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A simple question could decide the $100,000 Taylor Mile at Alexandra Park on Friday night. Does a Miracle Mile winner respect an Auckland Cup winner enough to trail him, especially in a group one sprint at Alexandra Park? Because that is puzzle facing punters after Spankem drew inside stablemate Turn It Up in one of the last group ones of the northern season. The pair will dominate betting on the Mile, which actually reverts to the true mile distance of 1609m after being run over 1700m since 2007. After winning the Auckland Cup and then the Easter Cup last start, Turn It Up might be the best pacer in the country and in any normal race against even this elite level of opposition he would be expected to lead and win. But stablemate Spankem is drawn inside him at barrier two and considering he won both a prelude and then the Miracle Mile itself by leading he would seem to have every right to park out his stablemate and try for another all-the-way win if he can he reaches the front. It will be a fascinating key plot to the race, with any pre-race indications from trainers the All Stars sure to have a significant impact on the market. For all their exploits this season the pair can’t lay total claim to the four-year-old sprint with all but one of their rivals rated 90 or above, which is pretty much open class these days. While they were the big winners out of the draws in the main pacing race on a stellar premier programme at Alexandra Park, some of the other recent group one winners at the Addington carnival haven’t fared so well. NZ Trot Championships hero Speeding Spur faces the outside of the front line in the $100,000 Anzac Cup, the final lead-up to next week’s Rowe Cup. Trainers John and Josh Dickie are happy with how the veteran has come through his last-start win but with Massive Metro (barrier three) and Lemond (four) drawn inside him and Marcoola and Sundees Son certain to be moving from the second line, the race looks one of the hottest contest of the trotting season Also disadvantaged by the draw at the trifectamates from the NZ Trot Derby, with Lotamuscle, Enhance Your Calm and Tricky Ric all drawing the second line in Friday’s $60,000 Sires’ Stakes Trot. But while some of those stars face interesting nights at the office exceptional juvenile pacing filly Sweet On Me will be a long way into red odds to remain unbeaten after drawing the front line in the $100,000 Caduceus Club Final, making her everybody’s anchor in the first leg of the $40,000 Pick6. While Friday night’s meeting is one of the strongest of the season a couple of the big players will be just as focussed on Melton in Victoria on Saturday night, with northern filly Belle Of Montana opening $1,40 to win the A$150,000 Victoria Oaks. She was brilliant coming from a long way back to win her heat last Saturday and has drawn the ace in this Saturday’s classic, with her natural speeding giving driver Zac Butcher plenty of options on the Barry Purdon-trained filly. Already the winner of a group one Sires’ Stakes Championship at home if Belle Of Montana can add an Australian group one this weekend she will have gone from unknown maiden to one of the most valuable female pacers in Australasia in just nine starts. Michael Guerin

Harness racing trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen and their All Stars Stables have a very good representation in the Hydroflow "Easter Buny" Pace for Rating 90 and faster pacers at Addington on Saturday. The stable have four of the seven runners in the $17,000 race with Ashley Locaz (Mark Purdon), Elle Mac (Olivia Thornley), Funatthebeach (Tim Williams) and Eamon Maguire (Natalie Rasmussen) all having a start. Of the four, Mark Purdon thought that Eamon Maguire would be the best of the All Stars runners when assessing the stable chances during the week.  "I think Natalie’s drive Eamon Maguire will be the hardest of ours in the open handicap. "These four are all smart horses as we know if one level below the likes of Spankem and Turn It Up and they can all do it in this class on their day. "Eamon Maguire seems well and I think you will see an improved horse on Saturday compared to his last run when the field was tougher." Eamon Maguire an Art Major 5yo has been out of form for his last five starts, but struck form about this time last year running a couple of terrific races at Addington before heading North and running an eyecatching second to A G's Whitesocks in the Gr1 Taylor Mile at Alexandra Park. He then went on to win the Gr1 NZ Messenger Championship on the same track before winning the 4yo Emerald at the Cambridge Harness Jewels in 1-51.9 a few weeks later. Saturday's assignment looks well within his grasp with Natalie Rasmussen taking over the reigns this time from Jonny Cox who has driven him in his first three starts this year. Earlier in the program Mark Purdon looks a moral to take out the third heat of the Garrards Sires Stakes Series for 2yo colts and geldings with classy pacer Smooth Deal. "He is forward for a big race Saturday."  