3 February 2012 - “You better check this horse’s brands, I think I was driving Smoken Up”. Nineteen-year-old Ararat apprentice plumber and harness racing driver Leroy O’Brien couldn’t believe how fast he just went on four-year-old Artiscape gelding Franco Noriega. With a smile as wide as the Sydney Harbour bridge, an excited O’Brien made the jovial quip to on-course vet Dr. John Brown as he took the winner to the swabbing box. The former New Zealand pacer had just clocked a track record 1:53.1 to win the first heat of the inaugural HRTC Rising Stars Young Driver’s Series at Lord’s Raceway Bendigo. “He went super, his (Albury) trainer John Scott told me he was quick, but this performance was unbelievable,” O’Brien said. Franco Noriega paced a champion’s mile rate to demolish Airzone’s 1:54.2 Bendigo track record in the 1650 metre penalty free pace for C1-C2 class horses. The distance was covered in 1:55.9 with Franco Noriega, given a perfect run behind the leaders by O’Brien before finishing off the last quarter in a slashing 28.3. The field of novice drivers burst through the opening sectionals in 27.2; 29.4 and 27.9.with Bendigo’s racecaller Lachlan McIntosh nominating that the winner was on target for a record performance going into the final quarter. Having his first Australian start and his 11th career outing, Franco Noriega started the $3.00 race favourite and defeated Waterslide (Casey Parker) by 10.4 metres, local mare Giggling Girl (Corey Bell) rounded out the top three finishers, holding down third place almost 20 metres from the winner, after being given a tough run without cover. Franco Noriega had shown ability in New Zealand with two wins and seven prize money cheques for the Steven Reid stable before coming to Victoria but his latest performances at Alexandra Park during December were obviously well below his best. Winning driver O’Brien is hoping he can put a notch on his belt by winning the Rising Stars Series. “I’m off to a good start and I’d like to draw another one as fast as him.” Points are awarded to the young drivers for each race in the Series, the next race is at Maryborough on 17 February with the Final at Bendigo on 19 February. O’Brien is from a trotting family, he has driven 15 winners and has been driving for close to two years. His father Danny O’Brien will harness up Windinyasoup in the Consolation Final of the Inter Dominion Trotting Championship at Tabcorp Park, Melton on Saturday night.
Points for Rising Stars Series: Leroy O'Brien (12) Casey Parker (10) Corey Bell (9) Denbeigh Wade (8) Emma Bowles (7) Charlie Martin (6) Ashley Manton (5) Mitchell Shrimpton (4) Aaron Woodhouse Ashby (3) Tim McLean (2) Jacob Kerridge (1) - David Aldred