Even our greatest trainer knows when he is facing a mission impossible.
So while Mark Purdon couldn’t be happier with Fly Like An Eagle as the New Zealand Trotting Cup looms, he isn’t expecting the speedster to break Purdon’s personal Cup drought.
Remarkably for the man who has trained so many of New Zealand’s champion horses and has a string of premierships, Purdon hasn’t trained the winner of our greatest race since Il Vicolo defended his title in 1996.
That is 17 years without a New Zealand Cup winner and Purdon realises that almost certainly won’t change on November 12.
“I am happy with him (Fly Like An Eagle) but those other two are in a different class to the rest of us,” he said.
The “other two” are Christen Me and Terror To Love, who dominate betting on the cup as well as Monday’s next lead-up, the $60,000 Flying Stakes at Ashburton.
Most of the Cup’s major players clash on Monday, with the most notable absentee being Caribbean Blaster, who is back working well after a virus and will race in Sydney tomorrow week on his way to Addington.
Besotted, who is on the cusp of making the Cup, will miss Ashburton to head to Kaikoura a week later but all the other big names meet on Monday is what is traditionally the best form guide to the Cup.
And even with a line-up including Franco Ledger, Mah Sish, Suave Stuey Lombo and Fly Like An Eagle, anything beating both Christen Me ad Terror To Love would be a huge upset.
The pair have gapped their rivals in their two races so far this season, with Christen Me narrowly the victor on both occasions and he has the best of the draws on Monday.
He will start from barrier four, with Terror To Love at six and NSW visitor Suave Stuey Lombo drawing the ace.
Fly Like An Eagle’s task has been made even harder by being on the unruly in the 10-strong elite field.
While Purdon doesn’t hold out great hopes of beating the two champions, he is in no hurry to rush his freakish filly of last season Adore Me into the big time even though she beat many of the Cup contenders in a trial on Tuesday.
Adore Me left even Purdon stunned by downing Mah Sish, Mach Banner, Jimmy Johnstone and Fly Like An Eagle in a 2400m standing start trial even after she galloped early and lost 20m, erasing the handicap start she had over them.
“She did get a nice tow into the race later but it was still a big win,” said Purdon.
“It was good to see her go like that because it gives us options in the next month if she needs more racing.
“But I am taking it as comes with her and ideally will stick to the mares races as much as possible.”
That plan has already hit its first speed bump, with Adore Me’s presence scaring her fellow mares away from her comeback race on Monday.
That has forced her into a strong intermediate class 2400m standing start race, where she has the often tricky ace draw on the front line.
While her raw class will still see her start a hot favourite, taking on the likes of Mach Banner and Beach Bunny, even with a decent handicap start, will make for a harder return than planned.
Meanwhile, Purdon has confirmed Alleluia, who will look to remain unbeaten in three starts on Monday, as his drive for the Sires’ Stakes Final on Cup day, meaning partner Natalie Rasmussen will take the reins behind last season’s Sales Series winner Isaiah.
By Michael Guerin (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)