Thornley has treble as Millwood Nike goes 15 from 15
By Michael Guerin
Where there could have been nerves for young driver Olivia Thornley on Thursday night there was only belief.
And Millwood Nike didn’t let her, or the punters down, with a winning resumption at Addington on a night where the only harness star to shine brighter was Thornley herself.
The 23-year-old reinswoman was handed the hottest sulky seat in harness racing when she was asked to drive Millwood Nike in her Nevele R 50 Years of Success heat as co-trainer Mark Purdon and logical back-up Blair Orange were suspended.
Thornley is no stranger to Millwood Nike, having driven her to win her first two races but the expectation on the superstar filly is so much greater now, going into her comeback race on 14-straight wins.
“I know there was some pressure there because you don’t want to be the first driver to get her beaten,” admits Thornley.
“I suppose I could have been nervous but I knew what I had in front of me.”
Punters wouldn’t have been so calm as rival driver Carter Dalgety did every thing he could to beat the $1.10 favourite as Sweet Coco led and latched on, seemingly having Millwood Nike off the bit at the 350m. We should have known better.
Once the field straightened and Millwood Nike got balanced Thornley asked her for her best and she changed gears and gathered in the leader easily, going away at the line.
“I can see how she might have looked in trouble but she gave me a great drive, she just relaxed outside Carter’s horse.
“When I asked, she knew what to do.”
So Millwood Nike is 15 from 15 and will head to another Nevele R heat at Ashburton before the Final on Cup Day and then maybe two races ending her season in the NZ Oaks.
Thornley won that race last season on No Matter Wat, who has just been retired.
“To get another drive on this girl so close to No Matter Wat being retired was very special.”
The whole night was special for Thornley as she also drove Chase A Dream to win his Woodlands Sires’ Stakes heat and Waterford to win the Dunstan Horsefeeds Fillies Juvenile heat to give her a clean sweep of the features on the first night of the NZ Junior Drivers Champs, for which she ironically didn’t qualify.
“I’ve actually never qualified for it but this makes up for that, I am lucky to drive some pretty amazing horses,” she smiles.
Chase A Dream swooped late to win his heat over Hadron Collider and Miki’s Courage in a race that saw the first defeat of Vessem, who worked hard early but still finished only fifth while the other early burner Miki’s Courage finished in front of him.
“He (Chase A Dream) has really improved and keeps getting better so I think he is in for a good campaign,” said Thornley.
Waterford, part-owned by HRNZ writer Jonny Turner among a host of well-known names, is also improving at the right time as she led home an All Stars trifecta in the juvenile girls heat.
She showed good gate speed to lead then trail Madrid and catch her late suggesting there is not much between several in this crop as the major juvenile races approach.
Heading into the second day of the NZ Junior Drivers' Championships in Invercargill today Zev Meredith leads on 26 points, from Carter Dalgety (23) and defending champion Sarah O'Reilly and Ben Hope, both on 20.
In last night's two heats at Addington Dalgety won with Dance Till Dawn and Meredith won the second heat with Tedesco.
There will be three more heats at Ascot Park today.