Heat 7 of the Nevele R Fillies Series is Race 3 on the day and features the Purdon/Rasmussen trained Princess Tiffany up against a handy field of 3yo fillies including the speedy Kendra and improving Wainui Creek. "Princess Tiffany is well and ready to go so she should be hard to beat," Mark said. Trotter Winterfell gets into a winnable race with Purdon thinking he would be a top chance to run in the money. "I am hoping Winterfell is at least in the first three," he said.  "He is training up fine but I would like to see him transfer that to raceday and get a confidence boost. I think that will help him a lot. The only Group race on the day is the (Gr3) Majestic Son NZ 2yo Trotting Stakes for $30,000. It is hard to see the unbeaten Greg and Nina Hope trained Muscle Mountain being rolled in this race after being so dominant in his first three races. He is likely to start a short priced favourite with Ultimate Stride from a bad draw and the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trained trotting filly Tallored Elegance his main dangers.   Harnesslink Media

New Zealand Three-Year-Old Pacer of the Year.   New Zealand Four-Year-Old Pacer of the Year.   New Zealand’s fastest ever pacer over both 1950 and 2200 metres.   A four-time Group One winner.   By an eight-time New Zealand Stallion of the Year from a mare destined to be New Zealand’s Broodmare of the Year.   Ultimate Machete has a stallion’s résumé and a stallion’s pedigree.   Now purchased by Alabar and Nevele R studs to stand at Alabar’s Auckland property, he’s also going to have a stallion’s opportunity.   New Zealand and Australian racing is dominated by horses that thrive on today’s style of racing.   Horses that are able to roll forward into the race and then be unrelenting in last halves run in 54 seconds or better.   Ultimate Machete, with extreme toughness and a high cruising speed, personified this never-say-die rolling style of racing.   These qualities should come as no surprise as he is by Bettor’s Delight out of a mare by Armbro Operative, so bred 3x3 to Cam Fella.   His entrance to the stud scene is surely timely, as many broodmare owners will see that breeding to him is breeding to a horse tailor-made for today’s racing.   With his pedigree, the attributes he brought to his racing and also his stature (standing a shade over 16’) he will be an ideal consort for the many mares that are bred along speed lines.   He is well suited to daughters of Christian Cullen, In The Pocket, Mach Three, Somebeachsomewhere, Courage Under Fire, Changeover, Art Major, Dream Away, Real Desire, American Ideal, Falcon Seelster, Safely Kept, Live Or Die and Badlands Hanover to name but a few.   In an outstanding race career, Ultimate Machete’s flagship victories were: - The NZ Sires Stakes Three-Year-Old Final at Addington on NZ Cup Day - where he announced his arrival as a rising star. His winning performance was nothing short of phenomenal, being caught out wide and just keeping rolling to be far too good in what was a New Zealand record for 1950m at the time. It is regarded as the best ever performance in the history of the race.   - Twelve months later, in the NZ Free-For-All on Show Day at the same venue, he did what many thought impossible by sitting outside Tiger Tara before winning the home straight war to claim victory – and in doing so, reclaiming his New Zealand record for the 1950m distance (2:15.7, a 1:51.9 mile rate).   - He then ventured to Perth where he monstered the Group One double for four-year-olds in the WA Classic and the WA Golden Nugget – wonderful efforts by the big horse around the tight Gloucester Park circuit and a testimony to his gait. He then ran a close up fourth in the Fremantle Cup before injury curtailed a blitz on the Victorian classics.   As a two-year-old, his second by a ½ head in the NZ Jewels, after being wide early then working to the lead, was a precursor to what would be a wonderful three-year-old season.   The other highlights to his three-year-old season were equalling the all-age New Zealand 2200m record (2:36.1) in winning the NZ Yearling Sales Series 3yo Final, winning the Alabar Classic and the NZ Flying Stakes (53.9 last 800m) as well as finishing second in the NZ, Northern and NSW Derbies.   All told, Ultimate Machete won 13 of 32 starts for $850,361 in stakes.   He’d already done enough to be regarded as a star - but a niggling, leg-injury-enforced retirement surely robbed him of being an open class colossus.   He was the early favourite for the 2018 New Zealand Cup but it wasn’t to be.   