All Stars Update
By Michael Guerin
Champion trainer Mark Purdon hasn’t given up on getting New Zealand’s best pacer to this year’s New Zealand Cup.
But the next set of scans on Inter Dominion champion Ultimate Sniper could be a crucial decider.
Purdon, like everybody else in New Zealand harness racing, is adjusting to life without the early morning start and the smell of horses in his nostrils as we go through the Covid-19 lockdown.
He and partner Natalie Rasmussen decided to turn all their horses out as soon as racing was halted and he says even if the country returns to Level 3 by the end of this month and racing by June, they will not line up another horse this season.
“If things go as planned we are probably looking at starting training again in the first week of May, depending of course on what the Government says,” says Purdon.
“So we definitely won’t have any horses racing for the rest of the season, even though like everybody else, we will be happy to see racing resume.”
Purdon says the All Stars will target late August or September to roll out their horses at a time when a regionalised racing model could see Addington racing twice a week.
“We have a number of horses spelling at home who can come back into work straight away and they have enabled us to keep the staff on a rotation to feed and look after the horses.
“That and the Government subsidy has allowed us to pay our staff at 80 per cent of their usual wage and I think that is important.”
When the horses do start to roll back into work one who there are not expected to be problems with is excitement machine Self Assured, who even though he missed the Miracle Mile last month because of a minor issue.
But Purdon is also cautiously optimistic about Ultimate Sniper, who hasn’t been seen since capping a remarkable unbeaten Inter Dominion campaign at Alexandra Park in December.
He was found to have a small tear in a suspensory and initially there we fears he could miss a year of racing but Purdon is now hopeful that won’t be the case.
“It was a strange one because he never took a lame step so we got it early enough.
“The indications are good so far and he is on the water walker at Margaret Park in Waikato.
“They do a great job with them there and they are able to work through cause it is just the two of them working there I think.
“I think because he has been there when he comes back into work, providing his next scan is all good, he will have a good fitness base.
“At this stage, and again it is dependant on his scans, that could be in July and if it is, with that water walker fitness base, he could well make it to the Cup meeting.
“So we are hoping that is the case.”
One thing about the shortened season it should guarantee Ultimate Sniper the Horse of the Year title, with his only likely challengers probably Winterfell or Amazing Dream is they clean swept the rest of their races for the season, which is Amazing Dream’s case was a realistic possibility.
With those races gone, Ultimate Sniper’s Inter domination should get him the top award, although whether we all get together to celebrate it in August or September is anybody’s guess.
Also still in the north and having done his time on the water walker is Spankem who should be back good as gold next season but the future is less certain for his arch rival Turn It Up.
He hasn’t been seen since the Jewels last season and Purdon says he will come back into work in May but he is not sure what to expect.
“We will give him his chance though and see how he holds up.”
While missing a series of group one races and the Jewels will sting the All Stars more than anybody, Purdon takes some solace in the fact races like the two-year-old Sales Series, now called the Harness Millions, and the Sires’ Stakes races, are likely to be run twice next season to make up for missing their usual May window this term.
“I think it would be great to have some of those feature races early in the season for us all to aim at, maybe September, and then we can race through the Cup carnival here and in Auckland, providing all the travel restrictions come off.”
So what does a man who has worked as hard as Purdon for years do when the merry go round stops for a while?
“I have caught up on my sleep,” he laughs.
“I slept in one morning till 11am, which I never thought I’d be able to do.
“I didn’t realise how exhausted I was until I stopped.”