OUR TERRITORY: Merbein South trainer and driver, Luke Watson, hopes to take six-year-old gelding, Brocks Territory into the final of the Mildura Pacing Cup next week. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By MITCH RODD

HARNESS racing veteran Luke Watson is all about quality over quantity.

And when the best pacers Australia has to offer descend on Sunraysia each April, the Merbein South trainer and driver said those victories are all the more special.

The annual Mildura Pacing Cup Carnival, arguably the most sought-after prize in Australian harness racing, takes place at City Oval on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday next week.

A $60,000 stake is up for grabs at the main event, with the Tasco Petroleum Mildura Pacing Cup taking place over 2600 metres.

More than $150,000 can be won on the final night, with $25,000 up for grabs in the Tenderprint Australia Cup, formerly known as the Mark Gurry & Associates Cup, and $14,000 in the Tankard Dental Mildura Guineas.

Heats to make these respective finals take place on Tuesday, for which  acceptances were being confirmed as the Mildura Weekly went to print.

Luke is a man who doesn’t know what life is like without horses. As the son of local trainer Ian Watson, he has become an outstanding trainer in his own right, grabbing 94 wins and 221 places from 774 career starts.

Luke and his wife, Kathy, also a trainer-driver, live and breathe harness racing. This love has been passed on to their eldest daughter, Sarah, who also lends a hand working in the family stables.

As an experienced driver, Luke has group race wins in Melbourne and Adelaide under his belt. He said, however, his successes in the Mark Gurry & Associates Cup that stay with him the most.

“I’ve had some good winners and won listed races, but the fact I’ve been lucky enough to train a winner and drive two winners in that Cup during the carnival ranks right up there for me,” Luke said.

“I’m in the sport more for quality than quantity. I want to win good races and drive with good horses.

“It’s all about family and supporting those who have been big supporters since I’ve started training.

“The Pacing Cup gets the best horses from around the country and is one of the most sought after titles in harness racing.

“It is extremely hard to win any race during the Mildura Pacing Cup Carnival, any success is well deserved. That’s why the Mark Gurry Cups are right up there for me.”

While Luke is expected to have multiple horses involved across the week of the carnival, his biggest hopes of making the Pacing Cup final rest with six-year-old gelding, Brocks Territory.

After joining the Watson stables in June 2018, Brocks Territory has won over $100,000 in stakes, including over $8000 in the 2190-metre Mildura Working Man’s Sunraysia Cup last August.

Three wins and an additional four places came in 13 starts before the gelding took a spell of almost four months from November.

The first three starts after the spell haven’t yielded quite the same results, however Luke said Brocks Territory is getting back to his best.

“He’s been a fantastic horse to train and drive,” Luke said.

“He hasn’t been in the best of form but he’s been starting to turn it around of late.

“He’ll have to perform well to qualify for the final but he’s the big hope from our stable.”

As a man with a passion for working with horses, Luke said the long hours, the hard yards and lack of sleep is all worth the effort.

“Everything here is family. Kathy and I train the horses ourselves, and our oldest daughter, Sarah, gets involved as well,” he said. “It just comes from wanting to get it done right.

“I’ve grown up being part of harness racing. My old man has trained for a long time, and I was training out of his stables until we moved out here on our own about 18 months ago.

“I don’t know what life is like without horses, without working seven days a week and getting up early every day. You need to have a passion for it and I’m lucky that I do.

“For me, it’s the love of the horses. They are nice animals to work with, and working with them is the backbone of everything I do. The racing is just something else on top.

“From a driver’s perspective, that thrill of being pulled along by 500kg of horse and being surrounded by animals on all sides during races is something you can’t replicate.

“It really is enjoyable for me and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”

The Mildura Pacing Cup Carnival commences on Tuesday night with heats for the Tasco Petroleum Mildura Pacing Cup, Mark Gurry & Associates Cup and Tankard Dental Mildura Guineas.

Marquee and dining packages are still available, with Saturday night providing the most options. Tickets into the night also allows free entry in karaoke after races.

For further information or to book, contact Michelle McGinty-Wilson on 0447 380 214 or email michellewilson@milduraharness.org.au.