Most drivers would dream of having a Group 1 strike rate that young Queensland-based reinsman Luke Whittaker can boast about.
Since relocating from his native New Zealand, the 22-year-old has driven 11 winners – with one of those being at the highest level of the sport.
It came at his first drive at the elite level, as well.
The Group 1 triumph occurred in the winter of this year behind star trotter Wee Man Trouble in the Queensland Trotters Cup – just the sixth victory in a race of Whittaker’s tenure living and working in Australia.
If he can continue his ratio of winners to Group 1 victories going for the rest of his career, then the emerging reinsman is certainly going to have a record-breaking time in the sulky.
“I just need to get on the right horses,” he said with a laugh.
The ambitious youngster has driven many more winners than his Australian Harness Racing profile details, estimating he would have just over 50 all up if his victories from back home were included.
A few months on from his red letter Constellations Carnival evening, Whittaker is still pinching himself that Wee Man Trouble – who was retired before returning to the track in stunning fashion – was able to provide him his maiden black-type victory.
“It was just one of those races when you are on the right horse, the horse is spot on and he had the right trip,” he said.
“He is a multiple Group 1-winner and he is a very good.
“If he was right then he would have headed towards the Inter Dominion this year.
“It was a great feeling to drive him on that night.”
While it is not a Group 1 event, Whittaker – like all the talented youthful drivers in the Sunshine State – will this week be aiming to collect points in the annual Queensland Young Drivers Championship.
The first heats are at The Triangle on Wednesday evening before the series turns to Albion Park on Friday evening and then on to Marburg for the last two heats on Sunday.
It is that time of year for the next generation in the bike after Brendan Barnes represented Queensland last week in the Australasian Young Drivers Championship in Victoria.
Whittaker is no stranger to these kind of series’, captaining the North Island team during the New Zealand Drivers Championships before he relocated to Brisbane to chase his dreams in the sport.
Whittaker – who works for leading Queensland trainer Shannon Price – thinks the annual Queensland Young Drivers Championship is key for the ongoing development of the sport.
“These young drivers, they are the future of the game and we really need to look after them,” he said.
“The game at times struggles to get young people in and then keep them there.
“Having this series every year, it showcases the young talent we have.
“Hopefully series’ like this can keep young people in the game and that’ll help the game going forward.”
Whittaker came to Australia searching for more opportunities and growth in the code he grew up around and after just over a year in the Sunshine State, he believes he has found what he was looking for.
He initially worked for Darrel Graham before making the move to the Price barn.
“It was about opportunities in Australia, I thought with a lot more racing over here I wanted to work my way in,” he said.
“There are just more opportunities here compared to the North Island of New Zealand, where they struggle for numbers with horses.
“I started in Christchurch and then went to Auckland and had a few years there before going to Cambridge.
“It just makes it hard racing once a week or two at best.”
He set himself up for a move across the ditch with a season of 26 winners on the North Island before relocating.
Whittaker had built connections in Australia before moving over, working for a stable that campaigned horses to Queensland four years ago, and they stayed at the Price stable during the trip.
“I have always been good friends with them following that and had good friends here in Queensland, through racing and being here,” he said.
“I always said to Shannon that at some stage I would love to come back to Queensland and work for her – and here we are now.
“It is five years later and I have driven a Group 1 winner for them.”
Whittaker grew up around the code with his father Jeff training, while his mother and twin sister are heavily involved in show jumping, with his brother an equine dentist.
Leonard Cain, Zac Chappenden, Taleah McMullen¸Lachie Manzelmann, Angus Garrard, Jonah Hutchinson, Chloe Butler and Justin Elkins – as well as Whittaker – are all set to compete in the series this week.
Two heats will be run on Wednesday evening on the Peninsula.
Whittaker has the in-form Living Free in the opener for trainer Ben Crosby and later in the evening he partners the Steve Benham-trained Doolittle Days.
He is hopeful of having a positive start to the series before the last four heats later in the week.
“Living Free has been going really good and I have spoken to the trainer about the race,” Whittaker said.
“He thought he would be a good chance as he has got good gate speed and his last three starts, he has good well.
“The other one I have in the series should go close, as well, hopefully.”
By Jordan Gerrans