Wow, how does a training strike-rate UDR figure of around 0.9407 sound? Absolutely staggering!
That’s the outstanding strike-rate that the recently formed training partnership of Jamie Pruden and Sophie Whittaker has achieved to date.
The Tirau-based pair have so far loaded away 15 greyhounds into the traps, resulting in 13 wins and two second placings from the greyhounds they have taken to the races.
Pruden and Whittaker have a really solid foundation to work from.
Mentoring them is Karen Walsh, herself an outstanding strike-rate conditioner in her own right, as evidenced by her high quality strike-rate training efforts over many seasons.
In fact, her current UDR figure sits at a very impressive 0.6961, the result of 17 wins and 12 seconds from the 34 starters she has lined up so far this season.
And then, there is backbone to the entire Tirau operation, Gary Harding, who is a renowned breeder of volumes of high-class greyhounds.
“I guess we couldn’t have scripted our start to training any better – it has been great,” expressed Pruden, who said he became involved in greyhound racing while working at the Clubhouse Bar at Cambridge Raceway.
“I worked there for around four years, and after a couple of years, I got interested in greyhound racing and got involved with the Peter Ferguson kennels, then Gary (Harding) offered me an opportunity.
“When Karen decided to step back, Gary came to us and offered us the opportunity to train. We can’t wait to get up to 50 starters (minimum required to feature on the Trainer’s Strike-Rate table),” advised Pruden, who has recently been announced as the November recipient of the $500 GRNZ Board Award which celebrates young achievers under the age of 30 in the industry.
Pruden admitted that he and Whittaker were surprised at the unbeaten seven-race winning streak that Thrilling Hallie has embarked on for them on flying through from C1 into the C5 chasing ranks.
“Very surprised that she kept on going on with it. I didn’t think she was the best of our four greyhounds. We are excited about Thrilling Tilda (two races for two wins), while Thrilling Rush has potential (four wins and two placings from six races).”
Meanwhile, Pruden indicates that the fourth member of their team, Thrilling Ralph, is about a month away from lining up. “He’s back in work and we will take him along quietly.”
The training partners have rightfully set some pretty big goals.
“We are aiming to train Group race winners. We will target Thrilling Hallie towards the Waikato Classic (January 12), then we’ll probably have some of the Addington Group 1 Restricted Age races on the radar.”
He then went on to add, “Training greyhounds of the quality we have certainly makes jumping out of bed easy to do our dogs.
“Big thanks to Gary and Linda, plus Karen, for the opportunity they have created for us. We certainly don’t want to let them down as we consider them the best in the industry.”
For Sophie Whittaker, a fleeting one week visit to catch up with a former Harding kennelhand, Glen Quirk, turned into an 11-year-plus stay.
“I was on a working holiday visa and knew Glen’s sister who I met up with Australia. I then came to New Zealand for what was going to be a week and I finished up staying when Gary offered me a job in the kennels while I completed a business degree at Waikato University,” explained Whittaker.
Covid-19 lockdowns was a tough period for her, with her family in England also caught up in lockdowns.
“I guess it was around three years before I caught up with my family again. Dad used to come down here every year. I eventually went back to England for a month in July to visit family. It strengthened my resolve to stay in New Zealand, especially as I now have temporary residency,” she advised.
“I guess our early success has been a bit of a surprise. It helps when you have nice young dogs with a fair bit of ability. It was nice for Gary and Karen to set us up the way they have and continue to provide good advice to us. We are very appreciative of the opportunity they have provided us with. We all work in together here – as far as I’m concerned, we’re all a team.
“It is very satisfying, the results we are getting with our greyhounds – they are doing everything right so far, although it won’t last forever. Yes, we’ll look at Group racing, firstly with Thrilling Hallie,” added Whittaker.
It sure will be fascinating to watch the race for the Trainer’s Strike-Rate title unfold, as potentially it could very well develop into a close, friendly contest for the balance of the season between the trio of Tirau-based conditioners.
New Zealand greyhound racing is currently blessed with numerous young upcoming trainers. Just take a look at last season’s Trainers Strike-Rate winner, 22-year-old Samantha Phillips, as a leading example.
And that talented pool of next generation young trainers are poised to maintain a high standard of greyhound racing in New Zealand for a very long-time to come!