07 December 2017 | Ken Casellas
Twenty-six-year-old Rebecca Bartley is the youngest driver in the $1.1 million TABtouch Inter Dominion championship final at Gloucester Park on Friday night and she will be handling San Carlo, the least-experienced runner in the Group 1 feature over 2936m.
San Carlo gave a powerful frontrunning display to win a 2536m qualifying heat last Friday night and Bartley is confident the Victorian-bred seven-year-old will be strongly competitive in the biggest test of his short career.
San Carlo was considered almost a hopeless case as a young pacer and he did not race as a two and three-year-old before making his debut as a late four-year-old with an easy victory in a $3000 R0 event in Bendigo in June 2015.
He has blossomed since then for Steve O’Donoghue, a trainer from Kialla in the Goulburn Valley, and he goes into this week’s final with an impressive record of 21 wins and three placings from just 27 starts, all of which has seen Bartley in the sulky. His winning record of 78 per cent is bettered by only one of the other nine finalists — the champion New Zealander, who has an 82 per cent winning record.
Bartley and O’Donoghue never lost faith in San Carlo despite his wayward behaviour as a young horse.
“He was really immature as a youngster and we couldn’t work him out,” said Bartley. “He kept galloping in his trials, at the start and in running. Finally, we just chucked him out with the broodmares. We didn’t really think much of him.
“He came back into training as a four-year-old and his work became better. He’s pretty quiet, but is still a bit of a funny horse and every now and then has a brain fade. He’s probably more like a thoroughbred than a standardbred.
“Small tracks are still a bit of an issue, getting him around the bends. But he was a lot better last Friday and he hit the line really well. The distance of the final will really suit him.”
Bartley was born and bred into harness racing. Her father David used to train a small team and her parents encouraged her through pony trot ranks until she gained her A grade licence to drive at 18. She has driven 298 winners and will become only the second female to drive in an Inter Dominion championship final at Gloucester Park. The previous female to drive in an Inters final in Perth was Kellie Kersley, who drove Norms Daughter into fifth place behind the winner Young Mister Charles in 1996.
O’Donoghue is thrilled to have a runner in the final, saying: “We’re stoked. We were excited to be just part of the series. San Carlo was at No. 43 in the early rankings and when he got to 30 to gain a start we weren’t thinking about making the final. It’s just a bonus.”
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