Day At The Track

Mark Purdon set to pilfer Australian spoils?

04:08 AM 05 May 2011 NZST
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Smiling Shard Mark Purdon is back to plunder
Smiling Shard - downing Lanercost in the Breeders' Crown
Mark Purdon is back to plunder - more loot from Australian shores

While there is nothing necessarily new about the plundering of Australia's harness racing riches by our Kiwi cousins, they've typically had the courtesy of bringing their own weapons with which to win the war. But with a prodigious pair of Kiwi-trained commodities set to start in Friday night's (May 7) $305,000 Australian Pacing Gold Final for the baby boys at Tabcorp Park, it is clear our trans-Tasman adversaries have taken to attacking us with our own ammunition.

Both TAB Sportsbet fixed odds favourite Fly Like An Eagle ($2.20, Barrier 10) and last start APG heat winner Mr Nickel ($5.50, 3) were picked up at Melbourne’s Premier Yearling Sales before being transferred to leading Kiwi conditioner Mark Purdon more than 12 months ago.

For Christchurch native, lifelong equine enthusiast and purchase architect Neil Pilcher, the proof of his and Purdon’s wisdom in targeting Australia’s indigenous sales since the middle of the decade is already in the pudding.

“We started coming to Australia with a plan and we’ve had a terrific trot with the horses we’ve bought out of them (Australian Yearling Sales) so far,” Pilcher said.

“I’ve got a share in the two nice babies going around on Friday night as well as Russley Rascal who’ll contest the Messenger back home this weekend, plus a few more, including Major Mark and they’ve all come out of the Premier Sales over here.

“It’s very pleasing to have two horses in the (APG) Final this Friday. They’re a couple of very nice babies and we couldn’t be happier with the way they’re going so far.”

Pilcher and Purdon’s pioneering approach to prevailing in Australia’s richest age-restricted races marks a significant reversal in conventional thinking, which often saw Australian owners cross the ditch in search of Kiwi yearlings to dominate on these shores.

But on the back of their sensational successes it is likely a brand new trend of traversing the Tasman from there to here in search of the sport’s next true superstar will emerge as New Zealand’s most prominent horsemen take heed of the possibilities now on display.

But for former Inter Island Horse Transport proprietor Pilcher, it is Friday night at Melton and the genuine chance of Group 1 glory that matters most – and like his good mate Purdon he senses that undefeated Mach Three colt Fly Like An Eagle represents their greatest chance of APG success.

“I’d probably just favour Fly Like An Eagle over Mr Nickel even though that horse is improving every time he steps out to race,” the septuagenarian said.

“The gates have evened things up a bit but sometimes a bad draw can turn into a good draw, you just never know with the babies. The field can open up and the gaps can come in these juvenile races where they never would with the older horses.

“He (Fly Like An Eagle) is probably the best young one I’ve had my hands on too I’d say, so we’ve just got a lot of faith in what he’s capable of getting done.”



Australian harness fans have become accustomed to keeping a close eye on Auckland’s Alexandra Park in recent months and they have plenty of reason to tune in again this Friday night, especially those with an eye to the Tabcorp Australasian Breeders Crown later in the year.

Proven Breeders Crown performers such as Smiling Shard, Devil Dodger and Paramount Geegee will ramp up their charge towards August, but the meeting will also showcase leading contenders for one of this year’s series yet to be seen in Australia.

Seven fillies engaged in the NZ$170,000 Group 1 Sires Stakes 2YO Fillies Championship (1700m) are Breeders Crown-eligible, including fancied pair Veste and Cowgirls N Indians.

The Mark Purdon and Grant Payne-trained Veste has won three of his five starts, including the Group 1 Caduceus Club Classic two starts back, and heads the New Zealand TAB’s fixed odds market at $2.40 from stablemate Dancing Diamonds ($2.80).

Hot on the favourites’ heels is Ian Small’s Cowgirls N Indians ($5), who won ran second to Veste in their Sires’ heat.

O Baby ($15) and Shezanelsu ($18) are other Purdon and Payne-trained Breeders Crown-eligible Sires Stakes runners, Small also has Meet Me In Mayfair ($101), while the other Breeders Crown potentials are Carpenters Daughter ($17, Gareth Dixon) and Elsucess ($61, Brent Mangos and Hayden Cullen).

The Sires Stakes 2YO Fillies Championship is the first of the New Zealand Group 1s with a Breeders Crown flavour. It is timed to go at 5:10pm AEST and will be shown live on SKY 2.

The next feature, at 6:05pm, is the $100,000 New Zealand Messenger Championship (2200m) for four-year-olds, in which Cran Dalgety’s two-year-old Breeders Crown champ and last year’s three-year-old runner-up Smiling Shard is a raging $2.20 favourite from the pole.

