Hackett's fairytale win with Mach Shard

My Michael Guerin

The fairytale story behind one of the greatest upsets in New Zealand racing is even more outrageous than it looks at first glance. Which is in itself hard to believe, because it seemed pretty crazy as it was happening.

The cold hard facts are 20-year-old junior driver Crystal Hackett stunned the harness racing world by steering Mach Shard to win the $110,000 Fawson Harford Taylor Mile at Alexandra Park on Friday night at $155 on the tote.

She came from last on the nine-year-old, free-legged pacer to roar past New Zealand’s two best pacers Don’t Stop Dreaming and Merlin, paying the highest price in a Group 1 New Zealand harness race in decades, possibly since the current Group race system came in.

That Hackett could win a Group 1 comes as no surprise as she has become a darling of northern harness punters in her short career. But on Mach Shard? Beating two superstars whose combined ages aren’t as old as him? From last? In a Taylor Mile? In beggars belief but that is just that start.

Mach Shard has spent much of the last three years in Sydney being handy but hardly outstanding and he returned home to race until he showed trainers Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan he didn’t want to be a racehorse any more.

Clearly, he still wants to be a racehorse.

He had been good and sometimes really good since coming home but he hadn’t been come-from-last-in-the-Taylor-Mile good. Not many horses are ever that good.

But back to Hackett.

When Mach Shard first won a Group 1 it was March 10, 2017. Hackett was 13. That a then 13-year-old girl would drive Mach Shard to win his New Zealand Group 1 is, well, just about the most unlikely thing you will read this racing season.

As stunned as Hackett was on Friday she was just as stunned by a call four years ago.

She had spent two weeks in her school holidays back then working for Purdon and Phelan and was stoked by the opportunity.

“Then out of nowhere Barry called me and asked if I wanted to come to the workouts and drive a couple, just for experience,” she remembers.

The former Kidz Kartz star turned up expecting to be on the sort of old galloping pacemakers they give youngsters to drive at the workouts but Purdon said she could drive “Shardy.”

“I couldn’t believe it. I had barely ever driven a pacer because obviously Mum and Dad (trainers Michelle Wallis and Bernie Hackett) mainly train trotters,” says Hackett, “so here I was at the workouts having my first drive for Barry and Scotty and it was a pacer and an open class one.

“I couldn’t believe it and I was only 16 and still in school.”

But Shardy soon disappeared to Australia and Hackett ended up working full time for Purdon and Phelan. She still does. So her new found favourite horse was gone and this story could have ended there.

Mach Shard came back though, just not back Hackett.

Until Friday night she had never driven “Shardy” in a race and even then she only got the drive in a roundabout way.

Champion driver Tony Herlihy was suspended so couldn’t partner stablemate Sooner The Better so Phelan jumped across to him and the stable decided to reward Hackett’s hard work and devlopment with a 100-1 drive in a Group 1.

“I was so happy to get the drive but I didn’t really think he could win,” says Hackett.

“He had been going some really good races but I knew I’d have to go back and hope for luck so I did that and tried to follow Better Eclipse for as long as I could.”

Hackett did that until “Shardy” got sick of following Better Eclipse and decided to run clean past him. And everybody else.

“It was pretty amazing, first to win a Group 1 and then to win it like that.

“Obvously Merlin is our stable star but from what I could see we beat him fair and square.”

Hackett’s previous career highlight was the Group 3 Breeders Stakes and she says the only thing that could top Friday night would be driving a Group 1 winner trained by Mum and Dad.

“But this is so close to that because Barry and Scotty have been so good to me and they and the owners have given me so many opportunities.”

So how does the new glamour girl of New Zealand harness racing celebrate?

With a flight. Hackett is off to Victoria on Saturday, taking her smiley face and obvious talent on tour for five days based with the Alfords to get some more Australian experience and hopefully make the most of her concession driving claim.

She will be back by next Friday. And she better be because it looks like she might have a drive in the Group 1 Messenger.

This time it won’t be paying $155.

 

 

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