Purdon's back, so is Self Assured
By Michael Guerin
The two kings of New Zealand harness racing return at Addington tonight but the one who can speak isn’t predicting a triumphant comeback.
Champion trainer Mark Purdon resumes fulltime training for tonight’s meeting, going into a partnership with Hayden Cullen after a sabbatical of sorts for much of this year.
It almost feels like Purdon never left after Group One driving success at meetings like the Harness Jewels but he, and eventually Natalie Rasmussen, having their hands on the All Stars horses every day from now on will add assuredness for punters and elevate fear for rival connections.
While their stable will likely dominate age group racing as the season progresses Purdon finds himself in the unusual position of only having one open class pacing star in defending NZ Cup hero Self Assured, who also returns tonight in the $50,000 Canterbury Classic.
That may well be enough to see him snare our greatest race, the IRT NZ Cup on November 9, but Purdon has the warning lights on full beam for punters tonight.
“I don’t think he is any fitter than 85-90 at best,” warns Purdon.
“He has had two trials and been really good in him but he is carrying a lot more weight all over his body than last season.
“Because of that I will drive him conservative and while that doesn’t mean he can’t win I won’t be taking off mid-race looking for the lead.
“So I’ll be happy if he runs top three cause he is still very much on the way up.”
Purdon is naturally conservative and has erred on the side of caution before only to be wrong and have horses win when he thought they couldn’t, which hardly wins you fans among punters.
But the reality is he is always very open about how he thinks his horses are going to perform so his words are best heeded tonight, especially with Self Assured the favourite and the new standing start protocols in Canterbury, in which the horses actually stand rather than walk up, may not suit Self Assured.
If he drifts to $3, which is unlikely, Self Assured may be worth the gamble of everything going right but with key rivals like Classie Brigade and Henry Hubert fit enough to make tonight tough for him punters may be wise to steer clear.
Especially as Purdon then doubles down on the Self Assured doubt when comparing him with South Coast Arden, the northern pacer stabled at his property for the last two weeks.
“We haven’t worked the two of them together but there is no doubt he (South Coast Arden) is the more forward of the two,” explains Purdon.
“He is working well and Natalie has been doing a lot of the work with him and keeping in touch with Mango (trainer Brent Mangos).
“He could be a New Zealand Cup winner, he is that good, and even though he is on the unruly this week he can win.”
The start of tonight’s 2600m stand will be crucial because if the fit Dunn-trained speedsters and Pembrook Playboy get a decent break on Self Assured and South Coast Arden then put the foot down the race could be primed for an upset.
But if and when South Coast Arden moves he is gifted the front, again that seems unlikely, then the dynamic of the race changes enormously.
Even if Self Assured can’t give the boss a winning return tonight Purdon suggests he should get a comeback win with Franco Mac (R11, No.11).
“He is a good juvenile, one of the top 2-3 with have for the Sires’ Stakes so I think he will be very hard to beat,” says Purdon.
Tonight’s meeting boasts a super strong support card, headlined by Sundees Son versus Majestic Man in the open trot as the spluttering start to the harness season looks set to build some serious momentum.
Michael Guerin's top three for Friday :
Best bet: Sundees Son (R6, No.7): Huge fitness edge over Majestic Man and the small field should see him a comfortable multi maker.
Each way: Henry Hubert (R8, No.3): Not as good as the glamour boys but is fit and might sit handy on markers. His $8 opening quote was generous.
Ready to go: Franco Mac (R11, No.11): Trainer says he has improved on last season and second line draw no major concern.