His conqueror from last year’s final, the John Green and Brian Hughes-trained Devil Dodger, is at $8 after drawing to trail Smiling Shard in barrier nine. Devil Dodger’s stablemate and former Victoria Derby winner Courage To Rule ($31, barrier 10) is the other Breeders Crown hopeful engaged.

Last year’s Breeders Crown two-year-old trotting champion, the John Dickie-trained Paramount Geegee, is $3 favourite to add another feature to his impressive CV in the $80,000 Group 1 Northern Trotting Derby (2700m) at 6.37pm.

The Pegasus Spur gelding has won his past two starts, for a career record of 11 from 15, including a last-start win in the Group 2 3YO Trotters Championship.

King Kenny ($4.50), who, along with Thanesan ($3.50) are considered Paramount Geegee’s biggest Derby threats, is the other Breeders Crown-eligible trotter in the Derby.

The three-year-olds aren’t the only trotters who get a crack at Group 1 glory on Friday night with Auckland’s biggest race for the squaregaiters – the $250,000 Rowe Cup, won last year by Aussie legend Sundons Gift – to be run at 7:37pm.

I Can Doosit, who upset Sundons Gift’s stablemate Let Me Thru in the recent Inter Dominion final, renews acquaintances with Inter Dominion third placegetter Stylish Monarch, who turned the tables on I Can Doosit in the Group 1 NZ Trotting Championship at Easter.

This year’s Breeders Crown series will be launched in New Zealand on June 24, when heats for two and three-year-old trotters will be run at both Auckland and Christchurch.

The series continues throughout Australia and New Zealand until it culminates with the bumper “Super Sunday”, featuring nine Group 1 finals, on August 21.

by Brad BISHOP


One of the genuine highlights of Victoria’s regional racing calendar, Cranbourne Harness Racing Club’s popular and perennial Girls Night Out meeting is set to return in style on Saturday night with what is expected to be the grandest renewal of the concept to date.

The brainchild of former Club Secretary Jackie Richardson to celebrate harness racing’s fairer sex both on and off the racetrack, Girls Night Out has taken on a life of its own in recent years as industry participants and the Cranbourne community have embraced the evening and its jubilant message.

Featuring the evening’s now traditional catwalk fashion parade and dance demonstration, the gala evening will also kick off with all ladies receiving a free glass of champagne upon arrival at the Cranbourne Racing Complex along with a limited edition Alavu Swarovski charm.

The girls will also be right in their element choosing from a range of jewellery, handbags and homewares at up to 70% off their recommended retail price before sneaking off for their free hair, make-up and day spa treatments at the exclusive and popular pamper lounge on-course.

As always, there will be more than a modicum of interest in the Club’s fabulous fascinator and hat competition as well as their free post-race disco where punters and patrons can dance the night away long after the final race has been run on one of Cranbourne’s marquee night’s of the year.

While the glamour and excitement off the track should be more than enough to draw a record crowd to Grant St this weekend, if it’s the standardbred stars you’re coming to see, there’s more than enough of those to go around too, with eight great races planned on the programme.

Included among the top class harness action will be two heats of the Vicbred Super Series for the four-year-old colts and geldings and one for the classic age boys, along with a terrific fast class race to kick off the all-important Quaddie.

In the first Vicbred preliminary for the four-year-olds, gun Great Western gelding Remember El returns to Victoria following a fantastic fourth in Menangle’s Chariots Of Fire, while in the second qualifier Mach Wiper, Maywyn Jasper and cult icon Two Eye see look set to fight it out for the $10,000 purse and automatic qualification to the series’ semi-final phase.

While in the three-year-old heat, Hugh Cathels’ local star Astronaut will take on arch nemesis Suave Stuey Lombo in what should be a cracking race to close out the card.

Entry for the jam-packed evening of fun and festivity is only $10 with tickets available at the gate, while group dining packages are still available through the club from just $45, but they are selling fast.

For more information call (03) 5996 8677 or click here.



99 wins: Kelly-Ann Dunne – engaged aboard Shes An Image (Race 1) at Maryborough on Friday and Gentle Image (Race 3) at Tabcorp Park, Melton on Friday night.

498 wins: Daniel Jack – engaged aboard Sundons Promise (Race 1) and Endorsement (Race 7) at Maryborough on Friday.

Alistair HOGG

Fly Like An Eagle winning the Group One Cardigan Bay Stakes at Alexandra Park on March 11, 2011:

Fly Like An Eagle winning at Melton last start on April 29, 2011:


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