Rory McIlwrick has started training his own team this season.
Colourful southern personality Rory McIlwrick will break new ground at Invercargill on Saturday.
After topping last season's National Junior Drivers premiership, the Roxburgh-based McIlwrick has continued driving winners in the open ranks this term while also taking the first steps towards establishing a career in training.
In race four at Ascot Park on Saturday, Wolfenstein will be his first runner.
A three-year-old by Auckland Reactor, he is bred and raced by Central Otago couple Warren and Dale Clague.
“Geoff and Jude Knight broke him in and gave him his first preparation, then he came to me at Christmas time straight out of the paddock,” said McIlwrick.
“He's still learning, I'm still learning, we both need more experience.”
Standing to McIlwrick is the number of top southern stables he has had an association with through his career, such as the Williamsons and Graeme Anderson.
Of his ten winners as a driver this season, nine were prepared at Roxburgh by the Knights. The fledgling trainer is appreciative of their support.
“I can't thank them enough, they've helped guide me, I owe them a lot.”
Last season McIlwrick won seven for Greg and Nina Hope. Much earlier, an All Stars connection.
“I didn't work with horses till I was 14 and Mark Purdon was the first trainer I worked for.
“I was at high school in Christchurch then, when he was at Russley.”
Wolfenstein has won both his trials by a nose, the first from midfield, the second after leading all the way and qualifying in 3:03.0.
But his laid-back trainer is not getting carried away.
“He goes nice enough but this is step-up; as long he acquits himself well I'll be happy,” McIlwrick said.
And when it comes to happiness, it’s hard to beat the effervescent reinsman who names his most memorable moments in the game as the quality laughs he has with everyone.
While he rates his winning drive aboard Golden Gate at the 2016 Cup Carnival as right up there, McIlwrick recognises every win is special to someone.
“It doesn't matter how big it is, there are happy owners after every race and it’s good to reward the people who have supported you.”