Olivia Thornley was able to celebrate a G3 win and her 50th winner when Oscar Bonavena won the Derek Jones Memorial Banks Peninsula Trotting Cup on Sunday o what is virtually her home track, but it is not all glad rags time in her developing career.


She recently had to farewell her first G1 winner and career high drive, No Matter Wat, in a dramatic New Zealand Oaks. No Matter Wat has been retired to stud after a short but memorable career.

No Matter Wat had been considered for a New Zealand Cup campaign this spring and there was no doubt among her connections that she would measure up to the class.But gait issues that affected her race career had widened recently, co-owner and original trainer,Michael Purdon said.

“She could put in a rough one on racenight and we could handle that but she had started doing it at home in her work and that was new” said Michael.HIs partner,Alison Ward, was even more closely associated with the A Rocknroll Dance mare than Olivia and drove her in all her work.

Alison Ward -never far away from her favourite,No Matter Wat

“It got to the stage where she was better off in the breeding paddock with her record. Her racing opportunities against her own sex were limited and if you are putting a rough one in with Akuta and Self Assured around you,they’d be lengths in front of you in no time “

Michael’s co-owner is Brian West’s highly successful Studholme Partnership. Michael’s mother Vicky bred the mare with Brian and handed the youngster to the next generation. 

No Matter Wat’s career was a windstorm.

“She went from a maiden 3yo  to a G1 winner  on one preparation”  says Olivia who drove her in all but one of her 13 starts when Tony Herlihy took the reins in the $1m Race By Grins at just her 12th start- an indication of the impact she made in a short time. 

She was unplaced on her debut in June last year and pulled up after giving Olivia plenty of grief for the Purdon/Cullen stable at the Cup meeting pacing roughly early and in the middle stages. 

But  Oaks day  was different.

“She drew well and the plan was to probably try for the lead and maybe look at handing up when things settled down. There was no time for that as it happened”

Pacing smoothly was not Olivia’s major concern as the rampant filly established a long lead over the best fillies in commission and kept it most of the way

“I wasn’t so worried about that,she was pacing smoothly enough, but more that she didn’t choke down she was so keen. Fortunately she didn’t do that”

That was where the years spent at Rolleston handling all sorts of horses with the quiet hands that set her apart,came in handy. Crucially,as it happened“She was still travelling good at the quarter with the others getting closer and then she found a kick and we got home.It was a huge thrill-to win a Group One at that stage,especially an Oaks.Unreal”

2022 had already been a good year for Olivia. Wins on Don’t Stop Dreaming (KindergartenStakes /Diamond Creek Classic) ;Millwood Nike (Helen Pope Classic) and Wild Willow had all been notable and a reflection of increased faith in her development by the stable.But a Group One -really special.

And her next  win after the Oaks?.Oscar Bonavena in a FFA trot at Addington.He has also made up two of her last four winners this year.

Olivia has spent 9 years at the Purdon/Rasmussen barn and you don’t spend a long time in such an environment without learning plenty. And now she hopes to put it to further use.

“I probably prefer driving trotters than pacers and Mum and I have bred three that I am working on to ultimately take to the races”

A Creatine gelding,Star Creation, has already qualified and should be racing later in the year. A two year old  half-sister by Volstead and a youngster also by Creatine are part of the team.

In the meantime Oliva has no plans to strike out for  pastures new.

“I’m happy working where I am,you are always learning, and driving top horses is always good.”

And if you are driving Group One winners, why not ?

Pic: Olivia with another of her special Group 1 favourites-NZ Cup winner,Cruz Bromac


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