Matty Williamson Joins 1000 Club

Matty Williamson Joins 1000 Club

Bruce Stewart

8th December 2021

Oamaru driver Matty Williamson reached a major driving milestone on his home track at Oamaru today with his three winners Shandon Bells, Count Eyre and Ariella, taking him to the magic 1000 mark.

Matthew Williamson saluting win 1000th Photo Monica Toretto

It’s a milestone only a handful of drivers reach, and outside of Clark Barron, Matty Williamson is only the second driver in the Southern region to drive 1000 winners.

Williamson comes from a family steeped in harness racing history with father Phil and mum Bev running a highly successful stable in Oamaru, whilst his two brothers Nathan and Brad are carving out their own careers as drivers and trainers.

Matthew didn’t feel school was for him and he left at an early age.

“I was very average. I went and tried but didn’t have the smarts there,” he said.

Surprisingly it took him a while to get the harness bug.

“I wasn’t keen early, and I was fourteen when I had my first drive on a racehorse. That hooked me. Once you get that feeling it’s hard to go back.”

Matthew took out his trials license in 2007 and in 2009 began his career as a junior driver.

In his first season as a junior he was associated with two good horses – Leighton Hest and Doctor Jock both trained by his father.

Doctor Jock won four of his sixteen starts and finished second four times and third three times. He ran fourth in the 2009 New Zealand Trotting Derby won by Ima Gold Digger.

“He was a really good horse and it was a shame that he broke a pedal bone. He was going to be a good Free for All horse.”

Phil provided twenty one of his twenty-seven winners in that season.

In all Matty drove 343 winners as a junior driver. One hundred for his father, eighty for Geoff and Jude Knight and twenty for Bruce Negus. And he said his father entrusted him with a bit of early fire power.

“He gave me a massive start. Leighton Hest came along in my first season. Fire power was the key to a great start.”

Leighton Hest with Matty on board won the Group One Four Year Old Ruby at Ashburton and the Group Three Four Year Old Trotters Championship at Addington.

“Most drivers are maybe lucky enough to get one (Group One win) in their life whereas I got one in my first season, so I was quite spoilt for horsepower.”

Veteran trainer Bruce Negus was also an early supporter of Williamson.

“He had the team at Waikouaiti then. I drove for him at local trials, and he started putting me on some of his good horses. He also had a big team then.”

Williamson also started to drive regularly for Roxburgh trainers Geoff and Jude Knight who outside of his father have provided him with his most winners so far – 181.

“I think I got a winner for them in my first season, and they started to put me on their horses more and more. They lobbied for me to get on the lot and their team got bigger and bigger, and we both ended up flying.”

The Knights also provided Williamson with one of his career highlights winning the Group One Four-Year-Old Diamond driving Pembrook’s Delight at Cambridge 2012.

In the mid 2000s he started getting more drives in Canterbury for the Hope stable, Nigel McGrath, and Brad Mowbra. In 2018 he started to get regular Southland drives for Hamish Hunter.

“I got on a few horses from small stables. Brad has been a great supporter of mine with good horses like Delishka, Sweet Mary and Tiger Thompson. The hardest part is the travel but you do get used to it. It’s like any job once you’re doing it, it’s okay.”

In recent years he’s ventured to Canterbury on a weekly basis and is now the regular driver for Trent Yesberg. He drove his first winner for Yesberg – Never Mind, in July 2019 at Ashburton.

Williamson says he enjoys the competitive nature of racing at Addington.

“You know when you’re in a decent field they’re going to come home in 56 or better so you have to be at the pointy end to get a dollar. The horses and the trainers have got so good that they (the horses) just don’t stop the same.”

He spends a fair amount of his time travelling south to drive in the province and not surprisingly his second ‘winningest’ track is Ascot Park (160) bettered only by Forbury Park (215).

Williamson has recently linked up with the Graeme Anderson/Mike Love stable and stable star Cantfindabettorman.

“He’s a really nice horse. I’m hoping he’ll measure up in that higher level. As you know Graeme always has some good horses coming through his barn and he does a particularly good job with them. Every time you put the colours on it’s a disappointment if you’re not in the first three.”

Cantfindabetterman returning after his win at Oamaru

He’s driven twenty-five winners for Anderson with the first been American Lightning in July 2018.

In 2019 Williamson was selected to represent New Zealand at the World Drivers Championship in Sweden.

“I loved that. Trip of a lifetime. I learnt a lot and it was good to be around great drivers and to see a whole different game like cold blooded horses.”

Matthew is also now into his third season training and currently has twelve horses in work at his base at the Oamaru Raceway. His first winner was Flossie at Ascot Park in June 2020.

“I’m really enjoying it to be fair. It suits our lifestyle now that I can organise my day around the family and get home earlier if I need too. I’ve got some good owners and some nice young horses so hopefully they’ll kick on.”

