Purdon-Phelan combo nab Grand Prix Group 1 double
By Michael Guerin
Northern 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 The Box Seat Ace Of Diamonds for juvenile pacing fillies.
The double is 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.
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 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 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 Tennant Engineering New Zealand Pacing Oaks.
In a race robbed of Millwood Nike, Mantra Blue was sent forward inside 800m and driver Tim Williams made the brave decision to hand up the front with he and co-trainer Steve Telfer both believing Aardiebytheseaside would be more potent following a helmet.
It proved the case as she dashed up the passing lane before just holding out a resurgent Mantra Blue with Kahlua Flybye in third in what was a triumph for Team Telfer.
Later this week Sunday’s Oaks foes will become partners as Butcher will team up with the Telfer-trained and Mike Tanev-owned Aardie’s Express in the Queen Of Hearts at Alexandra Park.
In the other juvenile races We Walk In Faith was fast and professional to lead, trail and passing lane in the juvenile boys pace, the Betavet Ace Of Spades, with the Southland challenge of Dreams Are Free blunted when he was beaten for early speed and left with little chance in a no-pressure race running on well for third.
The other pacing feature of the day saw Beach Ball continue his climb up our open class pacing ranks order when he led throughout to smash Self Assured in the $36,500 East West Fencing Summer Cup, one of two big wins on the day for Ricky May.
Beach Ball rated 1:54.4 for the 1980m winning by nearly five lengths confirming his Cup week form and suggesting he will now be a factor in any major race for new trainer Brendon Hill.