Driver Grace Panella.
THE 2022 season has been career-defining for up and coming Hunter Valley driver Grace Panella.
Panella represented New South Wales at the Australian Driving Championships last Saturday night at Globe Derby in Adelaide, which was taken out by Victoria’s James Herbertson.
Despite finishing 16 points in arrears of Herbertson, Grace managed to pick up a winner in the series when Leer scored in the eighth heat for trainer Brent Lilley.
Panella’s state representation highlighted an already impressive season in the gig as she has driven 55 winners to date, more than double her previous best of 25.
“It has been a great time for me, that’s for sure,” said Panella.
“I always aim to better my score from the previous year and having more than doubled that figure with four months remaining is humbling.
“The call-up to represent New South Wales was a great honour and a career highlight.
“The experience over in South Australia is something I will never forget and, hopefully, I will get to do it again in the future.”
A product of the Hunter Valley Mini Trotting Association, this is not the first time Panella has represented her state.
In 2018 she was selected to contest the Mini Trotting Inter Dominion at Melton, proving how beneficial the pathway through the pony trots can be.
“I competed and came through the mini trots from an early age,” she said.
“I feel that it does give budding drivers a great footing to progress into harness racing.
“And I guess I was fortunate enough to be afforded those opportunities to compete at the top level with the mini trotters.”
Panella has a quiet night at Newcastle in comparison to her usual busy schedule at the International Paceway with only two drives there tonight.
Her first drive is aboard La Sabina for Clayton Harmey in the opening race.
Drawn wide in gate eight, La Sabina is a former Kiwi entire that has only had two starts in Australia and is yet to score.
From the unfavourable draw, Panella believes that La Sabina is a good each-way chance but does concede that he will have his work cut out.
“He is a lovely horse that has plenty of ability,” she said.
“The awkward draw will make things tough, but if we can get into the race at some stage, he is definitely capable of figuring in the finish.”