Williamson has trained nine winners from eighty eight starters.

“The next goal would be to train a nice horse and to drive the winner of a New Zealand Cup which would be a lifetime goal. It’s hard to get on one of those horses but hopefully there’s one pencilled in for me in the future.”

He trained his first trotting winner last month with Minnie McGoogan winning her maiden race at Ascot Park.

“I like training the trotters, having worked for Dad for so long – fourteen or fifteen years. But it’s an easier way to go when you’ve got that knowledge to help you.”

Minnie McGoogan

Matthew and wife Charlotte now have two children Sadie who is two and Layla whose eight weeks old.

“A big shout out to Charlotte for doing everything behind the scenes which allows me to go all over the country because she’s sorting everything out at home.”

Charlotte has also tasted success as a driver reining twenty-one winners as a junior.

“She’s hungry to get back into it at this stage. When you can do something and you’re watching everyone else doing it, it’s frustrating particularly now that we are training a few and other people are driving them.”

Matthew’s fact sheet:

Best season (wins): 2013 – 113 winners, 85 seconds and 96 thirds for $894,519

First winner: Springfield Tiz – Ascot Park Invercargill 24th August 2008

1000th winner: Ariella – Oamaru – 8th December 2021

Ariella and Matty Williamson – Photo Monica Toretto

First Group winner: Leighton Hest – Group Three Four Year Old Trotters Championship at Addington in March 2009. NB: He also drove Leighton Hest to win the Group One Four Year Old Ruby at Ashburton in his first season of driving.

Other milestones:

  • New Zealand Junior Drivers Championship: Third in 2011 and second in 2012.
  • New Zealand representative at the World Drivers Championship in Sweden in 2019.
  • Drove 343 winners as a junior.
  • New Zealand Junior Drivers Premiership winner 2013 (113)

Listed and Group winners:

  • Group Three Four-Year-Old Trotters Championship – Leighton Hest – Addington March 2009
  • New Zealand Yearling Sales Two-Year-Old Trot – Diedre’s Flash – Addington – May 2009
  • Group One Four-Year-Old Ruby – Leighton Hest – Ashburton – May 2009
  • Group One Four-Year-Old Diamond – Pembrook’s Delight – Cambridge 2012
  • Listed New Zealand Yearling Sales Two-Year-Old Final – Libertybelle Midfrew -Auckland April 2013
  • Listed New Zealand Yearling Sales Three-Year-Old Final – Luisanabelle Midfrew Auckland February 2016
  • Group One New Zealand Breeders Stakes – Luisanabelle Midfrew Addington April 2016
  • Group Three Southern Lights Trot – Monty Python – Ascot Park Invercargill March 2012
  • Group Three Central Otago Trotting Cup – Tiger Thompson – Omakau – January 2018

Pembrooks Delight winning at Cambridge

Other Southern feature races won:

  • Southern Lights Trot: Springbank Sam (2013)
  • Roxburgh Cup: Delishka (2018)
  • Equine Stakes – Winton: Pembrook’s Delight (2012), Cullen’s Mercy (2013) and Al Raza (2014)
  • Riverton Cup: Airpark Flyer (2018)
  • Southern Belle Speed Series: Pembrook’s Delight (2012)

Favourite tracks: Forbury Park (215), Ascot Park Invercargill (160) and Addington (136).

Four wins in one day (8):

  • Forbury Park January 2021 (Changearound, Tres Chic, Dem Bones Dem Bones and Boarding Call)
  • Invercargill – February 2020 (Savvy Bromac, Iwanadancewitsumbody, Love N The Port and Ultimate Stride)
  • Forbury Park September 2017 (Martin McGuinness, Articulight, Schnapps and Stylish Duke)
  • Oamaru – January 2016 (Boomer Bailey, Gene Time, Ottawa, and Stylish Duke).
  • Invercargill – May 2015 (Leonardo, The Badger, Zhenya and Danny Cool).
  • Wyndham – January 2014 (Expressionist, Machinegun Kelly, Galleons Triumph and Afellas Boy).
  • Wyndham – February 2013 (Royal Impression, Supersub, Monnay and Galleons Triumph).
  • Forbury Park – November 2011 (Flying Courage, Cutie Patootie, Two Wishes and Olgoldnblack)

Five wins in one day (2):

  • Gore – February 2020 (Monty Python, Robyns Shadow, Wolfenstein, Holy Havoc, and Indulgence).
  • Waimate – March 2017 (Silver Dale, Skylla, Seduce Me, Fiery Ferret and Whatasista)

The source:

  • Phil Williamson: 224
  • Geoff and Jude Knight: 181
  • Brad Mowbray: 46
  • Bruce Negus: 37
  • Hamish Hunter: 34
  • Graeme Anderson/Graeme Anderson-Mike Love: 28
  • Trent Yesberg: 19
  • Greg and Nina Hope: 14