Jason Tan - Trackside Presenter
The amateur drivers course is a must for those remotely interested in harness racing. It is a very professionally run course that delivers an intense hands-on experience from learning the basics of gearing up a pacer, to driving a number of different horses on track. Even for the person that has had little to do with standardbred horses in the past, this course offers fun and the opportunity to feel and experience driving in the sulky. It also gives one a massive insight and appreciation into the skill and talent required to be a successful harness racing trainer or driver - outstanding!
Karen Hollander - New Zealand Amateur Champion 2005
I have been interested in harness racing for years through racing horses in syndicates and breeding. It was always a dream to be able to be more involved in the industry so when the first amateur drivers course was offered it was my husband Steve who booked onto the first course. After watching him from the sideline and in a supporting role around the stables, Steve suggested that I do the course as well. I completed the amateur course, drove the 10 novice races and sat my time trial all in time to begin the series in September 2004. I had to obtain a license to train as well so that we could train our amateur horses at home.
The things that I love about being involved in amateur driving is the comradery amongst the drivers along with the competitive nature of our races. There is a lot of trust between you and your horse and when the mobile gate takes off and you are sitting behind a horse, the speed and adrenaline rush is immense. Being able to drive at Addington and Alexandra Park and not looking from the sideline is a buzz and you really have to pinch yourself at times.
We have a lot of fun during the series and everyone is very supportive of each other. We also have the opportunity to drive against International teams and I recently enjoyed that experience driving against a team from the USA and Wales. Travelling to International locations to compete is also readily available. In July our first series against Australia will take place in Queensland in a series of races just before the Bledisloe Cup.
My biggest achievement is winning the New Zealand Amateur Championship in my first year of driving and going to the World Championship in Austria to represent New Zealand.
George Simon – Trackside Presenter/Commentator
I was one of the lucky ones who were invited to participate in the very popular Personality races back in the early eighties and they were always a lot of fun.
We even used to have a race solely for race commentators on Race Callers Night staged by the NZ Met at Addington many moons ago! I actually won one of these but that is a loooonnnng story...... Unfortunately some party pooper thought these races were too dangerous so a rule was passed banning the staging of them (Bugger!).
So when the Amateur Drivers concept came up I was into it boots and all, as my appetite had been whet.
Why do I take part? Quite apart from the thrill of winning, I reckon I get more enjoyment out of just competing.
Over the years we have driven in some appalling weather conditions yet chances are everyone out there still has a smile on their dial afterwards, regardless of winning, losing or drawing!
I enjoy all the good-natured banter before the race too as then everyone starts giving each other the "stare".
I reckon I've wasted many a good night's sleep by mulling over in my head race tactics, only to find the actual race turning out to be completely different to what I thought it would be.
As I've often said to those who haven't yet driven in an amateur race, it's the most fun you'll ever have with your clothes on!
I wasn't built to be a jockey, (yes I know you find that hard to believe!) but the amateurs allows me the opportunity to get the colours on and get out on the track and drive.
That takes a lot of beating, I kid you not!
Sheldon Murtha - Global Harness Racing Producer/Presenter
Being so popular throughout Europe and North America meant it was a "no brainer" that amateur harness race driving would be a similar success in New Zealand, it just needed someone with suitable enthusiasm to get it rolling.
Ann and Steve Phillips are therefore responsible for one of the most exciting initiatives to come to the sport down under.
Amateur driving gives harness racing another major participation edge over thoroughbred racing. Not many in their right mind can walk off the street and find the right stuff to consider riding a racehorse, but driving a racehorse? Now that's a possibility.
In fact, any sport loves a cross section of enthusiasts and participants. The first amateur drivers race I lined up in pitted a grand mother against an insurance broker versus a scrap metal dealer and a lawyer clashing with a television presenter against an accountant! The grand mother won!
Amateur race driving comes with an across the board satisfaction guarantee. Whether it's a regular run around at the Saturday afternoon workouts or the highly competitive provincial, national or international championships out of town or overseas. It also provides an appreciation for the subtleties of racing in regards to the horse's fitness and welfare, their training programmes and ultimately driving and race tactics. You will never truly "bag" a trainer or driver again!
I can't recommend, "giving it a go", enough!