Day At The Track
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Premier Victorian reinsman Chris Alford has put a more than adequate social distance between himself and his compatriots in this year's national harness racing drivers' premiership. Alford, based at Bolinda on the outskirts of Melbourne, is sitting on an incredible 202 winners. He got past the double century mark with two winners, Storm Cloud (Majestic Son-Cloud Chaser (Wind Cries Maori) and Sicario (Somebeachsomewhere-Bettor Than You (Bettors Delight), at Kilmore last Thursday. He then followed up two days later for trainer John Yeomans with a Cranbourne win aboard 3yo filly Theultimate (Art Major-Salix (By Xample). Under the regional zone racing introduced this month by HRV, Alford is restricted to the East division which includes just Cranbourne and Kilmore. The brilliant reinsman, who became the first in the sport in Australia to notch up 7000 victories when successful with No City Chick at Bendigo last August, recently posted that he was missing catching up with his fellow drivers and trainers. "Until we meet again, race safe and hard. And importantly be thankful that we can," he added. Alford holds a 30-win buffer over fellow Victorian Greg Sugars, who has jumped to 172 wins, aided by a haul of five winners at Melton last weekend. Ballarat rising star James Herbertson has topped the 100 mark for the second consecutive season. "Herbie", based at Lexton near Ballarat, is tied to the west zone which allows him to compete only at Stawell and Terang. The talented youngster guided four-year-old gelding Travel Bug (Dream Vacation-Tricia Powell (Sundon) to an impressive win in the Wheelie Waste Trotters Handicap at Terang last Friday for trainer Jason McNaulty. "He's a little gem of a horse. I've driven him a few times and I reckon I won on him at his first start as a three-year-old. It was nice to get the win for Jason," Herbertson said. "There was no big celebration with the 100th winner I got a chicken schnitzel on the way home and dad went for a hamburger!" he said. That’s 100 up for James Herbertson, with square-gaiter Travel Bug and trainer Jason McNaulty  Herbertson said while the zone racing had reduced his weekly driving engagements from around 25 back to four and five, he was thankful racing was still going. "That's the pros and cons with it. We've got our own team ticking along nicely and dad is enjoying a real purple patch. But then we are finding time to do a few more jobs at home on the farm, like fencing and catching up with jobs for the 5000 sheep we've got." Other Victorians enjoying a successful season include Kate Gath with 89; Michael "Bomber" Bellman on 72 and Jason Lee, 67. Queensland sensation Nathan Dawson is again hot property this season with 126 wins. While he's third on the national title, he again has the McMullen siblings breathing down his neck on the State premiership - Peter with 113 and Narissa on 101 wins. Paul Diebert is also looming, being on 98, while Grant Dixon has 86 and Adam Sanderson next with 71. Narissa recently reached a significant career driving milestone when she got up with Midnight Man (Village Jolt-Darkest Hour (Exotic Earl). It was her 900th victory. Over in the west, the "Voak Train", Chris Voak, and Ryan Warwick are locked in an enthralling battle. Only one win separates the tough competitors with Warwick holding sway on 124. Gary Hall Jnr is back on 107, Chris Lewis has 89, Aiden de Campo 70 and Michael Grantham 69. Poised to crack the ton are NSW pair Luke McCarthy, of Cobbitty, and Amanda Turnbull, of Bathurst, both sitting on 99 wins. Turnbull made a big charge late last week with four winners on her home track. Rob Morris, enjoying another great season, is on 96 with Todd McCarthy on 86. Stuck on 98 winners is gifted reinswoman Kima Frenning, who has been sidelined since a terrible fall at Melton about a month ago. The former backpacker, who got into the sport via Monte racing, suffered concussion and hand fractures. Frenning is expected to have a cast removed within a fortnight and will then start rehabilitation. She is hoping to be back driving in four or five weeks. In South Australia, once again brother and sister Wayne and Dani Hill are going "toe to toe". Dani is holding the narrowest of margins being on 93, just one ahead of Wayne. Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Energetic young Victorian harness racing reinsman James Herbertson sent records and personal milestones tumbling in all directions at the weekend. The rising star of our driving ranks travelled to the Wangaratta club's feature meeting of the season, the $14,500 Pacing Cup on Sunday, and it proved a memorable night of firsts. It was his first-ever visit to the track, so it was, needless to say, his first win in the popular Wangaratta Cup, and, in addition, the one and only time he's driven for much-travelled trainer Amanda Turnbull. And, into the bargain, the outstanding cup win was in record time. Herbertson is based at Lexton, 48kms from Ballarat but he's certainly a well-travelled teenager. "I've been to a lot of meetings, but never to Wangaratta," Herbertson said. "But it turned out to be great, although it was a long four-hour road trip to get there. The horse I drove jumped to the front and was always travelling well. He's certainly a nice type," he said. Think About Me (Christian Cullen-Our Imagine Me (Dream Away) had a seven-metre break on the line from runner-up Abitmorebliss (Ryan Sanderson) with a further three metres back to Brallo's Pass (Abbey Turnbull). "Amanda had the horse in tip-top condition, and the mile rate of 1.58-3 was a track record," Herbertson said. "Think About Me is racing in town next weekend and should do well." The victory was the third country cup for the youngster this season, having already won the St Arnaud and Stawell Cups with strong-staying pacer Emain Macha, trained near Naracoorte by Greg Scholefield. And at Melton last Saturday night, Herbertson also notched-up a special personal milestone when he was successful with Kasbah Kid - it was his 300th winner. "I'm not a goal-setter at all, but that was the number of wins I was hoping to get before I turned 20. It did put a big smile on my face," he said. And the young man, who has certainly been in a hurry since bursting onto the scene four years ago, had nearly a fortnight to spare, celebrating his 20th birthday on Saturday week, March 21. Kasbah Kid (Art Major-Kebbalah Karen B (Western Terror), trained by Geoff Webster, scored easily in the "Donald's Winners" on Facebook Pace. And wrapping up a successful three days, Herbertson landed Im Shadow Boxer (Shadow Play-Soho Diaz (Mach Three) at Horsham on Monday for his dad Ashleigh, who returned home with a training double as Foolish Pleasure (A Rocknroll Dance-Vouvray (Life Sign) won a heat of the Invitational Drivers series. Herbertson plans to soon take a break to Queensland for a few days after receiving a seven-day holiday, courtesy of stewards. "I'm suspended as of tomorrow so a trip up north sounds ideal. It's my second home because that's where I was born and Mum and Dad still have family and friends up there," he said. "A visit to Albion Park will be a must-but I'll only be a spectator." Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

He's rising star of Victorian harness racing ranks, but James Herbertson is certain to always have fond memories of the Horsham circuit in years to come. Herbertson, based at Lexton, near Ballarat, landed a winning double there on Monday afternoon -- and, perhaps more significantly, took his winning tally for a season to 100 for the first time. "It was good to get the monkey off my back," an excited Herbertson said. "I haven't had time to celebrate. I drove back home afterwards, and it's been business as usual at the farm with dad, along with more driving engagements," he said. The 19-year-old, who burst onto the scene with a win at his very first drive in March, 2016, has continued to raise the bar. He drove half a dozen winners in that first season, followed by 48, 62 and now 100-plus. Herbertson's Horsham double was in consecutive races with Image of Starzzz (Four Starzzz Shark-Illustrator (Artiscape) for the Tindale training team; and Our Supreme Girl (Union Guy-Quintessa Bromac (Holmes Hanover), prepared by Ken Dihm. "I get a great deal of support from a lot of trainers. You need this and I'm most appreciative," he said. Had Herbertson not ignited his driving career here so quickly and successfully, life's path may have taken him overseas working in harness racing stables. "I did get a taste of what it would be like over there when we had a family trip that took in Sweden, Austria and Switzerland in 2010," he said. "We won the trip in a trainer bonanza promotion that was conducted by the Cranbourne Harness Racing Club. "One of the highlights was meeting a track farrier at Solvalla, in Bromma, Stockholm, Sweden, who took us on tour. That was amazing. We were just so lucky." Herbertson said attending the Elitloppet, one of the most prestigious international trotting events in the world, was an absolute "eye opener." "It is so big. I'd compare it to like the Melbourne Cup, or perhaps bigger," he said. Solvalla opened in 1927 and is regarded as the biggest harness-racing venue in the Nordic countries, conducting about 80 race-days annually. Solvalla hosts the Elitloppet - which began in 1952 - on the last Sunday in May. "We just loved the people over there in those countries, but I really enjoyed Austria," Herbertson said. "I certainly left there thinking I wanted to return as quickly as possible. Just working in a stable would be invaluable. You would gain so much from an experience like that, but I had to put that on hold when things took off so quickly here." Herbertson said he had received interest over the past 12 months from a few top New Zealand stables. "That will definitely be something I will look at down the track, along with hopefully working for a stable in America. But for the moment everything is cruising along okay here."