Day At The Track

"Herbie" has his sights set on a magical 100

04:00 PM 16 Aug 2019 NZST
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James Herbertson,Harness racing
James Herbertson with bay gelding Vuitton after his maiden win at Ballarat. Vuitton is owned and trained by Ashleigh

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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