by Duane Ranger
On a night when Tamborine trainer, Grant Dixon, won the three big races, it was one of his drivers that stole the individual limelight on the last night of the 2019 Summer Carnival at Albion Park on Saturday.
Former Kiwi and now Fernvale based horseman, Adam Sanderson, drove his first Group One winner behind the Dixon trained Wee Man Trouble, in the $50,000 Darrell Alexander Memorial Trotting Championship.
The 5-year-old Superfast Stuart gelding was one of eight (half the field) that Dixon qualified for the Egmont Park Stud-sponsored 2,647m stand.
“I got to pick my drive, and I always thought Wee Man Trouble was a good winning chance, especially from the draw and especially if he did things right at the start. He had two seconds going into the final, and before that raced at Gore in New Zealand.
“I’m super proud to have won my first Group One behind a Southland horse. They breed ‘em good down there,” Southland-born Sanderson said.
Sanderson shot Wee Man Trouble straight to the front from gate one, and after leading early handed up to stablemate, Reign On Me soon after.
They sat in the trail throughout before pouncing late to beat one of the favourites, Gee Up Neddy, by half a head. Wee Man Trouble stopped the clock in 3:19.4 (mile rate 2:01.2) with the following sectionals: 30.8, 30.4, 28.6, and 29.3.
It was the bay gelding’s seventh win in 31 starts. He’s also placed five times and won $82,845 in purses. He is owned by Raboki Pty Ltd, and was bred by the Smolenski family in New Zealand.
“I’m really grateful to Grant and Trista for the drive, and especially thankful to Shannon (Price), because I’ve done a bit of driving for Raboki over the years.
“It’s still starting to sink in, but this is why we all drive. Ever since I first started out driving horses back home in Invercargill, I’ve always dreamed of driving a Group One winner. I just want to thank everyone who has helped me along the way.
“You never stop learning in this game. A big shout out must go to Kirk Larsen in Southland. He was the one who taught me how to drive,” Sanderson said.
Up until 9.30pm on Saturday the 30-year-old had won several Group Two, Three, and Listed events, and also placed in Group Ones since relocating 2,500km from Invercargill in New Zealand’s deep south to the Sunshine State in 2013.
He drove 67 winners, 139 place-getters and banked $426,734 stakes in five-and-a-bit seasons in his homeland.
"I think I've driven almost 800 career winners all-up. I'm not exactly sure because I'm not too big on stats. I just look at each meeting as it comes, and on Saturday the Group One was the big lure," Sanderson said.
“I’ve been getting quite a few drives for Grant and Trista lately and that’s been a real bonus. He’s not the leading trainer in Australia for nothing and its an honour to drive for him,” the former Southland Boys student added.
Five races earlier, Sanderson also won behind the Stephanie Graham trained and Brittany Graham owned Big Bang Leonard.
“It was a night to remember and hopefully the next Group One won’t take a decade. I love it over here and also enjoy training my own small team. I’m a big fan of the heat. We don’t feel it that much in Invercargill,” joked Sanderson.
Dixon paid a tribute to South Auckland (Waiuku) horseman, Bernie Hackett, for Wee Man Trouble’s close victory.
“I think the result might have been different had it not been for Bernie. He gave me some real good advice on the horse’s shoeing when I was over there, and the adjustments worked a treat. Bernie and his wife (Michelle Wallis) only train trotters and what they don’t know about them isn’t worth knowing.
“This was their victory as well,” Dixon said.
Australia’s best trainer – Dixon – cleaned up on Saturday night winning both Group races and the inaugural running of the 2019 Bill Dixon Pace.
Bill Dixon’s daughter-in-law, Trista, who only gave birth to her third son (Cooper) on November 27, was delighted to have won her first race back in the sulky behind the Dixon trained Virgil.
“He’s a very nice 3-year-old we got from New Zealand. This was just his third race over here, and I’m so proud to have won the race for Bill, especially in close to race record time.
“Bill did so much for harness racing in this State and throughout Australia. The horse felt good in front and was travelling nice throughout. I’m proud and very happy,” Dixon (Trista) said.
In fact, the Dixons ran one-two in the $21,000 Bill Dixon. Governor Jujon (Grant Dixon) stormed from back in the field to get within a short half-head of his stablemate.
The Dixon stable also nailed the $50,000 Group Two Queensland Cup with their current Queensland Horse-of-the-Year Colt Thirty One.
It was a phenomenal performance to hold out Bad Billy by half a head, considering the Mach Three entire only travelled back from New Zealand on Tuesday, and then had to float from Sydney to Tamborine the following day.
“That was a gutsy win, considering this race was never really on my radar. Kevin suggested he line up, so I took a punt.
“He’s a lovely horse who will start against all the good Free-for-Allers here and down south next season. It’s just a shame I gave him a tough run in the middle heat of the Interdominions.
“I think that took a bit out of him, but he responded really well tonight,” Dixon said.
The Seymours, who sponsored the Queensland Cup have now given $6 million to Queensland harness racing over the years.
“We love harness racing and looking back are very proud at what we have achieved and what we have given. It makes racing very interesting when you have a real good horse to follow around.
“The main aim for Colt Thirty One now is the 2020 Miracle Mile in March,” Seymour said.