Co-trainer, Mark Purdon is full of respect for Ultimate Machete,   “He was a very tough horse with a great attitude. He never gave in, always trying right to the wire.He was a horse who could really maintain his high speed.”   Ultimate Machete is impeccably bred, being a full-brother to super-star three-year-old Ultimate Sniper. Their dam (Reality Check) was a very smart race filly winning the NZ Yearling Sales Series Two-Year-Old Fillies’ Final. She is also the dam of the top Western Australia racemare, Major Reality (1:50.9, $434,415).   His grandam is the NZ Broodmare of Excellence winner, Maureens Dream, who is a half-sister to the excellent sire Tuapeka Knight.   This is a prodigious family made famous by renowned breeders, Tuapeka Lodge. Ultimate Machete is one of its proudest sons.   He will stand his debut season at Alabar NZ (in association with Nevele R) at an introductory service fee of $3,000 (plus GST)   Graeme Henley General Manager Alabar (NZ) Ltd

There could hardly be a more appropriate horse to launch the Harness Jewels for 2019 than Sweet On Me.  The unbeaten juvenile filly will take the Jewels preparation to the next level when she rolls on to Addington today for her Magness Benrow Sires’ Stakes heat in the Jewels yellow colours, worn every year by the leader of each division.  Sweet On Me will be the first horse to wear them this season and it is fitting it will be at Addington, the new southern home of the great day.  But that isn’t the only reason it is appropriate Sweet On Me is the first wearer of the colours for this year’s Jewels.  Because her dam, champion mare Adore Me, wore them twice to victory at the Jewels themselves, at Ashburton in 2013 and Cambridge in 2014.  Both year’s Adore Me bolted home before going on to pace a then Australasian record 1:47.7 at Menangle.  Sweet On Me is her first foal, by Sweet Lou, and is already enormously advanced on dear old mum as Adore Me didn’t race until she was three. “She is a very, very good filly,” says co-trainer Mark Purdon, trying not to get too carried away after just three starts.  But he and everybody else knows that Sweet On Me looks a standout not just for race six at today’s rare day Addington meeting but for the entire season.  So for all the quality of those she meets today, and the field does include some smart fillies, it will be a major shock if she is beaten.  With the Jewels less than two months away the first outing for the leader’s colours comes in the same week the TAB opened odds on all nine races.  And Australian interest in their invites has been enormous, with the connections of up to 20 horses already expressing their interest.  HRNZ’s Darrin Williams said the first Australian invite was not too far away but the organisation may wait until after the Easter break to see as much exposed form as possible.  Another possible Jewels contender on show today is Wainui Creek, who takes on older horses in race eight trying to bounce back from her last-start failure.   Michael Guerin

It is a harness racing truth that you don’t second guess people in harness racing with the names of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. If you were a doubter you would not have been after Friday night at Addington. They produced an incredible training feat to win the 3200m Easter Cup with Turn It Up. Probably Mark can take the credit for concluding after his recent Rangiora trial that he could win a race of that calibre first up in two months. Even in the new age of open class racing where stars rise and fall much faster than they used to it was an extraordinary feat to win his second 3200m G1 at just his 11th start. Mark never lacked confidence in the move after Rangiora. “He hasn’t raced for a while but he is a very athletic type and while he wasn’t racing he was doing conditioning work up north before coming down to us so I don’t think it is beyond him” Admittedly, after Mark used him early to take the lead and then trailed, Turn It Up was stretched to hold out A G White Sox but in a 3.58 and change in a charge through the slush it was still a great effort. But, to be fair the New Zealand Cup winner, Thefixer, lost no caste in defeat. He renewed memories of the (good?) old days of handicap racing. Starting from behind the front line means at some stage you have to go around the field. Turn It Up got rid of that early to reach the lead but Spankem and Thefixer weren’t going to manage that . Thefixer moved around and sat parked then Spankem took over that role so Thefixer would have run about the same time as the winner, Not to forget Elle Mac went a great race too under the radar perhaps. The Turn It Up is a fairy story in most respects likely to be a pointer to the 2019 New Zealand Cup. Mark selected him in Australia largely for his treasued friend Neil