Day At The Track

Blair reflects about his time at All Stars

09:12 PM 08 Sep 2014 NZST
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Blair Orange - With long term mentor Mark Purdon Blair Orange - With one of his all time favourites Auckland Reactor
Blair Orange - With long term mentor Mark Purdon
Blair Orange - With one of his all time favourites Auckland Reactor
Duane Ranger photo

Blair Orange finished at the All Stars stable in July after a decade associated with the best stable in the country- and he has plenty to show for it.

He finished on a high breaking into the "100 club" for the first time, the latest in a string of records he has established over the years.

"My target was 50 at the start of the season. I thought I was doing well when I got to 75 and then I thought, well I might as well go for the 100.

I might not get a chance to get that close again"

With help from the Mark Jones stable he achieved his target -well ahead of any previous season.

The stimulus All Stars gave his young driving career speak for itself.

He had of course helped make his own luck, making marked improvement to rein 37 winners in the 2002 season mostly for smaller trainers like Trevor Craddock, Mike Austin, Craig Buchan, Kevin Townley, Andrew Stuart, Brian Kerr, John Parsons, Michael House and Peter Cowan.

It is significant that his 100th winner for this  season was for Austin and his last driving night under the All Stars banner features a drive for Buchan.

But the chance to work with Mark Purdon was going to another level and Blair has always aspired to go to the next level.

"Mark rang me out of the blue. I had never driven for him. We talked, he made me an offer and I accepted. "

Ohoka Atom was his first winner for the stable but one of his biggest thrills came a month later when Waihemo Hanger won at the Cup meeting.

"I had never driven a winner on Cup Day so that was special ."

Ironically one of his earlier regular drives for Mike Austin, Ado's Invasion, was second handled by Mark Jones.

Blair's career had started nearly seven years earlier when he was with Tim Butt and drove Whizza Nova to win at Reefton in 1996.

He won 18 races in his first season for All Stars but by 2007 topped $1m in stakes won thanks chiefly to Ohoka Arizona, Fiery Falcon and Steve McQueen.

In only one season since have his stakes won been less than seven figures.

His best season for the stable in  terms of wins was 2012 when he won 46 for All Stars from a season driving  total of 81.

However even in his final season with Mark and Natalie driving many of the A graders he won 39 races for the stable. 

Altogether he has won $12.6m in stakes for owners over the years.

His biggest month for All Stars was in March of 2009 when he drove 11 winners for the stable going close with 10 in the same month this season.

So as he heads for his own training career -though with plenty of free lance driving still part of the package-what has he learned. Naturally the answer is "a lot".

"Obviously the overall organisation is something you don't work with often.

I have worked in other top stables such as Tim and Anthony's but there is always something different they do, something you can pick up on.

The handling of the two year olds has been one of the great experiences for me.

How they are brought along and managed and each one assessed for what they can handle as youngsters.

Then how they are managed during their campaigns. There was a lot in that''

"But the overall routines and stable management was just as important.

So much to learn and adapt when I go out on my own training.

Mark is a master at planning a programme so the horses peak for the big days.

Not many can do it like he and Natalie can''

" From a driving viewpoint the horses at All Stars give you confidence in what you are going.

That is a hell of an advantage and it carries over to your other drives "

If it was so good why leave ?

"I would have been quite happy to stay to be honest if an offer like Ken's (Barron) had not come along.

But I was going to have to strike out a bit more on my own sooner or later and this was a deal I thought too good to let pass.

It could open the way for me to have my own training operation which is the long term aim.

In the meantime I will still be doing a lot of free lance driving and some of that for Mark Jones who has been such a boost to me this season."

Blair is aware there are plenty with doubts he is doing the right thing but that is of no concern to him.

"While I was mulling over the offer I had a few doubts myself but once I made the decision I was confident it was the right one and what anybody else thinks is not important to me. 

It would be fair to say Blair Orange came to All Stars still an apprentice and left as graduate with honours on the driving track.

So what were his five most memorable experiences at the stable ?

In no particular order:

LENNON "I won a lot of races with Lennon in my first season with Mark and races like the Kindergarten, Welcome, Sapling and the Sires Stakes.

He was a class horse and he gave me a lot of confidence that I could measure up in the big stuff"

WAIHEMO HANGER  "He have me my first winner at the Cup meeting and that was a huge thrill for me at the time. You don't forget things like that"

AUCKLAND REACTOR- "I won the Taylor Mile behind him. He was just a terrific horse. He had that something extra you never forget "

ADORE ME -"Winning the Easter Cup gave a thrill like Auckland Reactor had. A special horse to drive"

HIGHVIEW TOMMY " He might have only run second in the Cup but second in the Cup was a big thing for me.

It is the race everyone wants to win and we went close. He gave me a lot of other big moments too and Tommy could be full of surprises so you never knew quite what was going to happen"

(Blair set some sort of record with Highview Tommy too driving him to win in five successive seasons.

Maybe not even Mark has done that with one of the team in Blair's era).

Courtesy Of All Stars Racing

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