The Vicbred Super Series finals have closed the harness racing calendar in this state through recent seasons, but it’s time for the sport’s brightest young stars to bring in the new year with a bang.
The Group 1 VSS showdowns were moved from New Year's Eve to September in 2023, with the popular December 31 meeting at Melton Entertainment Park to now be headlined by a series for drivers under the age of 25.
The inaugural Young Gun Series will be battled out by Victoria's top eight under-25 drivers based on wins this season to December 15, with "wildcards" awarded by Harness Racing Victoria's Integrity team to two participants who have excelled while meeting a range of criteria relating to behaviour and presentation.
The 10 drivers will compete in eight ratings-exempt races through the course of the night, with a sliding points scale based on finishing positions used to declare an overall winner.
HRV's Community Engagement and Development Partner Kima Frenning said a huge opportunity had been created with the Vicbred Super Series' shift away from New Year's Eve, a night which regularly attracts a large crowd to Melton for the races, on-track activities and midnight fireworks display.
"Melton is predicting to get around 8000 to 10,000 patrons there on New Year's Eve," Frenning said.
"We thought this was a great night to elevate our young drivers and allow them to drive in front of a big crowd.
"These people are the future of our sport, and we want this night to be seen as a reward for their hard work and dedication throughout the course of the season."
James Herbertson, Jack Laugher, Ryan Sanderson, Taylor Youl and Declan Murphy are among the leading Victorian drivers under 25 in 2023 and shape as key contenders for the Young Gun Series.
Frenning said plans were in place for a range of on-course activations and an elevated TrotsVision broadcast on the night.
"The broadcast will alternate between studio and front-of-house to bring a racing element to the crowd without taking away the atmosphere of the DJ and lawn activities," Frenning said.
"This will shine the spotlight on our young drivers and expose them to an audience that might not be rusted-on harness racing fans."
HRV's Drive for Life program was established this year to support participants and help foster long careers in harness racing, and attendance at these sessions is crucial to being considered for a Young Gun Series "wildcard".
Drive for Life manager Jennifer Lewis said feedback from recent driver training sessions showed that young people wanted more opportunities to compete at big meetings.
"This night will deliver that opportunity," Lewis said.
"Although for many of our young drivers this is not new, for some it will be a fantastic first experience.
"It might also allow young drivers to build relationships with trainers they may not have had a chance to drive for before."
The final field of drivers for the 2023 Young Gun Series will be announced on Monday, December 18.