Pilcher and the ghost of that special man, with the trademark sly grin, surely hovered over Addington on Friday. It was typical of Mark and Natalie they had handed a share in the horse to Neil’s brother Lee Neil also shared ownership in ONE CHANGE who won the Welcome Stakes, now owned by All Stars Stables with Trevor Casey and Mike Woodlock who had missed the youngsters surprise first up win two weeks ago because of a prior engagement in Nelson. Trevor and All Stars have raced a number of horses together and Mike, a retired St Andrews College teacher who has always been a harness fan and helps out at All Stars. “I think he has gone up in the ratings” Trevor Casey said of One Change. “Tonight reminds me of Neil and I's first win in this race with Zakariah. Nobody really expected him to win and he paid a good price ($25)” Neil Pilcher then won three Welcome Stakes in succession, two of them with Trevor Casey, and the other with Ann and Jim Gibbs who raced Turn It Up with Pilch before his untimely death. Happy owners and supporters acclaim One Change after All Stars 13th win in the Welcome Stakes and 7th on end Happy owners and supporters acclaim One Change after All Stars 13th win in the Welcome Stakes and 7th on end.(All Stars photo) About the only criticism the connections of One Change could make was the narrowness of his winning margins which tend not to help blood pressure levels. But even that begs to compare with the “Major Mark” Syndicate, who won the Welcome Stakes away back in 2010 and since then a raft of top performers including Derby winners, Fly Like An Eagle and Border Control, Derby runner -up Ulltimate Machete and Heaven Rocks plus a number of feature winners.   Courtesy of All Stars Stables http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/  

Addington racing manager Brian Rabbitt thought All Stars were pulling an April Fool’s Day stunt when he looked through the early nominations for the Easter Cup and saw Princess Tiffany among them. A three year old filly in a 3200m race ? How likely was that ? Well not really likely. But Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen are making a point. There is no other race for her on the New Zealand Derby night programme on Friday and she is a filly who needs racing. “I suppose you could say we are having a little protest at the programming, especially for three year olds” Natalie said, “She has had a little break and she needs to have a race. But there is not one for her on the programme. So the Easter Cup is the only option” All Stars will have a good list of starters in the Cup, Turn It Up, Thefixer, Eamon Maguire, Spankem, Elle Mac -and Princess Tiffany. Altogether the stable will have 18 starters at the Premier meeting with Cheerful included in the nominations for the Trotting Derby, and a bunch of juveniles for the Welcome Stakes.   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

Two of the biggest names in New Zealand harness racing face dreadful draws in the open class races at Addington tonight and that should be enough to steer punters toward their rivals.  Because while both Thefixer (Superstars) and Speeding Spur (free-for-all trot) have by far the best career records in their respective races, their trainers are both wary.  Speeding Spur returns after two months away, his last outing being a below par performance in the Great Southern Star in Victoria when he was found to have had lung issues.  He ran last of four in a workout at Pukekohe last Saturday but that is not what worries co-trainer John Dickie going into tonight’s main trot.  “He actually trialled well, he trotted his last 800m in 56.5 seconds and his 400m in under 27 seconds,” says Dickie.  “So we are happy with him but he is fresh up and has drawn the outside of the front line so more than likely he will be driven for luck.  “If he gets the right cart into it he can still win but he will improve a lot because he has three group ones coming up next month.”While he has won fresh up before employing sit-sprint tactics Speeding Spur faces a  huge test doing that over 1980m tonight, especially if fit, fast rivals like Ronald J or Valloria can lead.  The same applies to Thefixer in the Superstars for four and five-year-old pacers but he has a couple of advantages over Speeding Spur’s situation.  Not only has Thefixer raced consistently well at the highest level in the last two months, finishing second in the Miracle Mile, but he won a trial last week and comes in one spot to barrier eight after the scratching of Sherrif.  He meets a very even field full of rock hard fit horses with plenty of gate speed, which suggest he too could be going back at the start before working his way into the race.  He might simply have too much clash for his opponents but it looks a tricky race and trainer Mark Purdon admits the New Zealand Cup winner won’t be at his peak.  “He has done really well since coming home from Sydney and there will be some improvement in him,” said Purdon.  If he can get around mid race during an easy sectional then Thefixer might be good enough to sit parked and win but he might need to be clearly the best horse in the race and then some because a sub-1:54 mile rate wouldn’t surprise and that is hard for any horse three wide if they are not totally screwed down. Horses well capable of taking advantage of that include his own stablemate Eamon Maguire, A G’s White Socks, the Robert Dunn-trained pair of Henry Hubert and Alta Maestro and Jack’s Legend, who has returned to the form that saw him finish second to Lazarus in the New Zealand Cup last season.  If he could use his gate speed to blast across and lead then Jack’s Legend becomes the one to beat but after sitting parked last start he might be developing another string to his bow.  Earlier in the night the men behind Thefixer and Speeding Spur meet again in the Sires’ Stakes Trot Prelude but this time the result looks far more clear cut, with Enhance Your Calm (Purdon) expected to lead and win, giving Tricky Ric (Dickie) a great chance to trail and provide the quinella. “He is in a good place,” says Purdon of Enhance Your Calm. Michael Guerin

A workout today will determine whether Auckland Cup winner Turn It Up has a radical shot at the Easter Cup.  Because if training legend Mark Purdon is happy with the horse who might just be the best pacer in the country, Turn It Up could go fresh up into the Easter Cup without a start in three months.  Still the veteran of only 10 starts, Turn it Up hasn’t raced since winning the Flying Mile at Cambridge on January 11, 12 days after he won the Auckland Cup. He has already had the better of both Miracle Mile winner Spankem and New Zealand Cup hero Thefixer this season so an Easter Cup win could earn him crucial votes in the Horse of the Year. But even for Purdon attacking a group one 3200m standing start fresh-up with a four-year-old, who would be up against horses like Thefixer and Jacks Legend, is a stretch. “You wouldn’t try it with most horses but he doesn’t carry any extra weight and he is one horse who could do it,” said the master trainer.  “So I will know a lot more after  the workouts (today) at Rangiora. If I am happy with him then we will probably go down the Easter Cup path.  “If we are not he can go to the Rangiora Classic a week later.”  While Turn It Up hasn’t raced for nearly three months in that time Thefixer has raced five times, including two wins and a second in the Miracle Mile.  He returns at Addington in the Superstars Championships on Friday night up against a rampant Jacks Legend with Purdon admitting the NZ Cup winner could be vulnerable, especially as the pair have drawn the outside two spots on the front line.  “He has done very, very well since he came home from Sydney so he will definitely improve with the run this week.” While harness punters may still be stinging from Ultimate Sniper’s expensive failure after galloping in last Friday’s Flying Stakes at Addington, Purdon says he has little option but to turn the page.  “I can’t put it down to anything,” he says of the three-year-old who had won seven of his eight previous starts. “It wasn’t like he was being rushed off the gate at the time, Tim (Williams, driver) had a nice hold on him so there was no reason for him to get unbalanced.  “And he wasn’t sore or anything like that and I am even thinking of asking the stewards if I can see the head-on footage to see if I can detect anything there.”  With no explanation as to why Ultimate Sniper galloped and lost all chance, Purdon has little option but to press on to the New Zealand Derby on April 5, for which he is the $1.85 favourite.  That April 5 Derby meeting also hosts the New Zealand Trotting Champs, which will see the first ever clash of Monbet, Marcoola and Speeding Spur, our best three trotters in the last five years.  But they could be joined by two Purdon-Rasmussen trained four-year-olds, one not unexpected the other a real surprise.  “We are looking at starting both Winterfell and Kings Landing in the Trotting Championships,” revealed Purdon. “Winterfell was a touch disappointing last Friday but needed the run while Kings Landing has really impressed me, he feels like a good horse.  “So they can take on the top trotters next week and see how they measure up.”  On the subject of top trotters HRNZ bosses are thrilled by the possibility leading Australian trainer Emma Stewart could aim a team to the Harness Jewels at Addington on June 1, headlined by her exciting three-year-old trotter Alpha Male.  Stewarts usually only trains pacers but Alpha Male’s last start win was so stunning she has indicated to HRNZ she is keen to bring him to Addington and could find others in her team who are the right fit for the $1.275million meeting.   Michael Guerin

