The 23-year-old driver has four Group 1 victories in the last 12 months and nearly pulled off an upset in the inaugural $NZ900,000 The Race.
by Adam Hamilton
The deeds of Dexter Dunn and brothers Andy and Todd McCarthy are really starting to inspire a generation of young driving talent Down Under.
First it was gun NSW youngster Jack Callaghan to declare his wish to one day soon follow in their footsteps.
Now his off-track mate but on-track fierce rival, Cameron Hart, has shown his hand.
“Whether it’s in a year, two years or five years, I’ll definitely give the States a crack for sure,” Hart said. “I’ve just turned 23. How can I not look at Andy, Dexter and now especially Toddy, who I drove alongside so often, and think what it would be like?”
But for now, Hart and Callaghan, who looks like he may try his luck in the U.S. earlier than Hart, will continue to push each other and thrill harness fans Down Under.
Hart took his first “real” international step last weekend when he partnered with friend and big supporter, young Menangle trainer Jason Grimson, to almost snatch New Zealand’s inaugural $NZ900,000 The Race – Down Under’s first harness slot race – with Majestic Cruiser.
The recycled pacer endured a tough trip and still went within a neck of upsetting NZ’s best pacer, Self Assured, in a performance that both stunned and left many Kiwis wondering who Grimson and even Hart were.
“It wasn’t the first time I’d driven in New Zealand, but the other time was a few years back as a junior driver when I was really just starting out and hadn’t achieved much,” Hart said.
“Jason’s been such a huge supporter of mine. He and another (NSW) trainer Jarrod Alchin have been the ones who have taken my career to the next level over the past 18 months to two years with the opportunities they’ve given me on good horses and in big races.
“So, for Jason to back me in and want me to drive Majestic Cruiser and then for him to run such a big race … that was really satisfying.”
Just 48 hours later, Hart teamed with Grimson for their first Group 1 victory together when Ideal Dan won the $A100,000 Riverina Championship final at Wagga in regional NSW. It was special on so many levels because both young horsemen started their careers in the Riverina region.
“And we’ve been wanting and trying to win a Group 1 together for a while now. For me it was the best moment of my career so far,” Hart said.
“It was the same race night 12 months earlier where I won my first Group 1 on Techys Angel, but we were in lockdowns then and not many people got to the track. This time all my family were there and to get it with Jason meant so much more.”
It was Hart’s fourth win at Australia’s top level (Group 1) in the past 12 months.
He’s come a long way from the six-year-old kid driving in pony trots, to the 11-year-old driving trackwork and the early teen who actually thought about becoming a jockey instead of a driver.
“I’m still pretty small, but I was tiny back then and couldn’t put on weight no matter what I did, so there was a phase there where I thought about being a jockey,” Hart said. “Dad wasn’t keen and mum’s from a trotting family (her brother is successful Riverina trainer Trevor White), so they quickly pulled me back into the harness world and I’ve only ever wanted to be a driver since I was about 12 or 13.”
Hart didn’t waste much time chasing his dream, starting driving at 17 and moving to Sydney in pursuit of success in the big smoke before he turned 19.
“Uncle Trevor (White) was the first big influence, then came Shane Sanderson, who was training a team of 15 at Menangle and, after I called him a couple of times, gave me a chance by saying he’d help cover some of my living costs if I wanted to move to Menangle and try freelance driving,” Hart said.
“Shane had some nice Menangle horses and he was so patient as I learnt to drive on the (much) bigger Menangle (1400m) track than I was used to back home. I really learnt a lot in that time driving for Shane and because he trained at the Menangle complex, I made some important contacts as well.”
Sanderson then moved south to Victoria, so Hart went truly freelance and that’s when Grimson and Alchin emerged as training force and snapped him up as their stable drivers.
“Their rise to prominence has driven mine,” Hart said. “Jason’s had the most incredible past 18 months and Jarrod had a massive 2021 with his young horses and they both backed me all the way on their best horses.”
Hart won last year’s NSW State driving premiership and finished a close second to the champion Luke McCarthy on the Menangle metropolitan table. Callaghan finished second state-wide and fourth on the Menangle list.
“I’m sure if you ask Jack (Callaghan) he’d say the same, but I think it’s great we have both to push each other to get the best out of ourselves,” Hart said.
“Jack and I are just part of a great group of young drivers in NSW and the best part is, we’re all great mates and socialise off the track. You pinch yourself a bit when you look over and see so many of your young mates lining-up for the start of the really big races.”
RICHEST RACE IN THE HARNESS WORLD COMING TO AUSTRALIA
Australia is poised to host the richest harness race in the world.
In a gala launch in front of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge last Tuesday (April 20), the $A2.13million Eureka was launched.
It will be Australia’s first slot race and the first running will be at the spacious 1400m track at Menangle, an hour outside of Sydney.
Before the Americans start plotting how to snatch the riches, there are some important and restrictive clauses to consider, most notably the fact it is restricted to Australian-born pacers only. And even then they have to be 3- or 4-year-olds at the time of the race.
“The Eureka is unashamedly designed to grow the Australia harness racing industry. It is part of our ‘Advance Australia’ strategy to encourage owners and participants to buy Australian-born yearlings,” Harness Racing Australian chairman Graeme Campbell said.
“It will drive opportunities for local sires, generate external investment in the industry and identify new income streams.”
There will be 10 slots for sale at $A100,000 per slot.
NINE WINS ON ONE CARD SMASHES RECORD
Australia’s training and driving records were smashed to pieces last weekend.
In the most dominant display in the history of the sport Down Under, co-trainers Emma Stewart and Clayton Tonkin teamed with driver Mark Pitt to win nine of the 10 races at the feature Launceston meeting in Tasmania last Saturday night (April 16).
The only race they didn’t win was restricted to local horses only, so Stewart and Tonkin were not eligible to have runners.
Stewart and Tonkin’s nine wins bettered the previous record they shared with Shayne Cramp with eight wins at a single meeting.
Adding to the achievement, Stewart and Tonkin had just 10 starts on the night for the best possible result, nine wins and a second. The second came when they snared the quinella in the $A100,000 Group 1 feature Easter Cup with Longfellow and Like A Wildfire.
Pitt’s nine wins, the last of them on Captain Rival, was beyond belief.
With the average Australian harness meeting having about eight or nine races, the previous most wins at a single meeting by an Aussie driver was six wins.
“It’s hard to get my head around. Sure, I had the right horses from a great stable, but it rarely turns out that everything goes right in every race,” Pitt said.