A victory by Lord Baltimore has helped talented harness racing horsewoman Michelle Neilson snare a last gasp win in the McMillan Equine Feeds NZ Junior Drivers Championship at Addington.
Needing victory in the last race of the three-race series as well as some other results to fall her way, Neilson ensured her side of the equation was complete with a heady drive on the heavily backed Geoff Dunn trained winner.
Then it was down to fate, or more importantly the placing of championship leader Dylan Ferguson.
The North Island hoop needed to finish in 7th position to ensure himself victory but fell agonisingly short with his 8th placing netting him five points which left him one short of Neilson who closed out the championship on 35 points.
I knew I had a wee chance going into the last heat,’’ Neilson said.
But I needed others to finish well back too, once I got past the line first I tried to have a look back but gave up because it was too hard to tell where they all were.
24-year-old Neilson is originally from Australia but moved over to New Zealand last year, initially to work in the stable of Mark Purdon and good friend Natalie Rasmussen before she joined the stable of Mark Jones.
She admitted to not knowing a lot about the series but took an interest when people started talking about it and realising that she was in with a shot of making the championship.
Backed into a $3.40 favourite to win, Neilson finished third in the first heat with Billy The Bus and then fifth with Paint The Moon in the second heat.
That left her 11 points behind Ferguson who finished second in the first heat with Cullen’s Mercy and then won the second heat with Summer Vacation.
Lord Baltimore was sent out a commanding favourite and Neilson didn’t let favourite punters down, taking full use of the passing lane to snare the win.
It's a pretty awesome feeling to win to be honest.
People have been telling me all week that I had a good chance, but you still have to get that luck.
Ferguson finished in second position – a notable achievement considering this his first season of driving while Robbie Close who won the first heat of the night with Hit The Spot.
The North Island versus South Island challenge – a separate contest between the 12 drivers was taken out by the Southerners in commanding fashion.
By Matt Markham
Harness Racing New Zealand