Top juveniles extend their unbeaten streaks at Addington

By Michael Guerin

Champion trainer Barry Purdon was deflecting all the praise for a massive night at Addington to the younger stars of his team — both human and equine.

It was the juveniles of both gaits who made Purdon one of the heroes on an epic night at Addington as he and training partner Scott Phelan won the $200,000 Harness Million Pace with Merlin and quinellaed the $75,000 Harness Million Trot with Southern Diamond and Halberg.

Purdon says while any stable is always a team effort so much of the praise for the two huge wins have to go to Phelan, with plenty of in-race help from Zachary Butcher, a former long-time stable employee and still their No.1 driver.

“Zac drove both those horses great, particularly Merlin the way he controlled the pace,” said Purdon.

“But so much of the credit for tonight has to go to Scott.

“He has been down there with these horses this week and it goes a lot deeper than that because I have been laid up for quite a lot of the winter with an infection I got in my hip and Scott handled me being away and the whole team so well.

“He really stepped up, not that I am surprised, so he has been enormous this year.”

As good as Southern Diamond or Halberg may turn out to be Merlin is already a star, unbeaten in eight starts that span almost the calendar year and he had to beat an unbeaten All Stars colt in Don’t Stop Dreaming to do it.

That doesn’t happen every day of the week in a major two-year-old race at Addington.

Merlin was taken straight to the front early by Butcher and he snuck an easy middle 800m and then let rip up the straight in 25.5 seconds to beat a very brave runner-up while Son Of Mac confirmed trainer Kyle Marshall has got his best horse yet in third.

Merlin is a real deal juvenile blessed with manners and speed and has now already paid back big-time owner Dean Shannon, who outlaid $120,000 for him at the yearling sales.

“I think he can go on with it even after this campaign as a three-year-old because he is courageous and wants to be a racehorse,” says Purdon.

He was just one of three age group pacing winners to let rip after getting an easy enough time in front on Friday night, the other two being stablemates Akuta and Millwood Nike.

Both of their races felt over soon after the start as Millwood Nike strode to the lead and was too strong for improved stablemate Luvstruck, who was second after trailing in the $150,000 Harness Million for the juvenile fillies.

Millwood Nike is a very different type of juvenile to Merlin, as while both are unbeaten the filly’s forte seems to be staying and it would be a huge shock if she doesn’t carry her form into next season as she has Oaks written all over her.

Akuta didn’t prove a whole lot rather than his recent weight-loss programme is starting to work when he wrested the lead effortlessly off stablemate Franco Mac and won the $100,000 Flying Stakes, with Republican Party a gutsy third in a race he couldn’t win 100m after the start.

Normal transmission for this crop resumed as Akuta zoomed home in 54.1 seconds but the final decision on whether he heads to the IRT New Zealand Cup will have to wait until after the Ashburton Flying Stakes, if he even heads there.

There is no question Akuta is good enough to start in a New Zealand Cup but whether he is good enough to beat Rock N Roll Doo and Self Assured, or even B D Joe and Majestic Cruiser, is anything but proven yet.

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