Emerging talent Andre Poutama is hoping his ''busy'' night at Auckland tonight is a sign that more northern trainers will give him a go now he is the Australasian Young Drivers champion.
Poutama, 22, has had only four previous trips to Alexandra Park, making the long drive north from Palmerston North for one chance in the cart each time before jumping straight back in his car and heading home again.
But tonight, just a couple of weeks after winning the prestigeous juniors' series in Australia, he comes north with three drives, all fair chances, and a mind set that he could be on the verge of making it in a game he once gave away.
Poutama was stoked when Pukekohe trainer Revell Douglas called to ask if he would drive Valentino Rossi and Star Monarch at Auckland, then he picked up a third drive on Peter Fraser's Miss Firefly.
''I do most of my driving around Manawatu, I hardly every go anywhere else,'' Poutama said. ''I'm trying to get more drives up there but it's hard because no-one knows who I am, I'm not related to anyone famous, there are no other Poutamas in racing, and I don't know a lot of people outside of my area.''
Poutama said he was keen to build up his contacts but was wary of ringing up for drives and stepping on other drivers' toes.
''It was a big achievement just making the Young Drivers' Finals considering what I had to do to get there, driving to Cambridge and Auckland every week.''
It took a toll on Poutama physically as well considering he had to drive back home straight away to work horses the next morning for his boss and uncle Stephen Doody.
Poutama has done it tough since he gave up training greyhounds in Christchurch, where he worked for Craig Roberts for nine years, and moved back to his home town to give harness racing a crack.
''I didn't think I was going to make it. For the first two seasons I had only a handful of drives and I was going to give up, I couldn't see how I could make any money doing it.''
Poutama did not renew his licence and started working for leading greyhound trainers Lisa Ahern and Brendon Cole and that's where it might have ended had Cambridge driver Todd Mitchell not been banned in March, 2012 for high bicarb readings.
With Mitchell out, local harness trainer Jazz Tanner lost her race driver and Poutama first answered her SOS to drive fast work in the mornings, doing her horses at 5.30am before starting with the greyhounds at 7am, then agreed to get his licence back to handle them on racenight.
''I wouldn't have got back into harness racing without that,'' said Poutama who has now driven 41 winners, 21 this season, placing him third behind Sam Ottley and Sailesh Abernethy on the national juniors' ladder.
Poutama's achievements were fresh in the mind of Douglas when he started looking for someone to pilot Valentino Rossi in tonight's junior drivers' race.
And knowing Poutama had driven a lot of trotters for Doody he was happy to also offer him the chance on the talented but unpredictable Star Monarch.
''I've never met him but he's doing a good job and deserves the chance,'' Douglas said.
Valentino Rossi has drawn the pole in the opening event tonight from where he should get his chance to follow the speed, the faster the better, according to Douglas.
For a horse who was bought off the scrap heap with a tendon problem by Cameron Mackie for just a couple of thousand dollars, he had done a terrific job earning $9000 in the last few months, he said.
But Douglas is even more hopeful that Poutama can keep Star Monarch trotting in race six, the only thing that has stopped him from winning more races in just his four-start career.
The son of former good trotter Starcus was relegated for galloping right on the line in his second start at Cambridge last September and has made mistakes when prominent in his last two starts at Auckland as well.
But Douglas has changed the horse's shoeing, putting more weight on his toe and fitting double trailers behind to give him more confidence when trotting at speed.
And, more importantly, he has freed the horse from lower back pain in his sacroiliac, spending $1000 on shock wave treatment, massage therapy and special treatment by all-conqeuring trainer Geoff Dunn and his magnetic ball.
''I drove him myself at the workouts last Saturday and he trotted all the way and hit the line really well (albeit for a distant third).''
Douglas said Star Monarch could begin like a rocket and would be a better chance than his odds might indicate tonight.
That's a rap that New Zealand's fastest junior miler Poutama is happy to hear. He knows he won't be going at the same speed that saw him win over a mile at Menangle in 1:52.8, but just driving again at Auckland, where he has already saluted in the famous Barry Purdon colours, is enough.
He still loves his dogs - and has eight pups being educated in Christchurch - but the thrill of winning in the cart is a bigger lure.
- Fairfax Media
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