Purdon and Rasmussen to return to training
By Michael Guerin
New Zealand’s greatest harness racing trainer Mark Purdon is making an earlier than expected return to training and says his shock sabbatical from racing has him refreshed for the next phase of his career.
Purdon will on October 1 officially return to the training ranks he took a step away from on New Years Day this year, joining Hayden Cullen in a short-term partnership.
Purdon’s partner Natalie Rasmussen will then re-join him in fulltime training from January 1, with Cullen reverting to being their stable foreman from that point.
Purdon and Rasmussen slammed a sudden halt on their domination of Australasian harness racing last November when they announced they were taking a break to re-charge their batteries, with then stable foreman Cullen taking over their famous All Stars property.
Cullen has filled the void admirably with Purdon and Rasmussen helping out with training and the majority of the big-race driving around the major carnivals.
“It has worked really well for us because it has given both Nat and I the chance to have a break and re-fresh, which was the idea all along,” says Purdon.
“I’m so glad we did it. As soon as we stopped training full-time we realised how exhausted we were and how time poor we had been.
“But we have had a great break and we are ready to get back into it.
“That coincided with Hayden and Amanda (Cullen’s wife) coming to us and suggesting they would love to have us back because with summer coming up, a big team and how hard it can be to get staff it was going to be a huge challenge for them to do all the horse’s justice.
“Nat and I talked about it and think the time is right to come back but with Hayden having done all the hard work over winter getting the horses ready we don’t want to go straight back it being Nat and I training,” explains Purdon.
“So it will be Hayden and I training together until January 1 so he can get the rightful credit for any results we have at the big carnivals coming up and then Nat and I will be back in partnership from January 1 and Hayden and Amanda back as crucial members of the team.”
The official return of Purdon, and eventually Rasmussen, will provide punters with some certainty as the harness racing season warms up they can now bet knowing the horses, who are often hot favourites, have the Purdon/Rasmussen polish on them.
Purdon, who is now 57, says the break from racing has taught him and Rasmussen to approach it differently in the next phase of their career.
“We are looking forward to getting back to it and we have some exciting horses but we have also learned a lot about taking breaks.
“I think that is really important in winter when there are going to be fewer major races to take some time away and even on a really rainy day when we decide the horses won’t be fast worked to let the horses have a jog day and not need to be at the stables all day, every day.
“Having the break has been great for us both though and we have no regrets and we are also proud of the job Hayden and his team have done this year.”
The return means Purdon will be in charge of Self Assured’s defence of the IRT New Zealand Cup in November as well as overseeing the stable’s elite young horses including Jewels winners Akuta, Bettor Twist and A Bettor You.
“Akuta won’t be back racing until Christmas or later but Bettor Twist, A Bettor You and maybe even True Fantasy could go to Victoria for the Breeders Crown, although I think the Victoria Oaks will come up too soon for Bettor Twist.”