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

Ballarat-based harness racing young gun James Herbertson wasn't all that fussed about ever wanting to be a driver when he was a youngster. "I can remember always being around horses because my mum and dad (Jody and Ashleigh) had them, but I was never overly interested and certainly didn't have any aspirations of being a reinsman," he said. Fast forward six or seven years and we see the gifted and well-liked junior within striking distance of a remarkable 100 winners for the current season. The 19-year-old is sitting on 95 wins (six of these being metropolitan victories) with 190 placings from 720 drives - close to a 40 percent win-place ratio for the season. His numbers were boosted along by a recent haul of four wins - the first time he has achieved a quartet - at a Bendigo meeting. "I need to do something like that again to get closer to the ton in a hurry!" Herbertson said. The teenager is quite open that had it not been through the encouragement of a number of people, he may have been happy to just help out his father around the stables. "I certainly wouldn't have gone in as hard as I did, anyway, because the spark just wasn't there for me in the early days," Herbertson said. "It was probably Mattie Craven who was a massive influence. Mattie did a lot of driving for dad. He had that swagger about him, and I suppose I always thought I'd like to be a bit like him," he laughed. "Mattie is a lot of fun. Everyone is 'bro' and he's a pretty cool customer, but I learnt heaps by just watching him." Herbertson said he also had support from others, including his parents, grandparents and the other Craven boys. "But I did have a few battles with dad in regards to the pony trots!" Once he progressed to the senior harness racing ranks, the talented youngster became one of an elite group to make the dream start to his driving career by winning at his first drive. "Yes that was pretty special. It was in March, 2016, at Terang and I scored on Tearitup ($7.10), which was trained by dad," he said. Herbertson has continued to improve over the seasons since. He drove six winners and 12 places (47 drives) in his first year in 2015/16. The following season his tally increased to 48 wins, 69 places (385 drives) and then in 2017/18, he landed 62 wins, 152 places (655 drives). Educated at Ballarat's St Patrick's College, Herbertson is a fourth generation participant in the sport, following in the footsteps of his great grandfather Eric White, great uncle Merv White and his father. Herbertson regards a group one win at Melton as the highlight of his career but admits Lady Luck played a key role. "Stan Cameron, who's a trainer from Invermay (near Ballarat) started using me on his brilliant trotter Savannah Jay Jay when his regular driver Neil McCallum was badly injured in a car accident," Herbertson said. "I've driven him to his past four wins including the $50,000 Schweppes Australasian Trotting Championship at Melton in May this year. That was huge. "Prior to that I was also fortunate to get a drive on Upanatom for David Aiken. That's when I got my first metro victory. "I'm appreciative of the opportunities I get from trainers. I'm really very lucky." Last year the Herbertson family moved farms to Lexton, a small rural township, 45 kms up the Sunraysia Highway from Ballarat. "We're mixing a team of eight to 10 horses with 4500 head of sheep at the moment on 1500 acres. It's been full-on with the lambing, in conditions which haven't been ideal," he said. "Dad is most keen on the sheep. I don't mind fixing the fencing and some tractor work, but my passion is with the horses. "I suppose my goal has always been to drive 100 winners in a season, along with landing a metropolitan winner for dad, but I haven't quite done either, yet. "I really think it's going to be tight, but hopefully I can get to the ton over the next couple of weeks."   Terry Gange NewsAlert PR Mildura

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