Aiken makes a special return to the winners circle

Josh Aiken made his long-awaited return to the sulky in emphatic style when he steered home Maoris Mac to success in the Haras Des Trotteurs Nutrien Equine Classic Final for three-year-old trotting filles on Saturday night.

Josh Aiken with connections of Maoris Mac.
Josh Aiken with connections of Maoris Mac. Picture: HRV

The 30-year-old hadn't prepared a winner since 2018 or driven in a race since June last year, but piloted the squaregaiter home at long odds of $23 with the TAB.

"It's a good feeling, it's very pleasing to get a winner for (owner) John (McHugh). I was probably a bit more nervous about the training side of things," Aiken said.

"You want your horse to go well on the big nights and to perform to their ability. I was more nervous about the preparation than the drive."

Aiken has been left to mind the family's Avenel stable while his mum and dad, David and Colleen, return to New South Wales for a change of pace.

A legendary trainer-driver in his own right, David is always on hand to give a helping hand.

"Our philosophy is to make sure they are always healthy, to make sure they are looked after and not to overdo it," Josh said.

"We sort of prepared her to get better with every run and you just hope that when you get to the big night the timing is right and everything goes to plan. And on Saturday, everything worked out."

The filly out of Maori Daunou was buried away four back on the pegs before Aiken found some room and pulled three wide coming into the final turn.

"The draw wasn't ideal (eight)," he said. "Before the race and in the race she felt super.

"We just needed a bit of luck, and between that 600 and the 400 we got that bit of luck. She still had to be good enough to run past some really good horses who had their chance to win."

The adrenaline rush of winning a race for McHugh, who has been around harness racing in Victoria since the Showgrounds days, is the biggest thrill of all for Aiken.

"I really enjoyed Saturday night, it was a great thrill. But I think it was the circumstances that sort of made it so special," he said.

"Talking to John, it was his biggest thrill in harness racing in 60 years. That's quite special."

Aiken and Maoris Mac will next head to Sydney for the NSW Trotters Oaks on May 4.