Zachary Butcher has 1000th winner - "I love the big races"

By Michael Guerin

Zachary Butcher may have just joined one of New Zealand racing’s more elite clubs but it wasn’t even the highlight of his month.

Because the 33-year-old horseman says for him the biggest wins on the grandest stages are what matters most.

Butcher reined his 1000th New Zealand winner when Duchess Megxit bolted in at Alexandra Park on Friday night, Butcher reaching the milestone by driving three of Friday’s first four winners.

Immediately after the win Butcher was all business, only looking forward to the Group 1s later in the night, which were ultimately disappointing as his new favourite horse Merlin could manage only fourth in the Dawson Harford Messenger.

“I knew the 1000 was coming but on the night all I think about is the next race so it didn’t feel that big a deal at the time,” says Butcher.

“But now it is has sunk in a bit more and I realise how hard it is to get to 1000 wins and to be in that company it feels like a bigger deal.

“And I have had so many people contact me about it so you realise it means a lot.”

Butcher is disarmingly modest and constantly cheerful but he is also a showman which is why the bigger the stage the happier he is.

“I had people ask me on Friday what was the biggest of the 1000 wins here and to be honest it was just a few weeks ago when Merlin won The Race By Grins,” says Butcher.

“I love the big races and as soon as The Race by Grins became a thing three years ago I wanted to be in and win it.

“So to do that for three of my biggest supporters in Barry (Purdon) and Scotty (Phelan, trainers) as well as Dean Shannon (owner) meant a lot.

“That is my biggest win and driving those big winners is what motivates me the most, maybe more than the milestones.

I love the big stage, you get a chance to prove yourself.”

Butcher now hopes Merlin can take him to his version of harness racing’s promised land.

“I’d love to win a New Zealand Cup and a Mirace Mile and he could be a horse who takes me to those races with a genuine chance,” he explains.

“You look at some of those great drivers and they rarely get on winning chances in those races and I think I am very lucky, to have such great support and so many top horses.

“What Barry and Scotty, often with Dean, are doing going to the sales and securing such good quality horses has put me in a privileged position.”

Butcher also says he is privileged to have David Butcher as his father and mentor.

“Dad has been great teaching me the finer points of driving my whole career and because he has passed plenty of them on to me it has fast-tracked things.

“I have learned things from Dad that would have taken me years longer to learn if it wasn’t for him. Some drivers never have anybody to teach them those things.”

One of those attributes is the astounding Butcher patience, with both David and Zachary not scared to hold their horses up until even the last 100m of a race in an attempt to divebomb their rivals.

In an age of tight lines (getting horses to race up on the bit) and front of the field drivers, the art of the swoop is a dying skill and the Butchers may be New Zealand’s best exponents of it.

While Butcher is tremendously proud of his heritage he harbours no current ambitions to one day surpass his father, who sits on 2631 New Zealand wins, including the Group 1 Breckon Farms Young Guns Final on Friday night.

Averaging around 70 wins a a year Zachary could join the 2000-win club by the time he turns 47 but he doesn’t think he will ever be the winningest driver is his family.

“I know things can change but I am not sure I want to be driving in my 50s, I honestly think it is a young man’s game these days and heading more that way.

“Don’t get me wrong, we have some great drivers that age and older but I want to train and I think long-term I will get just as much satisfaction out of doing that.”

Such decisions or opportunties are a long way off, with Butcher only just approaching his prime and very clearly one of the best big-race drivers in New Zealand.

For sheer ability, Butcher may already be in a club even more rare than those who have driven 1000 winners before him.

He may be one of the few drivers who actually make the winning difference in the biggest races.

ZAC ATTACK : Butcher's NZ career stats

Drives: 6931
Wins: 1000
Pacing wins: 836. Trotting wins: 164.
Stakes: $14,706,060.
Strike rate this season: Win every 5.3 drives.


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