NZ Cup not the aim for Sniper
By Michael Guerin
Inter Dominion hero Ultimate Sniper has started the long road back to the track but don’t expect him to turn up in our greatest race.
Because champion trainer Mark Purdon says while it is not impossible, the New Zealand Cup isn’t the aim for the Horse of the Year in waiting.
Ultimate Sniper had his first day back jogging at the All Stars yesterday, having been sidelined by a leg injury since clean-sweeping the Inter Dominions at Auckland in December.
That feels like an age ago and not just because of Covid-19 but because the emergence of Ride High, Lochinvar Art and Self Assured has most harness racing fans talking about them as the superstars of pacing when in fact Ultimate Sniper is the king. He has just been a king in the exile of the spelling paddock.
Always a powerhouse, the winner of 14 of his 20 starts looks stunning upon his return but with that size and frame comes a longer road back than it would be for a slighter horse.
So maybe the Auckland Cup looks a more realistic first major goal although the NZ Free-For-All would be easier to get ready for than the Cup.
“It is great to have him back but we are in no hurry with him,” said Purdon.
“So the New Zealand Cup is not his aim. I suppose it isn’t impossible he could end up there but we definitely aren’t aiming him at it.”
That is crucial information for punters as Ultimate Sniper is the $5 second favourite for the Cup, with Self Assured’s win at Addington last Fridy seeing him shorten to $2.10.
Turn It Up, who is in Queensland and must be unlikely to return if he even ends up racing again, is the third favourite while Spankem, who finished second in the Cup last year is the fourth favourite.
Spankem will join the open class fray in September while the Purdon-Rasmussen stars who dominated the open class race last Friday are having this week off before returning to Addington at the end of the month.
While they won’t be at Addington this Friday the stable will have a rare first this week as they train all eight starters in the race three, for three-year-olds and older.
The All Stars have had big numbers in a single race before, even group ones, but never a full field of eight.
The closest thing New Zealand has had in harness racing recently was when Steve Telfer had all six in a race won by American Brave at Cambridge in January 2018.
“Yes, this is unusual even for us,” says Purdon.
The stable has a huge amount of early season three-year-olds after all their two-year-olds were forced to the paddock during lock down, meaning many of them have come back into work at the same time.
Some have already headed to Auckland but Friday’s race contains three last-start winners in It’s All About Faith and the fillies Darling Me and Bettor Twist.
Four of the others are debutantes but one of the maidens in Pace N Pride could challenge the race winners as he was super running second to Darling Me on debut.
“At this time of the season it is hard to tell who will end up being the best yet but there wouldn’t be a lot between Pace N Pride and It’s All About Faith among the boys at this stage,” said Purdon.
Thankfully for Addington caller Matt Cross two of the eight starters will be in different colours with Bettor Twist in the Breckon Farms colours and Shan Noble in the colours of owner Gerald Shand.
New Zealand punters aren’t totally unused to seeing one trainer monopolise a race with Lisa Cole doing it relatively regularly at greyhound meetings in the Central Districts