Close adds NZ Junior Drivers title to record

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By Matt Markham, HRNZ 

Robbie Close is now just one final hurdle away from his own near-perfect season.

And you could bet your final dollar that the talented young horseman will be doing everything possible to overcome it.

Close added the McMillians New Zealand Junior Driver Championships to his impressive season haul last night meaning he is both the New Zealand and Australasian Young Drivers Champion in the same season.

But that wasn’t all.

Robbie Close, the Australasian and NZ Junior Drivers champion.

Robbie Close, the Australasian and NZ Junior Drivers champion.

In winning the final of the three heats of the night’s competition on Friday, July 16, on Pammy’s Boy, Close not only secured himself the championship, but brought up his 100th career driving win in the process.

And he was pretty chuffed about both.

“It’s a pretty awesome feeling to win my 100th race, but to do in these circumstances just makes it even better,’’ he said.

But while the titles and accolades are all great, Close knows he’s got one more major assignment to tick off the list before the season ends and that’s getting his name at the top of the junior drivers premiership – a spot currently held by Stevie Golding.

After Closes’ victory last night the margin is three with Golding picking up a winning double.

“It’s going to be tough to peg Stevie back, but things are going pretty good so I’ll be giving it my best.’’

Heading into last night’s competition Close wasn’t all that confident of his chances.

He picked up a vital third in the opening event of the night on The Persuader before sitting out the middle leg due to not being allocated a drive due to low numbers.

In Pammy’s Boy, Close knew he had a horse capable and took luck out of the equation by sending the Murray Edmonds trained trotter straight to the front and dominating from there on.

“It’s really nice to be able to achieve all this on one of Murray’s horses.

Fair Dinkum Bromac,in winning form for the Mark Jones stable in a NZ Junior Drivers Championship Heat at Addington on July 16.

Fair Dinkum Bromac,in winning form for the Mark Jones stable in a NZ Junior Drivers Championship Heat at Addington on July 16.

“Murray really supported me early on in my career and gave me a lot of drives so it’s fitting.’’

Brad Williamson made the play early in last night’s competition by winning the opening heat on board the Greg and Nina Hope trained Western Art after a well thought out and perfectly executed drive.

He beat home defending champion Michelle Neilson who pulled out all stops on Nui Toc Tien but just came up short in what was an all-South Island dominant with the first six placings going to the six Mainland representatives.

The result was almost perfectly reversed in the second of the three heats with Tony Cameron producing a peach of a drive on Fair Dinkum Bromac to get the Mark Jones trained pacer home past the post first.

He beat Michael Blakemore (Best Defence) and Jack MacKinnon (Scanreco Bay) with Neilson’s fifth placing on Alexy shutting out a North Island clean sweep.

The result left the competition up in the air heading into the final race but Close produced a cagey drive to get the chocolates on Pammy’s Boy – narrowly beating home Kyle Marshall (Blue Don) and MacKinnon (Visualise).

Close finished with 34 points, well clear of Neilson and MacKinnon who tied on 27 points.
Neilson got the nod for second placing overall on the basis of finishing second in the opening heat.

The other major prize of the night – the North v. South challenge was claimed by the South Island side who won with 147 points to the North’s 137.

Individual final points table:

1 Robbie Close 34
2 Michelle Neilson 27
3 Jack MacKinnon 27
4 Brad Williamson 26
5= Michael Blakemore 25
5= Kyle Marshall 25
7 Tony Cameron 24
8 Matt Purvis 21
9 Kimberly Butt 20
10= Ben Butcher 19
10= Stevie Golding 19
12 Dylan Ferguson 17

South Island 147
North Island 137