drawn gate four on the front line. But the favourite should be the Scott Woods-trained Jane Grant (barrier three) that has won its past two and will be driven by Victorian-based Tasmanian reinsman Alex Ashwood. The Youngbloods Challenge series is open to all Tasmanian drivers who are aged under 23 years at the start of the 2013-14 season. Tasracing has selected 10 drivers to contest the series, Alex Ashwood, Nicholas Brockman, Duncan Dornauf, Dylan Ford, Samantha Freeman, Lyarna Graham, Braden Howlett, Justin Howlett, Matthew Howlett and Brady Woods with Taylor Ford the emergency. In races where there are less than 10 starters those drivers whop do not gain a drive will be awarded six points in accordance with the rules of the series. The final two heats will be run in Launceston on Sunday night. By Peter Staples

Motu Crusader confirmed his harness racing status as one of the mot consistent pacers to race in Tasmania in many years when he powered home to win he 2014 Examiner Newspaper Easter Cup over 2698 metres in Launceston last night. The Zeke Slater-trained seven-year-old not only had to overcome a back mark of 40 metres but he also travelled three-wide for the last two laps. Motu Crusader has won the past two Group 3 Tasmania Cups along with other feature races in Tasmania since finding his way into Slater's Seven Mile Beach stables. The gelding is owned by Merv and Meg Butterworth who have invested heavily in standardbreds to become two of the biggest owners in the nation. Motu Crusader ($5) settled at the rear of the field while Dylan Ford took the Keith Toulmin-trained Falco Peregrinus ($10) to the lead and that gelding set a solid pace while the well-backed favourite Call The Marshall ($3.20) enjoyed the coveted one-out-one-back position. When driver Grant Campbell opted to set Motu Crusader on a forward move 1400 metres out he flushed out Cal The Marshall that led the three-wide brigade. Falco Peregrinus kicked clear turning for home but a wall of horses made a charge for the line with only four metres separating the first eight across the line. Motu Crusader hit the line less than a neck clear of Falco Peregrinus with last year's Easter Cup winner Biggernbettermax ($22.70) a close-up third. Listen to what trainer Zeke Slater had to say about Motu Crusader's brilliant Easter Cup win. Peter Staples

PROMINENT Tasmanian harness racing owner Mick Alexander has raced some handy horses over the years but the way Falco Peregrinus delivered the knockout blow to his rivals in the Westbury Cup at Carrick on Friday he might be the best. Falco Peregrinus (Dream Away-Peregrine NZ) settled last and understandably from his sole 20-metre back mark but he was still near the rear turning for home and looked unlikely to even run a place when they straightened. But when novice driver Dylan Ford took him to the outside of the track and called on the seven-year-old gelding for the supreme effort he rattled home at the rate of knots to score by almost three metres from race leader High Flyin Ruler with Put Mback three metres away third. It was a herculean performance to win from that position in such a high grade race open to C4 plus performers. The gelding began his career in Victoria where he won a C0 and two C1 races at Ballarat and Stawell in 2010 before heading to Menangle the following season where he won a 4YO over 1609m. After three more minor placings at that track the following preparation he was dispatched to Tasmania just over a year ago and won first-up for Grant Hodges. He was transferred to Keith Toulmin and in his care he notched four minor placings leading up to this latest win. By Peter Staples      

TALENTED teenage harness reinsman Dylan Ford returned from driving in the Australasian Young Drivers Championship series in New South Wales brimming with confidence despite finishing second to New Zealand novice driver Andre Poutama. In any other series Ford would have emerged triumphant with three winners and a couple of fourth placings but Poutama managed to secure one winner, two seconds and four thirds from his 10 drives to clinch the title with 89 points while Dylan amassed 78 points from his three wins and mixed bag of placings. Ford saluted aboard odds-on favourite Smokin Bopper ($1.40) in the third round of heats and he guided The Twilightdancer to victory at Bankstown two nights later. He saved the best for last by partnering outsider Little Red Cloud ($18.70) to victory in the last heat of the series at Menangle on Sunday. Ford was back in action in Hobart last night where he saluted aboard Brookfield Lad that he rated superbly to lead all the way. He reflected on his trip to NSW and his efforts during the AYDC series. "It was a fantastic opportunity to go away and represent my state and we almost pulled it off," Ford said at the Hobart harness meeting last night. "I was just a bit unlucky with the first lot of horses I drew to drive but I finished well and hopefully did my state proud." "To go up against some of the best young drivers in Australia and New Zealand was brilliant and I definitely learned a lot while I was away," he said. Ford, 18, was selected to represent the state because of his impeccable form that won him the leading junior reinsman title last season and he has continued that form this season. "I felt as if I improved throughout last season but it has been this past three months that I believe I have improved the most," he said. Ford was born into the industry and he has expanded his involvement to training. "I love working with horses and I guess it was a natural progression to turn my hand to training." "I've got five horses in work and they are all learning what racing is all about." "There are no super stars in the stable but hopefully they will all earn their keep," he said. Ford was trackside to experience the thrill of Tasmanian Beautide winning the Inter Dominion at Menangle on Sunday. "To be up there competing the same day Beautide won the Inter Dominion was just a magical experience and it is something I will remember for as long as I live." "To do what he did to that field and make them look ordinary makes him a very special horse - I'd say he was a freak," he said. By Peter Staples  

There were winners left, right and centre after the opening race at Tabcorp Park Menangle this afternoon. The Menangle track was a “first-up” winner with horses coming from everywhere in the closing stages of the final heat of the Australasian Young Drivers Championship as the Peter Walsh-trained Little Red Cloud got the money with a 1:59.9 mile rate over the 2400m journey. Tasmanian reinsman Dylan Ford may have also given a hint of things to come for his fellow Tasmanian Beautide in the TAB.COM.AU Inter Dominion Grand Final later in the day when he brought Little Red Cloud with a well-timed run up the middle of the track to score. All the competitors in the Young Drivers Championship rated the track in remarkable condition despite persistent showers over the weekend, with every runner accorded a fair run. Still none were more satisfied than New Zealand’s Andre Poutama, who finished seventh with Im Blue Double Dee, but accrued enough points to take the series from another Kiwi, Samantha Ottley. Poutama, from New Zealand’s North Island, went into the race with a 13 point lead and was desperate to avoid running in the last couple to jeopardise his chances of winning the overall series. Little Red Cloud grabbed Poacher (Aaron Bain) in the shadows of the post, with Condagen (Josh Duggan) third. Trainer Peter Walsh’s good run continued in the Lexus International Lady Drivers Invitational when Narissa McMullen led all-the-way with his pacer Essbee Doubleyou. The Queensland reinswoman took the son of Presidential Ball straight to the top from barrier nine where they dictated terms throughout. Rolling through the quarters in 27.1, 29.0, 28.5 and 27.4s, which resulted in a slick mile rate of 1:52.0, again proving the track was in fine order for the string day of racing ahead. Bathurst reinswoman Amanda Turnbull finished second with Medal Of Honour while the Tasmanian Kate MacLeod finished third with Ballochbuie. Harness Racing NSW

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