Day At The Track

Feiss bottles formula for trots success

04:30 PM 18 Jan 2020 NZDT
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Mark Purdon and Jean Feiss,Harness racing
Mark Purdon and Jean Feiss
Dan Costello photo

If Self Assured lives up to the mega hype in tonight’s $110,000 PETstock Ballarat Pacing Cup his owner, Jean Feiss, will celebrate by doing her favourite thing – she will get up tomorrow morning to inspect yearlings.

That won’t be a matter of just popping down the road; the 69-year-old retired Victorian horse trainer will fly to New Zealand to look at yearlings. By herself.

That dedication, that love of the young horse, is one reason Feiss is one of the most successful owners in harness racing.

The other is an association that started more than a decade ago.

Trainer Mark Purdon was looking for a farm to base his horses at in Victoria. He visited the property owned by Feiss and her husband, Bill, which was being used by son Matt. Purdon liked the property and liked the people.

Next time Purdon bought a horse at the sales Bill and Jean wanted in and a remarkable association begun.

As Feiss got out of training – “we had some success but not many horses people would know that well” – her and Bill upped their yearling buying.

And when you can’t beat them, join them, so Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen became their trainers and the winners flowed.

She has owned a champion in Vincent, who was hot favourite for the Ballarat Cup two years

ago until he suffered a career-ending injury. Spanish Armada was another favourite, while she owns New Zealand’s best filly this season in Amazing Dream.

And, of course, last-start Auckland Cup winner Self Assured and huge Victoria Derby chance Smooth Deal.

So how does a former trainer from Victoria find the needles in the yearling sales haystack?

“I usually start with the page (breeding) and then I look at the horses myself,” she said.

“That is why I will fly to New Zealand on Sunday morning. I’ll go to all the farms I want to see and I like to go by myself, not as part of a tour.

“Then I can see the horses and compare them a month later when they go for sale.”

Once Feiss makes her list she cross-references that with Purdon and Rasmussen and the list becomes shorter. Feiss rarely misses the ones on the short list.

“I think the gap between New Zealand yearlings and the Australian ones has closed a lot but I like buying there and I love racing there.

“I like the travelling, even though Bill can’t come that often these days because he has dodgy knees. The group racing in New Zealand is very strong and the industry has a lot of enthusiasm.”

So what does Feiss’ magic eye look for?

“Never just one thing, it’s the whole package. I think most of us look at the same things, we just interpret them differently.”

What is not open for interpretation is that Self Assured is exceptional.

Feiss took a risk on him as he was an embryo transfer foal, which some buyers shy away from.

The only two times he has been beaten is when missing away from standing starts, but tonight he faces the biggest test of his career, drawn inside the second line in a star-studded Ballarat Cup.

“He is very good, we don’t know how good yet,” Feiss said.

If he gets clear air at Ballarat tonight we should all find out.


Michael Guerin

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