Start will be deciding factor for Purdon's final race
By Michael Guerin
The last race of Mark Purdon’s champion training career could be decided by standing start manners in the $200,000 Woodlands Stud Auckland Cup on Thursday.
The race will be the last time New Zealand’s greatest harness trainer has a horse race in his name for probably a year, maybe even longer as Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen take a step away from training.
Purdon confirmed to the Herald yesterday that from Friday, the first day of 2021, all horses trained by he and Rasmussen will transfer to current stable foreman Hayden Cullen’s name.
That means if stars like Self Assured and Spankem head to Australia for a Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile campaign in coming months they will be trained by Cullen, with Purdon the stable’s travelling foreman.
The changeover will start immediately, with Purdon and Rasmussen taking the opportunity to enjoy their new life with a few days holiday next week and Cullen coming north to train the team racing at Cambridge, with Purdon still set to drive them.
But punters need to get their head around the very odd thought that from Friday the All Stars elite are no longer going to be under the daily care of Purdon.
“It has been a big task getting all the paperwork together and Natalie has taken care of a lot of that,” says Purdon.
“But while we will still be involved leading into big carnivals and when needed it is very much going to be Hayden’s team and we will only have a role to play when needed.”
It is somewhat fitting the biggest race on Purdon’s home track for the first half of his life will be the last race he has a runner in before his sabbatical, with the Cup to be race nine on Thursday’s twilight programme and the stable having no runners in the last race named in their honour.
Purdon and Rasmussen not only have the Auckland Cup favourite in Spankem (barrier four) but also third favourite Amazing Dream (three), with the pair drawn handy alongside each other, with the second favourite Copy That drawn barrier two.
With Spankem and Copy That all but unbeatable in front at this level is it easy to get the feeling whoever wins the standing start race to the first bend might hold the key to the Cup.
But while they both tend to be safe from a stand Amazing Dream is a bit more of a mystery.
“I took her to the workouts last week for her first standing start and she handled it well enough,” said Purdon.
“But racenight, especially having your first standing start in such a big race, can be different and I don’t think she would like to be standing for too long before the tapes go.”
With a smaller field and only eight across the front line at Alexandra Park the Cup should at least not see a repeat of the debacle in the New Zealand Cup last month when the outside horses got a walk up start while those drawn down low were left behind, with Copy That the worst affected.
But that shortened front line hasn’t helped either Ashley Locaz (9) or Thefixer (11), both of who still now start on the second line.
Thursday’s meeting also sees the next clash of trotting’s big stars Sundees Son, Majestic Man and Bolt For Brilliance in the National Trot, Bettor Twist and La Rosa in the Fillies’ Final and a very competitive NZBS Harness Million for the three-year-old male pacers.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Cup winner Self Assured, who misses the Auckland Cup because of a corn issue earlier in the month, heads to Cambridge on Friday week. -- courtesy of NZ Herald