‘Huge thrill’ as Oamaru reinsman posts 1000th NZ driving win

Oamaru’s Matthew Williamson celebrates his 1000th New Zealand driving win, on his home track...
Oamaru’s Matthew Williamson celebrates his 1000th New Zealand driving win, on his home track yesterday. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE
Family and friends watched as Matthew Williamson joined the elite group of reinsmen to have won 1000 races in New Zealand when he drove Ariella to victory on the track where it all began, at Oamaru yesterday.

A winning treble of typically confident and pinpoint steers put Williamson’s name alongside New Zealand’s greatest drivers when he became the 26th and the third-youngest to join the select 1000-win club.

To do it on his home track where his career began added to the occasion.

"That definitely made it special," he said.

"The locals were all there and they were loving it.

"It couldn’t have worked out any better doing it at Oamaru. It was a huge thrill.”

There have been many thrills in the career of the first Otago-based driver to have won 1000 races in New Zealand — among them vctories during the World Drivers Championships in Sweden and group 1 wins with Leighton Hest, Pembrook’s Delight and Luisianabelle Midfrew.

Williamson’s fans were left gasping when the Graeme Anderson-trained Ariella knocked off when clear in the lead in race 10, leaving onlookers worried an epic moment might be taken away from the driver simply because the horse lost concentration.

But as he has done so many times before, Williamson had the situation under control.

“I was thinking ‘what is she going to do here? This isn’t ideal when you are on 999.’

"She put them away really easy and then she shut up shop, but luckily she is a classy filly and she went again.”

Williamson reached 1000 wins thanks to three horses from blue-and-gold country and, appropriately, two were trotters.

The reinsman went to 998 wins in New Zealand with Shandon Bells, trained by Oamaru’s Chris McLeod, after taking her around the field in the middle stages in race 5.

Another trotting win brought up win 999 when Williamson again used positive tactics to push Katiki Beach trotter Count Eyre to the lead before he controlled race 8.

That took Williamson to 361 trotting wins in New Zealand — a big chunk of them coming from parents Phil and Bev Williamson.

“A big thanks has to go to Mum and Dad for getting me started. I wouldn’t have got where I am without their support and their tutelage.”

Though Williamson has had the advantage of being able to drive in a lot more races than drivers of yesteryear, he has had to drive himself every kilometre of the way to get there.

Based in Oamaru, where he grew up and learnt his trade from his esteemed trotting family,

he has spent big hours on the road, often driving himself or the family’s horse transporter.

Life has only got busier for the horseman who is now training a team at Oamaru racecourse, too.

“It is busy, but it is good having great staff who are helping with the stable when I am away for the day driving.”

"Barry White and his partner Teria McKay, and our stable employee Brooke Fodie hold the fort down which is great.

“Steve Allen has been great to me as well and he has been a big part of our family’s lives.”

Williamson spends the rest of his time with his family.

Wife Charlotte and daughters Sadie and Leila were at Oamaru earlier yesterday to support the reinsman before it got late in the day and the girls needed to head home.

"I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing without Charlotte’s support.

“She is a great driver herself, but she has sacrificed that for our family.”

“It is busy, but I try to spend all of my time with her and the girls when I am not driving or working the horses.

“Family is the most important thing in life.”

If normal transmission continues, brothers Nathan and Brad Williamson will make their way into the 1000 winners club next.

Nathan has 865 wins in New Zealand while youngest brother Brad has driven 372 winners.

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