New Zealand trainers Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan pulled off the ultimate team work double at Addington yesterday.
The pair capped a wonderful last 14 months at the home of Canterbury harness racing when Merlin led throughout to win Garrard NZ Pacing Derby on Grand Prix Day a race after stablemate Duchess Megxit won the group 1 Ace Of Diamonds for juvenile pacing fillies.
The double the northern stable’s fourth and fifth major race victories at Addington from small numbers since October last year, having also won three Harness Million divisions with Merlin, Cold Chisel and trotter Southern Diamond.
That is even more incredible as the pair live in Auckland so Alexandra Park is there home track, Addington being 1000kms and an entire island away.
Hall Of Fame trainer Purdon says there is a reason good horses like Merlin can win the biggest age group races so far from home.
“It is a good horse’s track Addington so the creme often rises to the top,” says Purdon.
“He is a very good horse and so is the second horse (Don’t Stop Dreaming) so it was a good Derby.”
Purdon says much of the credit for Merlin’s win and the stable’s southern form lies with training partner Scott Phelan who has been training the southern assault force most of the spring.
“Scott has a done a great job with the boys so I wasn’t even going to come down to help but I did because we brought Duchess Megxit down and being a filly we decided to keep her away from the boys.”
So that meant the rare situation of both Purdon and Phelan being in Canterbury this last week but training different members of their team at two different properties, the boys at Jeff Whittaker’s stables and Duchess Megxit staying with Purdon’s brother Mark.
Ironically, Duchess Megxit beat one of Mark’s horses in Treacherous Baby in their $110,000 clash.
“She is a very good filly and we are confident she will go on and make an Oaks filly next season, she has that scope,” said Purdon.
As for Merlin he will be aimed at his first Australian campaign with the Chariots of Fire on March 2 potentially a stepping stone to the Miracle Mile a week later.
Zachary Butcher reined both Merlin and Duchess Megxit to win and almost pulled off a group 1 treble when his own filly Mantra Blue was nosed out by Aardiebytheseaside in the $175,000 New Zealand Pacing Oaks.
The Dunn stable captured two of the group 1 trots when Tyron Eros (juvenile boys) and Sunny Sister (NZ Derby) bolted in, the latter surely now winning Three-Year-Old Trotter of the Year after winning the Oaks last week
Little in the Trotting Derby went right for Victoria Derby and Breeders Crown winner Not As Promised as he was trapped wide for much of the race and still performed enormously for fourth, confirming he is the real deal.
Empire City confirmed herself our best juvenile trotting filly wining her group 1, We Walk In Faith was too good in the juvenile boy’s pace and Beach Ball continued his improvement curve to lead and easily beat Self Assured in the main pace.
After a day when the racing was a lot hotter than the weather, Oscar Bonavena may have earned himself NZ Trotter of the Year honours with a nail-biting win in the last, the $110,000 NZ Trotting Free-For-All.
He was denied the lead early by Majestic Man so trainer-driver Mark Purdon risked sitting three back on the inside with the $1.40 chance but he blasted up the passing lane to cap a remarkable comeback year.
The opinions expressed in The Forum are those of the author and may not be attributed to or represent policies of Harness Racing Victoria, which is the state authority and owner of thetrots.com.au.