By Garrick Knight
It wasn’t quite the perfect way for Jay Abernethy to reach 500 New Zealand driving wins, but it was the next best thing.
When American Me scooted up the passing lane to win at Cambridge on Thursday night, it brought up the milestone for the 36-year-old.
It was rather fitting given the relationship between Abernethy and the Manawatu colt’s trainer, Doug Gale.
“It would have been nice to do it on one of my own, because I’m on 199 training wins too,” he told HRNZ.
“But doing it with Doug’s horse was the next best thing because he’s given me probably 150 of those winners.”
Abernethy is what you might call a workaholic and the fact he still manages to travel to race meetings and drive 300 times a year only underlines the passion he has for the industry.
As well as training a team of 18 “mostly young ones” in the morning, he also works a full time job in the office of Abernethy Civil Contractors.
“The previous transport manager left in March and I started filling in to help out. I’m still doing it now, so there’s a lot on at the moment.”
Abernethy is also a breeder, the President of the northern branch of the horseman’s association, and sits on the national council, too.
For good measure he’s in the process of developing a new training and living base out in Hunua, a project that’s been a couple of years in development and is still progressing.
“We just got a permit for one of the houses so hopefully we can start on that after Christmas.
“We’re in no sort of hurry and are just taking our time.”
Abernethy owned the current stable property in Takanini with his father before selling to developers, like most trainers in the South Auckland region.
He found himself in that position, and as a trainer, after the death of his grandfather, Bill, in 2007.
At the time he was still a junior driver – a heavy burden to take on, but he’s risen to the challenge and has forged a living out of the game.
His driving numbers have remained steady throughout his career – always between 300 and 400 a season – and he usually recorded at least 30 winners a season.
That number has dropped in to the 20s the last three seasons, mainly due to Gale moving from Helensville to Bulls and reducing his numbers.
“Doug and Adrienne Matthews, they’ve kept me as their first choice driver on their teams and that makes a massive difference.
“Between them and my own horses, that’s most of what I drive every season now, but I’ve had a lot of support throughout my career.
“Everyone has been to me; I’ve been lucky enough to drive for a lot of people, including leading trainers, and that all adds up.
“To everyone that ever put me on, I’m grateful for that. I just hope the next 500 doesn’t take as long.”
Abernethy’s first winner, Campus, came at just his third drive, at Cambridge in July of 2002.
Interestingly it was former caller Terry Yule’s final race behind the microphone before current commentator Aaron White took over in the new season.