10 years ago when Steve Byrne  was racing Living the Dream with a syndicate of friends, for a time he thought he might be,

As it turned out  he wasn’t. But there is no doubt about it now.

Steve manages the   syndicate of long standing that races champion two year old filly Millwood Nike.She returns to the trials on Tuesday in quest of more riches in the north such as the Harness Millions,Peter Breckon Memorial Caduceus Classic, and Pascoe Northern Oaks etc in the next couple of months as she seeks to continue her domination of the fillies as a two year old with eight unbeaten outings.

Originally from Marton, Steve went into the banking business early spending many years in various positions.  He was Regional Business Manager level when he resigned  to  start his own consultancy business in Christchurch 14 years ago. 

“I got to know Mark when he shifted south about 20 years ago and he later trained our first horse,Straddle” Steve says

A banking friend, John McDermott,lifetime harness enthusiast,breeder and now trainer, talked Steve and a few friends into taking a share  in Straddle a descendant of John’s two year old champion Olga Korbut.He  won  races for Derek Jones and All Stars before being  sold to Australia out of the Robbie Holmes barn. 

Until recently the syndicate, never more than  six strong, revolved around the same small group of friends.

“The core  was Steve Thompson, Bruce Irvine, both accountants and company directors; and Neil Williams, Dick Waller, myself and  Mike Skilling,all bankers.” Steve recalls 

“Some of us operate out of the same office building in Christchurch so we enjoy our horses and now our successes in major races.But there have been changes over recent times, sadly  brought about by misfortune”

Steve Thompson raced Chancellor Cullen, 4th in the NZ Derby quinellaed by Fly Like an Eagle and Smolda, and who went to Australia and won the G1 Ford Classic in Perth as a four year old. He has  many  other racing and breeding interests, The Fiery Ginga being among his homebreds.

“Dick died suddenly on the evening of Nike’s first win. Neil got cancer  and he has now also passed. Mike Skilling couldn’t come into  this horse.He said to me  “But I just know because I can’t it will be a champion!”.

The families of Dick and Neil (who died before the filly had raced) opted out of racing Millwood Nike on the grounds the sport had been their passion rather than the wider family’s.

 Steve then approached a good friend Frank Endacott to join the syndicate and with another share available his son Shane came in as well. Millwood Nike is the first horse he has raced. But every time Nike wins old memories of good friends don’t pass unspoken.

Mark sorted Millwood Nike as a likely type and told the syndicate what they would have to pay to get her -almost exactly the $75,000 she cost. Now she has won $328,000 in her first season and, given her breeding and racing potential, she looks a cheapie

“She ticked all the boxes I needed her to in her price range” Mark said

“They are a good bunch of blokes; they have had a bit of a rough time with some passing on and it is great  to be able to produce a filly of her quality for them.”

Millwood Nike is from a family that goes back to the American mare Estella Amos the dam of the great Indianapolis.It bounced back in the 1970’s and later with  a remarkable, record  run of classic   successes  from Alistair Kerslake’s stable. Horses  like Main Star, Main Adios,Bachelor Star,Game Adios and later Bionic Chance, Bionic Star In Or Out etc.were genuine stars most of them descendants of champion broodmare Adio Star who left four individual Derby winners.

All Stars had earlier success with this tribe,notably with dual Harness Jewels winner Lancome, and $1m earner Highview Tommy. 

Millwood Nike  was bred by Katy Carville and would unlikely to have been on the market except that Katy decided the time had come to reduce the number of breeding stock she  and her late husband Dave had built up with great success over many years. The family had previously been bred from by Graham Pearson (Catarina) who bred and raced a champion filly,Under Cover Lover, who he campaigned in the United States with success.

“We have  relied on Mark to select most of our horses and our little shared joke every year now is that we want it to win the New Zealand Cup!. Until  Nike came along Living the Dream and Rock Legend had been our best.” Steve said.

“Living the Dream was bought in Australia and went back and won an APG Series heat there. She also qualified for the Breeders Challenge Final but went amiss on the day of the race.We sold her over there”

Rock Legend went boldly in the Vero Flying Stakes at three leading to high hopes for him on maturity but repeated interruptions through injury took its toll and he is now living a leisurely life as a sport horse.

The major disappointment- all enduring syndicates have them-was Cullenmore who showed high promise early until setbacks and an inability to produce on raceday what he could do at home caused frustration. 

His potential was such Duane Marfisi the Canadian assistant trainer for Mark and Natalie at the time,decided  to take out his own  licence especially to turn Cullenmore’s career around -but without success.

“It was a big disappointment” Steve says “ we thought we had a possible star”

Cullenmore  eventually won a maiden at Methven for Andrew Garters, his only success in 37 starts.

Steve and his friends enjoy the ride alongside their budding superstar but there are some downsides too.

“I have never backed her, put even a dollar on. I couldn’t do it” says Steve who otherwise doesn’t mind a bet. And there’s always some tension in the air leading up to raceday with a horse with expectations like this.


“We owe a lot to Mark and Natalie,top people and supremely professional.And Olivia (who drove the filly in her maiden win on debut at Timaru and the Helen Pope Stakes second up at Ashburton) does a great job of looking after her. We know she is in good hands”

A good friend and adviser to Mark and Natalie on a personal level Steve  is often at  All Stars to watch the training.

When you have waited 20 years to live the harness dream you have to make the most of it.

Yes the New Zealand Cup may still be an elusive part of the dream at this stage. But then with a filly like this  you just never can tell.


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