Northern trainers Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan pulled off the ultimate teamwork double at Addington yesterday.
The pair capped a wonderful 14 months at the home of Canterbury harness racing when Merlin led throughout to win the Garrard NZ Pacing Derby on Grand Prix day after stablemate Duchess Megxit won the Group 1 Ace Of Diamonds for juvenile pacing fillies.
The two results were the northern stable’s fourth and fifth major race victories at Addington from small numbers since October last year, with it having also won three Harness Million divisions with Merlin, Cold Chisel and trotter Southern Diamond.
Hall Of Fame trainer Purdon says there is a reason why 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 cream 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 resulted in 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, 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 3-Year-Old Trotter of the Year after winning the Oaks last week.
Empire City confirmed herself our best juvenile trotting filly by winning her Group 1 event, We Walk In Faith was too good in the juvenile boys’ 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 Trotter of the Year honours with a nail-biting win in the last race, 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.
Michael Guerin wrote his first nationally published racing articles while still in school and started writing about horse racing and the gambling industry for the Herald as a 20-year-old in 1990. He became the Herald’s Racing Editor in 1995 and covers the world’s biggest horse racing carnivals.