Millwood Nike’s back – and with a new driver

By Michael Guerin

A perfect draw may have eased some of the pressure on junior driver Olivia Thornley when she takes the reins behind returning unbeaten pacer Millwood Nike at Addington tonight.

The multiple Group 1 winner will be aiming to make it 15 wins without defeat when she contests the Nevele R 50 Years Of Success heat, her first race start since the Sires’ Stakes Championship at Alexandra Park on May 19.

Millwood Nike looked ready for her return when beating stablemate Vessem at the trials last week but has encountered a slight judder bar on her return with usual driver and co-trainer Mark Purdon suspended at Addington last Friday.

That sees the stable’s junior driver Thornley entrusted with the drive as she partnered Millwood Nike to win her first two starts last season, obviously a lot less expectation than the champion filly carries tonight.

Co-trainer Nathan Purdon has total faith in Thornley and his filly.

“Olivia has won an Oaks (No Matter Wat, last season) and driven some very good horses for us and driven them well,” says Nathan.

“She knows this filly and they have the advantage of that while she is fresh up she is a horse who keeps herself very fit.

“She showed that at the trials last week and she is ready to go. She matured during her break and I have no doubts she is better now than she was. She is a very special filly.”

While some fellow drivers may have chosen to test Millwood Nike’s fitness and Thornley’s nerve had the filly drawn poorly she will start from the seemingly perfect barrier 3.

With tonight’s race only a heat and the Group 1s for this filly crop next month and the NZ Oaks in December, it would seem unlikely many would want to get into a war with her tonight.

The same could apply to the stable’s unbeaten juvenile pacer Vessem (R3, No.3) who will also need a new driver tonight because of Purdon’s suspension and top drivers Natalie Rasmussen and Blair Orange (suspended) being sidelined.

Zachary Butcher will take the reins on Vessem and Nathan Purdon says he has been the spring bloomer in the team.

“It is a strange thing to say because he is unbeaten but I wasn’t sure he was a really good juvenile or whether a better one was going to come along,” says Purdon.

“But he has really thrived and improved the last few weeks and gone to another level. He is the real deal now.

“We had Zac drive Self Assured for us last week and are really happy to have him on this horse and Treacherous Baby (R7, No.4) on Thursday because we rate him very highly.”

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