THEY have proven themselves on tracks across the Western Districts, but now young drivers Justin Reynolds and McKayler Barnes are set for a different challenge when they tackle this week's New South Wales Rising Stars series.
Oberon native Reynolds and Bathurst-based reinswoman Barnes have been named as Western Districts' two representatives for this year's edition of the Harness Racing New South Wales series.
This series gives drivers from across the state who are still forging a career in the gig a chance to test their skills in heats staged over five race meetings.
It commenced on Tuesday, visits Bathurst, Penrith and Newcastle across the next three days then will culminate on Sunday when they drive as part of a bumper Menangle Park program that includes the Breeders Challenge finals.
Nineteen-year-old Reynolds was practically born into the world of harness racing, with his father David a trainer.
Not surprisingly, he said his father has been the biggest influence on a career which has seen him notch up 20 victories thus far.
While Reynolds took part in the 2018 Rising Stars Series, he was unable to land a winner. Now he has earned selection in the state event once more, that will be his target.
"It'd be nice to get a winner this time around," he laughed.
"I drove in it last year. I'm less nervous probably; I sort of know what it's all about now.
"It was a great experience just travelling around and getting to know a heap of different trainers ... getting horses you know nothing about before and driving them was just a good experience.
"Driving at Menangle is pretty cool - it was good last year too. I ran third in the final day on Im Kool Harry."
On Wednesday night when the Bathurst Harness Racing Club stages the second round of heats, Reynolds will drive Express Pass for Nathan Turnbull and Convair Hustler for Amanda Turnbull.
Both are in handy form, coming off the back of second placings in their last start, but Reynolds will be challenged by tricky draws.
Express Pass will go from barrier eight and Convair Hustler from four in their respective 1,730 metre contests.
"[It's a] Bit of luck of the draw sometimes," Reynolds said.
"Nathan's horse went pretty good at Cowra [on Sunday], it flew home to run second, just a bad draw hurts him a little bit here.
"Amanda's horse has been racing in great form, but drew four which is probably a bit tricky."
Barnes, who will steer Peter Keogh's Four Starzzz Chef and Katie Jenner's Ill Be A Lady at Bathurst, is also taking part in the series for a second time.
While the 23-year-old has a handy resume - she's steered 53 winners including taking out the JC Caffyn Memorial - she was surprised she got the nod to be a Rising Star once more.
"I didn't actually think I'd get picked because I thought I was too old," Barnes admitted.
"Turns out it's my last year, so that was a bit of a surprise.
"I hope I can bring it home [at my] home track."
Barnes does her regular driving for Peter Bullock and said one of the reasons she enjoys the Rising Stars Series is that is gives her the chance to sit in the gig behind different horses from the teams of different trainers.
On top of the driving, she also enjoys that taking part in the series involves spending time with more experienced members of the industry and receiving media training.
"I know I won't drive the horses I know, so it's hard to learn what horses are what and what their tricks are," she said.
"Just shuffling around at different trainers and everything as well and if you're better on the little tracks, you can try the little tracks, so it works out both ways for each driver. It's great just to get experience and meet new people as well like junior drivers and see their perspective.
"We go out to [trainer] Steve Turnbull's on Thursday and we are doing a bit of media work in front of cameras. It's just not all about the driving, it's about the publicity stuff as well."
Like many more experienced drivers, Barnes is keen to add to her tally of wins and one day hopes to have a Group 1 success on her resume.
While Reynolds, Barnes and their fellow Rising Stars will get plenty of benefits out of the series, acting as a host for two heats on Wednesday brings with it benefits for the Bathurst Harness Racing Club as well.
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BHRC's Marianne Donnelly has seen many young drivers thrive after their experience in the Rising Stars Series and believes that initiatives like these are an important part of the industry.
"I think it's an attraction for the race meeting, so I think it gets a few more people to come to the harness racing meetings to watch the younger generation," she said.
"We really like supporting the young drivers coming through and we just try to show them a good time at Bathurst and we always give them a memento from the club so that they remember their stay at Bathurst and hopefully they'll come back and drive again sometime.
"It's important to support young drivers coming through and we do our best.
"I think it's helpful for boosting their confidence. I've seen that with the Rising Stars over the years that they have to go speak to trainers they don't know from areas they don't know and I think it's a really great experience for them.
"They also do public relations training as well during the experience, and they do team bonding and I think it's a great thing for them."
The first of the Bathurst Paceway hosted heats of the Rising Stars Series on Wednesday will jump at 5.07pm with the second to follow at 6.14pm.