By Duane Ranger
Last season’s top Queensland junior driver is starting to hit his straps after a slow start to 2019-2020.
Matt Elkins has five drives at Albion Park on Saturday night, and all five geldings opened up fancied on the TAB.
The Donny Smith trained Slice Of Heaven (4) is a $4 favourite in the opening event, as is the Ron Sallis trained Burmach (2) in race eight.
The Smith trained Celtic Cruza (5) and the Sallis trained High on Montana (2) are both third favourites in races four and 10 respectively.
Elkins says the top horse he is driving at the moment is the Sallis trained Rich Virgin (4), who lines up a $12 shot in a field which has Glenferrie Hood a $3.20 favourite – despite starting from the outside of the front line.
“It’s a nice book of drives, Rich Virgin is a quality horse who beat Mattgregor a couple of starts ago, and he’s a very nice pacer himself,” Elkins said.
“Rich Virgin is a nice pacer who has won three of his last four starts and if he can get one shot at them, then he can go close again.
“I think his stablemate (Burmach) is my best winning chance on Saturday.”
Elkins has commented on each of his five drives below, saying he was happy with his 39 wins, 75 placings and $263,849 in 2019-2020, despite the average start.
“Things didn’t exactly go my way early on like they did last season, but just recently it’s started to come together again and away driving in New Zealand late last year also cost me a bit of ground,” Elkins said.
Elkins represented Queensland at the 2019 Australasian Young Drivers Championship in New Zealand from December 7 to December 13.
The Calvert-based 23-year-old was selected because of his personal best 110 wins last season, and was the State’s top junior reinsman in 2018-2019.
Six days after achieving his first century of drives in a season, Elkins won his first Group race behind the Jarrod Alchin trained My Ultimate Star in the Group 2 $50,000 Australia Pacing Gold 2-Year-Old Championship.
Elkins gave up a fledging cricket career to focus on harness racing, and he’s not only one of the best drivers going around in Queensland, but so is his girlfriend, Narissa McMullen.
“We are fierce rivals on the racetrack and sometimes might have a quiet little bet with each other,” Elkins said
“My driving is just starting to pick-up and now we are in tentative COVID-19 times.
“Life goes on goes thanks to Racing Queensland, but I have been staying at home and if there’s one good thing about that is – at least I’m saving money.
“Providing the racing keeps going, I’d like to think I can finish the season off strongly, I really look forward to Saturday nights at Albion Park – it’s the most exciting race-day of the week.
“And tomorrow night is no exception, I’ve got some nice drives and hopefully I can bag a winner or two for the owners, trainers, punters, and breeders.”
Here’s what the gifted reinsman had to say about his quintet of drives (with horse, draw, form, and opening odds):
Race 1: The Donny Smith trained SLICE OF HEAVEN (4) - 7739 - $4 loose favourite.
“Recent Redcliffe Trial winner having his fifth race back since August. This horse is going way better than what his form suggests and he’s just waiting for luck to go his way. He’s a good quality pacer when he’s right, and he’s at the stage now he just needs more racing. Last start he sat parked on a 1:52.6 mile rate. That should tighten him up nicely for this week. Deserved favourite who has been there and done that. Each-way
Race 4: The Donny Smith trained CELTIC CRUZA (5) - 76328 - $6.60 third favourite.
“Six-year-old gelding who is racing well and is knocking on the door. This is a tricky draw because even though I’d like to roll forward I know there is speed underneath me. I’ll go have a look anyway because this fella goes best when the speed is on. Each-way chance.
Race 5: The Ron Sallis trained RICH VIRGIN - (4) 51114 - $12.
“He is going well and is the best horse I’m driving at the moment. Beating Mattgregor is no mean feat and proves that he can beat this class of horse. I drew six and landed the one-one that night, and if the tempo is right here he’s well up to beating them again. Just needs luck.
Race 8: The Ron Sallis trained BURMACH (2) - 87461 - $4.20 loose favourite.
“He is entitled to be favourite. He raced real well last week when leading and if we can get to the top then I think he will be tough to beat again. He has the draw to get there early. He’s a likeable horse to sit behind and I think from the draw he is my best winning drive tomorrow night.”
Race 10: The Lacey Hinze trained HIGH ON MONTANA (2) - 46823 - $6 equal third favourite. “He has been going real well lately and isn’t far from a win. In fact Lacey’s whole team is going consistently well at the moment. I drove Wecanonlyhope (R3) to win for her yesterday at Marburg. I think High On Montana can go close again, especially from 2. Each-way.