By Duane Ranger
On a night when Stephanie Graham is supposed to be receiving presents on her 21st birthday… the Fernvale trainer will hand out a very nice gift of her own to one of her good southern friends.
It took New South Welshman, Jack Callaghan just two drives to win his first ever race. And now thanks to Graham’s kind gesture, tomorrow night it should take him no more than two steers to win his first race on Queensland soil.
The Morisset reinsman will have his first drive in the Sunshine State behind the Peter Greig trained Parisian Rockstar in race one (5.43pm) at Albion Park.
Then 30 minutes later he will get behind the Graham trained favourite, Big Bang Leonard, who is owned by Graham’s older sister, Brittany.
“Stephanie is a good friend and since I was coming here for her 21st, she asked me to drive her horse. I thought that was very kind of her.
“I’ve got four drives all-up thanks to Steph’s family’s friends and connections. Im grateful to all four trainers for the drives I do have - and I’ll be hoping to win four races,” Callaghan.
“This will be the first time I’ve driven in Queensland, and I’m really looking forward to going around Albion Park. Big Bang Leonard is my best drive,” the 18-year-old added.
Graham, who turns 21 on the day of the races, said Big Bang Leonard was in prime condition, and she was glad she could give her mate a drive while he was in town.
Callaghan flies in to Brisbane on Saturday and then will be back at his Morisset stable (30 minutes south of Newcastle) in time for work on Monday - with his father, Mark.
“Jack’s a talented driver, and the horse has been going real well lately. I hope he wins because it would be a great birthday present.
“Leonard went the best he’s ever gone last Saturday night. He shouldn’t have been able to do what he did last week, yet he still finished second,” said Graham.
If anyone can get the chocolates for Graham, it’s the ultra talented Callaghan. Driving at just his first meeting, the then 16-year-old junior driver won behind his father’s horse – Lethal Star at Newcastle Paceway.
That was July 15, 2018. Fast forward to September 1 last year, and Callaghan at 17 had became the youngest ever winner of the Newcastle Drivers' Premiership.
He turned 18 on September 20 – 20 days after the 2018-2019 season finished.
In his first full season of driving, Jack scored 46 wins at Newcastle, and a further four at Maitland, to also secure the Hunter Valley premiership.
"I was given a lot of good opportunities. A lot of big owners and trainers put me on, and I can't thank them enough," said Callaghan who has driven around 80 career winners.
Among those trainers was Jack's father, Mark, who is a former Newcastle Trainers' Premiership winner.
Callaghan was therefore born into harness racing and has been around horses since day dot.
He left Avondale School in 2018 in Year 11 to work full-time in his father’s stables. He began driving in trials in October 2017. He had gained his licence to drive in races in July of that year.
Callaghan, who does his homework, was then kind enough to comment about his four Saturday night drives (with trainer, draw, form, and opening odds) were as follows:
Race 1: The Peter Greig trained PARISIAN ROCKSTAR (6) 59994 - $31. “He’s a Rocknroll Hanover 6-year-old gelding who I haven’t driven before. He wasn’t beaten too far last start and it looked an improved run. He showed a bit of gate speed last time, but it’s not going to be easy getting to the front this time. This is a tricky draw. I like to do a fair bit of form on race-day or the day before. I watch replays and take note of sectionals. If this fella could sneak a place here I’d be more than happy.”
Race 2: The Stephanie Graham trained BIG BANG LEONARD (5) 33612 - $3.60 favourite. “Art Major 9-year-old, who is racing rally well at the moment. I raced against him a fair bit back home and I’ve noticed that he’s really thrived in Queensland. He’s a real credit to Steph, who has got him really hitting his straps at the moment. I’ll slide forward and try and get a prominent position. This is no walk in the park but I can see why he’s favourite. He’s my best winning chance on Saturday - each-way.
Race 4: The Adam Sanderson trained ARTISTIC SAINT (5) 71690 - $31. “Five-year-old whose form has backed off since he won well four starts back. He has jumped up in class from that win, so I’ll try and slot into a good position with him. Hopefully he won’t have to do much on a hot speed. If that’s the case, he can run into a place.”
Race 5: The Alex Johnstone trained CAMROLLER (11) 13600 - $21. “I watched the replay of his win at Marburg when he came from fair way back when the speed was on. I’ve driven him a few times at Newcastle and he’s gone well down there. Tough ask from the draw, but I think he can get closer to winning this time if the speed is on, because I know he can run on well. If he is close enough to the leaders on a hot speed I know he will be running on when it counts.”