Cambridge Raceway hosted the NZB Standardbred Harness Millions Series on Friday night, the showcase meeting for graduates of the national auction house usually takes place at Alexandra Park in Auckland which is currently out of action due to flood damage.
The evening featured the $200,000 Listed NZB Standardbred Harness Million Three-Year-Old C&G Final (2200m) won by Merlin and the $150,000 Listed NZB Standardbred Harness Million Three-Year-Old Fillies Final (2200m) won by unbeaten filly Millwood Nike.
Trained in Clevedon by Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan, Merlin was patiently handled by driver Zac Butcher, who acknowledged his horse’s effort to overcome starting from barrier 11 in a 2.39.5 time for 2200m was huge.
“When you are four-wide around here trying to pick them up, it is hard work,” he said.
“So, kudos to the big fella, he puts his head in front at the right time and I am just glad he has done it again tonight. He is quicky becoming one of the favourites, he’s got the will to win and he always seems to find a way.”
This was Merlin’s second Harness Million win having previously won the two-year-old edition.
Amongst those celebrating Merlin’s win was local racegoer Sheryn Hobbs who was lucky enough to win a one percent share in the horse on the night. Through the win Hobbs collected $1,000 which she donated to the Hawke’s Bay Flood Relief fund co-ordinated by New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, Dunstan Horsefeeds and the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association.
Millwood Nike, prepared by Purdon’s Christchurch-based brother Mark and nephew Nathan wowed the crowd with her ninth win in as many starts in the feature fillies’ final.
The three-year-old is raced by rugby league legends Frank and Shane Endacott, who were on course to celebrate the win, along with Stephen Byrne, Steve Thompson and Bruce Irvine.
“Steve has been the instigator of this group coming together, they have raced a lot of horses over the years and this filly is special – they deserve it,” Mark Purdon said.
Locals Jo Stevens and her partner Dylan Ferguson also shared the limelight on Friday with the Stevens-trained Rosie providing Ferguson with his first Group win in the Gr.3 HR Fisken and Sons Northern Trotting Breeders Stakes (2700m).
The six-year-old mare led from start to finish crossing the line two-and-a-quarter lengths clear of her rivals and providing emotional scenes for all involved.
"I'm a small-time trainer and for us to get our first Group win together - well I never thought in a million years that would be the case," Stevens said.