Day At The Track

Whittaker the real deal

04:13 PM 14 Nov 2017 NZDT
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2017 Star Trek Final winner Whittaker with connections at Paceway Bathurst last Wednesday.
2017 Star Trek Final winner Whittaker with connections at Paceway Bathurst last Wednesday.

Whittaker, the classy New Zealand-bred four-year-old, has been creating headlines since his Aussie harness racing debut in late October, and he again provided plenty of copy options with a simply sensational effort in taking out last Friday’s Star Trek Final at Bathurst’s Group One Feeds Paceway.

Impressive heat and semi-final wins had ensured he would start very short despite a second-row draw over the sprint trip, but the manner of the win - dominant, arrogant even - left the season’s biggest crowd to date thinking they might just have witnessed something quite special, from a very serious racehorse.

Ashlee Grives had the $1.50 elect well away at release, settling mid-field in the running line, but with 1200 metres to go she sent the Sportswriter son three-wide around the field, and there he remained for the rest of the trip.

Along the back, Bernie Hewitt and leader Im With Lexy upped the ante with a 27.8 seconds quarter, as Whittaker made ground out wide, then these two singled out from the pack turning in, with Whittaker asserting his dominance half-way down the running to draw away by almost four metres for what might almost be called a “soft” win.

A final quarter of 28.1 seconds completed a 55.9 seconds last half and a mile rate of 1:54.8, good at any time but quite outstanding in the circumstances.

Grives revealed at the race presentation that trainer Mark Jones and owner Greg Brodie- in whose Courage Under Fire colours the four-year-old races - are setting him for the Chariots Of Fire at  Menangle next February. He’ll have some races there, on his home track, in coming weeks.

There’s a long way to go till that race and that sort of company, but the horse has been all quality in his runs to date and he looks capable of working his way to that level.

His driver graciously corrected her mistaken view from the previous week that the horse was named for a cage fighter, confirming that the Sportswriter son is indeed named after the late racing writer Bill Whittaker, a name that Greg Brodie apparently went to considerable trouble to obtain from the N.Z. authorities.

So Whittaker NZ is the real deal, in every sense!

The win concluded a wonderful week for Grives. She trained and drove a double at Menangle the previous Saturday with My Lucky Belle and Isle Of Man, then a few minutes later enjoyed watching her wonderful mare Ameretto, in the care of Kerryn Manning, take out another feature at Melton, rating 1:51 after working three-wide over the final lap.

She concedes, with a grin, that Kerryn Manning won’t be giving Ameretto back any time soon “without a custody battle”, and the same situation probably applies to herself and the driving duties with Whittaker.

Chris Frisby, proprietor of Bedwells Feed Barn, the sponsor of the Star Trek series, had a successful night, taking the minor place in the final behind Whittaker and Im With Lexy with Chittybangbang NZ, then following up with a win by Spare The Price in C3 grade.

The Star Trek Series marks the beginning of feature racing at Bathurst for the new season.

Another traditional series - the Soldiers Saddle, for C1-C2 up-and-comers - runs through till mid-December, to whet the appetite for the feature Boxing Night Carnival of Cups meeting, featuring the $50,000 Group 2 Shirley Turnbull Memorial, the McCarthy Memorial and the Western Districts Derby.

The Carnival of Cups rolls in to the western districts next Sunday, November 19, when Blayney conducts its feature meeting, highlighted by the running of the Bill Soo Memorial Blayney Cup.

Terry Neil

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