A HARNESS racing season filled with highs hit another one on Saturday night for young Charlton driver Ryan Sanderson.
The 18-year-old collected his first Group 3 win with a victory aboard the Jason McNaulty-trained Travel Bug in the $24,000 Aldebaran Park Touch Merchant Trotters Free For All (2150m) at Lord's Raceway.
The first of four Saturday night metropolitan meetings to be run on regional tracks this month turned into a showcase of Bendigo region talent.
Aside from Sanderson's success with Travel Bug, Heathcote's Tayla French scored a winning driving double on a pair of former horses for former Bendigo trainer Chris Svanosio in She Will Rock and Brandlo Prince, while the trainer-driver combo of Julie and Glenn Douglas capped a big few days on Victorian tracks with a double with Vandanta and the long-shot Toby O'Gara.
The Douglases nearly made it a treble, with the in-form pacer Torrid Saint finishing a neck in second place behind Western Sonador in a cracking NR 88 to 105 pace.
Also unlucky not to have joined the winners' list was Charlton trainer Greg Norman, who had to settle for a second with Apieceoflou in the smart three-year-old's first start back in Victoria after stints in South Australia and New South Wales.
But it was Norman's fellow Charltonian Sanderson, who garnered plenty of the attention, producing a brilliant drive aboard the consistent five-year-old Travel Bug to land his first Group 3.
The teenager, who only arrived in central Victoria with his parents Shane and Naomi and younger sister Abby in March, has since ticked off his first country cup win at Ouyen, his first metropolitan success at Melton and his first Group 1 race drive, and now his first Group win.
Nothing could wipe the smile of the supremely talented youngster's face when he fronted the cameras on Trots Vision post-race.
Despite the presence of a quality field of trotters, Sanderson said he always felt like he was a winning chance in the running.
"He travelled nicely the whole way and I just thought if I could get some clear air early enough, he would run home really good," he said.
"He was lucky enough to get up on the inside of Kate (Gath on Majestic Courtney) and he stuck on; he just didn't get tired.
"He's just an ultra-consistent horse and has been running in those really good races week-to-week up against those really good free for allers.
"I'm super proud of him, he just shows up every week and is always an honest horse.
"He can follow any speed and, if they go a bit quick up front and get tired, he just keeps plugging away and that's when he gets them.
"He's not to bad in front, but he's definitely awesome in the sit."
Travel Bug, who started his career under Anton Golino, before making his way to Shaun McNaulty at Marong after six starts and later his brother Jason at St Arnaud, has now won 12 of 43 starts and been placed 11 times for $97,318 in earnings.
Saturday night's win was the gelding's biggest to date and his second in 15 starts this season, following his success in the $14,500 Wedderburn Trotters Cup in January.
Sanderson, who has quickly racked up 29 winners in his short time in Victoria, described his first Group 3 as 'amazing'.
"It's always good to win these races and with that horse it's probably even more special. I'm just really happy," he said.
Travel Bug - a $48 chance - had put the writing on the wall with four placings and two fourths from his previous six starts, the bulk of them at free for all level at Melton.
Sanderson only took the reins on the gelding three starts ago, steering him into a third and a second before last night's win.
It continued an amazing week for the family, with his 16-year-old sister Abby scoring her first career win at Maryborough last Monday at drive number three.
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