Luke Whittaker (left) and Nate Delany after their first career wins at Cambridge. Photos: Fokus Harness
A random Wednesday night meeting at Cambridge will quickly be forgotten by most, but it will forever be etched in the memory of two young drivers.
Luke Whittaker and Nate Delany, both 17, recorded their first driving wins on the card in vastly different fashion.
Whittaker drove second favourite Hot Flush to victory for his employer, Tony Herlihy, while Delany won with the rank outsider, Willedu, trained by Eddie Clarke.
Whittaker is a cantabrian whose family have a lot of skin in the game – his father Jeff is a longtime trainer and his brother Josh is also a junior driver and horse dentist.
He says initially he wasn’t going to follow the same path, until a trip to Westport a few years ago.
“I didn’t really have much to do with the horses growing up.
“I wasn’t doing anything with them until I started going to the Dunns and then went on a trip to Westport with Gavin Smith.
“I met up with the Dunns again after that and worked there for a year.”
When the opportunity to come north and work for New Zealand’s most successful driver presented itself, he jumped at the chance.
“When I was offered the chance to come up north to work for Tony, it was one I couldn’t refuse.
“He’s a great trainer and an even better driver.
“And the opportunity to meet new people and have new experiences was exciting, too.”
Whittaker has settled in well in Ardmore and says learning from an all-time great has been extremely beneficial to his driving.
“He’s a great man and I’ve already learnt a lot from him so far.
“I can’t thank him enough for the opportunities he’s given me.
“It also gives me a bit of confidence knowing there’s a bit of horsepower behind me.”
On Hot Flush, Whittaker said he didn’t have the choice between it and stablemate Machbrad (Tony Cameron), but with Herlihy suspended he was happy to be told he had a drive at all.
“Tony just put my name down and said I was driving the filly.
“It was a great feeling to repay that faith by winning, not just for Tony, but for the owners as well.
“Coming out of Auckland racing I thought she would be a good chance in that field and it proved to be the case.”
With that memorable first win out of the way, Whittaker is focused on getting more drives and become a better reinsman.
“The plan is to keep on improving.
“Whatever happens, happens and I will keep working away looking for that next opportunity.”
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Delany isn’t from a racing family, and says he didn’t go to High School, so when trainer Ray Green extended him a job offer a couple of years ago, he jumped at the chance.
“I started out helping Paulette Screen and doing Kidz Kartz.
“That’s where it all kicked off from; I didn’t have anything to do horses before then.
“I never went to school, hence why when Ray offered me a job, I took it.”
It’s long hours at Lincoln Farms, but Delany enjoys it and wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Ray never stops; he keeps trucking.
“But it’s alright there – it’s pretty laid back and a great place to learn.”
Delany, who is “going on 18” might well be New Zealand’s youngest breeder, thanks to the help of Lincoln Farms principal John Street.
“I’ve got a yearling Sir Lincoln filly and my mare just had a foal by Sir Lincoln the other night.
“John Street helps me out a lot and I’m very thankful for that.”
Delany can often be seen around the stables and trials helping out, and one of those he lends a hand to is Eddie Clarke, whose stable neighbours Lincoln Farms in Pukekohe.
“I help Eddie out here and there when I’ve got time and he’s been nice enough to put me on for a few drives.”
One of those was Willedu, who went out at better than $71 in the junior drivers’ event last night, but was rated superbly in front by Delany to get the spoils.
Less than a week earlier, the combination had caused a false start at Alexandra Park when Willedu ran under the mobile arm in the score-up due to being so fired up.
“He can be a difficult horse to drive, but lucks the name of the game and this time I got it.
“It’s nice to get the first one away, now hopefully I can keep them coming.”
Delany says he is appreciative to everyone who has supported him and given him opportunities to date.
“I’m very grateful to all the trainers that have given me a chance.
“I’m thankful to them, and my biggest supporter of all, my mother.”