By Duane Ranger
A Queensland Championship, a personal milestone, and a huge upset highlighted the meeting at Albion Park on Saturday.
Young drivers Isobel Ross, Hayden Barnes, and Justin Elkins all had three different reasons for celebration.
Ross was crowned the 2019 BOTRA Queensland Young Driving champion; Barnes notched up his 300th career winner; and Elkins steered a $151 fixed-odds outsider to victory.
Ross’s achievement was meritorious considering she only drove in five of the six heats due to a scratching.
Barnes followed up his 300th victory with Lincoln Road in race three, with win number 301 behind one of the best horses he’s ever driven – Northview Hustler in race five, the feature pace – the $22,000 Flashing Red Handicap.
Both pacers are former Kiwi imports who raced in Ray Green’s Pukekohe stable in South Auckland. They are now trained by Barnes’ father Al at Tallegalla
“I haven’t driven a Group winner yet but he and Trojan Banner are my best chances this season. They just have gears the others don’t have," he said.
“I’m rapt with the 300 wins. I would never have dreamt I would get that many when I first started out driving six years ago. I owe a lot to Dad,” 23-year-old Barnes said.
“If I can keep driving one winner a week I’m happy with 52 winners a season. My best is 74 three years ago,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ross’s three-point Championship victory came via wins in the first and second heats at Albion Park on Thursday behind the Peter Greig trained Ima Norma Jean and the Richard Hutchinson trained Recipe For Dreaming respectively.
“Even though one of my horses was scratched I was still fairly confident going into the last round of heats because I started so well. It was a real bonus to get the maximum number of points after opening night.
“This is a huge thrill. Even though I now live in Sydney to further my career, I will forever be a proud Queenslander,” 20-year-old Ross said.
Ross finished fourth in the third heat at Redcliffe on Friday night and Tell The Future was scratched half an hour later in Heat Four.
Heats Five and Six at Albion Park on Saturday night saw Ross finish second and third to round off the Championship with 59 points - three more than second-place Taleah McMullen and 12 ahead of Justin Elkins, who finished third.
Elkins wasn’t even fazed when the Warren Hinze trained Underthekilt won the seventh event at odds of $97.50 (TAB) and $151 (Fixed).
“I reckoned he was a $10 shot from that nice draw (2). I thought if we could hand up to a horse like Wee Jimmy we might be a chance, and that’s exactly what happened,” said Elkins who got the passing lane run with the 12th favourite (of 12).
Wee Jimmy and Narissa McMullen set a solid clip in front before Elkins and Undermykilt pounced late to win by 3.1m.
“I drove him two starts back at Redcliffe and he sprinted home well from three-back on the fence for third. He’s given me a nice feel every time I’ve driven him.
“In fact I’ve sat behind him four times now and he’s returned a cheque all four times. The Punters obviously didn’t see what I saw or felt,” said 20-year-old Elkins, who works full-time as an apprentice electrician.
But the ‘performance of the night’ came from the Barnes trained Northview Hustler in the Flashing Red Handicap.
The Bettor’s Delight gelding was having his first start in Australia after having won eight of his 41 starts in New Zealand. He also placed seven times and banked NZ$127,471 in purses.
“I only have one target for him and that’s the Group One Black’s A Fake in July. He’s a very nice pacer, but there’s still a heap of improvement left in him yet," Barnes said.
“He can only get better."
Northview Hustler and Barnes junior paced the 2,647m stand in 3:12.9 (mile rate 1:57.3) with 29.4, 29.4, 27.5, and 28.3 sectionals. He had 2.7m to spare over the Cristina Monte trained and Adam Richardson driven Saloon Passage.
The talented 5-year-old black was the $3 favourite.