It was a long way to go but was just the start of the journey for Wairarapa farmer David Buick as he won the first open shearing title of the new shearing sports season in the North Island in Gisborne on Saturday.
It was an 800km, 11-hours, one-day, round-trip for Buick, wife Rebecca, 15-year-old son Michael and daughter Gemma, 10, as they tracked Route 52, Weber Rd and State Highway 2 from their farm near Pongaroa in search of the $1000 winner's cheque.
But, more pertinently for Buick, it was a confidence-booster at the start of the five-months "long way to go" to the Golden Shears and the New Zealand Championships which in March will decide which two will make-up the machine shearing pairing in the New Zealand team for the World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships in France in July.
Importantly, the win, Buick's first in the Poverty Bay Shears Open final, was a comfortable one, by 2.8pts from runner-up and reigning world champion John Kirkpatrick, of Napier, while 2010 world champion Cam Ferguson, of Waipawa, was fourth.
A New Zealand team member in the UK during the winter, Buick is in his 18th season of open-class shearing and is one of the top contenders for world championships selection, despite having had to shear in the shadow of such prolific winners as now-retired Sir David Fagan, Kirkpatrick, and 2014 World champion Rowland Smith.
It was just his 13th win, his biggest having been the New Zealand lambshearing title in Fairlie last April, a month after being runner-up to Smith in the Golden Shears Open, but Buick is hopeful the long apprenticeship is about to bear fruit.
Turning 40 "a few days ago" he realises he's probably in his prime to attack the dream, and in the true camaraderie of the sport has talked it over with some of the best, including 2008 world champion and Taranaki farmer Paul Avery, whose feats also include completing the Coast to Coast endurance event in the South Island, and who told him he reckons he was at least 38 before he reached the mental toughness required for his world championships success.
Having already established his intention to do the miles, both on the day and in the fortnight beforehand, when he competed in the New Zealand Merino championships in Alexandra and finished runner-up in the New Zealand Spring Shears open final won by New Zealand teammate Nathan Stratford, of Invercargill, Buick looked the goods on stand four, doing his own thing as Ferguson dominated the action at the other end.
Ferguson, who had been fourth at Waimate and confirmed "the plan" to challenge for a world championships place after an absence from top competition, concentrating on the duties of solo-dadding and running his own shearing gang, incurred a couple of maximum penalties in the opening stages of the final of 15 long-woolled sheep each.
Thus he had to race to try to make up the deficit and completed the job in 14min 11sec – 57 seconds and a full sheep ahead of next-man-off Kirkpatrick, and 44 seconds quicker than when Smith won the event last year.
Smith was not in the 15-strong field on Saturday, but there was some success for the family when nephew and Golden Shears Junior champion Brook Hamerton made a successful step-up to win the Intermediate final by more than 3pts from runner-up and competition newcomer Kendrick Bradford, from Whangamomona.
Masterton shearer David Gordon won the Senior final, beating favourite Ricci Stevens by almost 2pts, and first-time competitor and Ruatoria shepherd Dylan Young won the Junior final.
Former World teams woolhandling champion Keryn Herbert, of Te Kuiti, and also in her 18th season of open competition, claimed the 42nd winner of her career at the top level by winning the open woolhandling final, in which local hope and 2017 world teams title winner Maryanne Baty, of Gisborne, was fourth.
It was an important win for Herbert to kick-start her bid for 2019 teams selection, Saturday's event opening the North Island preliminaries in a series to be decided at the Golden Shears.
Stevens again showed his versatility adding a senior woolhandling win to his senior shearing placing, and immediately passing the threshold for upgrading to open next season.
The junior woolhandling final was won by 13-year-old Cortez Ostler, of Dannevirke, and Willow Cottle won the novice final from a field of eight which included 10-year-old Gracely "Dolly" Ruru, of Te Karaka.