Magical Merlin (NZ) Clinches New Zealand Group One Derby Double

11 December 2023

Merlin (NZ) and Zac Butcher secure the G1 NZ Derby.

Merlin (NZ) (Art Major) was a picture of pure pacing power in his dominant victory in the $258,000 Group One Garrads New Zealand Derby (2600m) at Addington.

The NZB Standardbred graduate turned the classic event into a one act affair with his outstanding front-running display for trainers Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan and driver Zachary Butcher.

Merlin barely let his rivals get near him in the middle stages, let alone at the finish.

After completing his emphatic victory, Butcher was left in awe of his superstar three-year-old.

“I love him, he is an absolute gentleman and a champion to boot,” the reinsman said.

Merlin was purchased by Dean Shannon’s Montana Park for $120,000 when he was offered by breeder-vendors Taffy Ltd at the 2021 National Yearling Sale at Christchurch.

The New Zealand Derby was the scene for the latest clash in the epic rivalry between Merlin and his fellow NZB Standardbred graduate Don’t Stop Dreaming (NZ) (Bettor’s Delight).

Butcher was full of praise for Don’t Stop Dreaming who ran a most admirable second placing after sitting parked outside Merlin for the final lap.

Zac Butcher all smiles as connections celebrate Merlin's G1 Win.

Merlin had the barrier draw to stay in front of Don’t Stop Dreaming and it proved to be a key difference between the star pair.

“That is what it comes down to with those two and full credit to Don’t Stop Dreaming,” Butcher said.

“He went absolutely super, he was coming again at the line.”

Merlin completed a derby double with his New Zealand Derby win, following his victory in the Group One Northern Derby (2700m) at Alexandra Park.

Butcher was thrilled to be able to complete the derby double with the horse he has so much admiration for.

“I have gone my whole career trying to win the two derbies and I have been lucky enough to get them in the same year.”

Merlin’s stablemate Sooner The Bettor (NZ) (Bettor’s Delight) chased the star quinella makers, running a game third placing to round out a NZB Standardbred trifecta.

NZB Standardbred graduates filled the first six placings in the New Zealand Derby with Jolimont (NZ) (Sweet Lou), Alta Meteor (NZ) (Art Major) and Charlie Brown (NZ) (Art Major) next across the line.