Dan Russell’s emotional Ekka Final triumph

Feature races and major metropolitan meetings may have greater spoils, but nothing beats winning the Ekka Final before thousands of cheering show goers for harness driver Dan Russell.

Drawing the pole on Moonlight Butcher, Dan led all the way to claim the $15,000 Brisbane Show Final over 1609 metres on Sunday with the pride and joy of winning written all over his face.

From attending the Ekka as a child with his nana, Dan had dreamed of winning on the Main Arena, and he got his wish on Sunday.

“You hear the sound of the crowd cheering and there’s not another feeling like. I am over the moon,” Dan said.

“You can drive at Albion Park, Redcliffe, and all the big feature races, but the crowd at the Ekka makes winning something special.

“They are cheering us all on to do our best and it’s a real good vibe being out there.”  

Dan Russell does a lap of honour after winning the Ekka Final and fulfilling a childhood dream.

Moonlight Butcher was coming off a second over 1850 metres at Marburg before he raced four times at Ekka for two wins and two seconds.

In the Final, the nine-year-old defeated Jilliby Gizmo, driven by Ricky Gordon with Courageous Leo, driven by Dean Weller, third.

Almost 30 harness races were conducted over nine days with Dan winning three, including the Final.

The leading trainer was Ricky Gordon with 64 points, 30 clear of runner-up Mat Wright, while Ricky also claimed the driving honours with 38 points, four more than Dean Weller.

Accomplished race caller David Fowler relayed the action at Ekka and praised the drivers and trainers for their efforts that enthralled tens of thousands of show goers.

“It was a pretty grueling schedule, they were racing day and night over the nine days,” David said on RadioTAB Press Room on Monday.

“They did a great job presenting an excellent product to many thousands of people.

“Often during a nighttime race, you would get five or six thousand people there in the main arena, and, from a broadcasting point of view, it is quite exciting to call.”

A huge crowd watch Dan Russell pilot Moonlight Butcher to victory in Sunday’s Final at the Ekka.

Dan collected $5,500 for Moonlight Butcher’s victory, which was more than the winners check in June when the nine-year-old gelding won at Redcliffe.

However, the prize money took a back seat to the nine days Dan spent reuniting with friends and fellow horsemen and women who had not attended the Ekka since 2019.

The past two Shows were cancelled because of the pandemic.   

“It’s really not about the prize money, it’s about being with good friends and catching up with friends you haven’t seen in a long time,” he said.

“I’ve got mates from Tamworth who came up for the showjumping and we got to sit down and have a beer and a yarn.”

An Ekka competition winners gets to experience what it’s like to be in a sulky

Besides the racing, action several lucky showgoers got to feel what it was like to travel at speed in a sulky.

With a professional driver on the reigns, competition winners were driven around the Main Arena in a double sulky and their smiles were priceless.

By Darren Cartwright