A masterly piece of big race judgement from Mark Purdon ensured Cheerful gave Braeden and Caroline Whitelock their second win of the night in the NZ Trotting Oaks. The Whitelocks, best known for their pacing breeding skills bought Cheerful as a yearling. She is from Superbowlcheerleader that Mark trained later in her career and won features from the stable. But everything went wrong for Cheerful in the running and only the skills of Mark got her home by a tight margin in a huge finish. Cheerful worked across from a wide draw but taking the front from a hard pulling rival took some of her resources and there was no immediate letup. Then Swiss Miss swept past her and went some lengths clear with 500m to go which suggested the little filly might struggle to fill a place. “I watched it go because I had already done quite a lot with my filly during the race and it wasn’t practical to fight off another one” Mark said, Instead he cuddled her resources and worked back into contention as Swiss Miss faded and then outfinished a game Overzealous who had enjoyed a saloon passage courtesy of Jim Curtin. It was a top performance but not enough to persuade Mark to take on the males in the Trotting Derby. “No I don’t think she is quite ready for that. We will stick to the filly races in the meantime   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

The future of one of New Zealand’s most talented young trotters is in doubt.  Oscar Bonevena is set to miss most if not all of the remainder of the season and trainer Mark Purdon admits the three-year-old’s career is in doubt.  “I hope that isn’t the case but it could be,” says Purdon.  Oscar Bonevena has developed a cyst in one of his knees and Purdon says vets suggest it could be a degenerative problem.  “We are still learning about it as our vet said it is so rare it is something they see only every couple of years,” said Purdon. “So we are seeking advice from experts in this sort of thing from overseas but he won’t be racing any time soon and at best will need a long spell.”  There is obvious disappointment in Purdon’s voice as while he also trains NZ’s top rated three-year-old trotter in Enhance Your Calm, he has a soft spot for Oscar Bonevena, who could be every bit as good as his stablemate.  Purdon purchased the then juvenile last season from Phil Williamson for former Kiwi trainer now based in the US, Chris Ryder, and Purdon’s own father, training legend Roy Purdon.  While he galloped at the Jewels, Oscar Bonevena reminded everybody how good he was with a fresh-up win at Alexandra Park in December which was followed by an enormous second there on New Years Eve when he trotted 3:26.2 for the 2700m, a full second inside Heavyweight Hero’s three-year-old national record.  “That was a huge run that day and he is a very good horse in the making so it is very disappointing to have this sort of problem with him,” said Purdon. With Oscar Bonevena sidelined indefinitely, Enhance Your Calm will be the stable flagbearer in the major three-year-old trots.  The first of those is the NZ Derby on April 5 and he will have a lead-up in the Sires’ Stakes prelude there on Friday week, a race which has been rescheduled from last Friday’s cancelled Addington meeting. “He is going very well and would be as good as any three-year-old I have had at this stage of the season.”  After the NZ Derby, Enhance Your Calm will head to Auckland for the Sires’ Stakes and Northern Trot Derby before rounding out his season in the Jewels.  “I think that will do him, we probably wouldn’t go to Victoria with him.” Michael Guerin

A lengthy association with All Stars came to an end, at least in the foreseeable future, for stable manager, Michelle Neilson last week on her return to Australia after seven years at Rolleston. Michelle came over from Australia where she had had considerable experience as a junior driver and through family connections with racing in 2012 around the same time Natalie made her base permanently at Rolleston. “I poached her actually” Natalie confesses. “She was very good, had a lot of potential and I knew she would fit in well over here. She did” Initially a stablehand and junior driver, Michelle drove six winners in her first full season in New Zealand and was keen for more driving opportunities which was not easy with Mark Natalie and Blair available for the team. In her final Junior year she handled 20 winners. For a brief period she left All Stars in search of greater driving opportunities. She was back for her first open driver season in which she handled three of her five winners for All Stars, Serengeti, Riccardo and Golden Goddess, the latter when she ended Dream About Me’s 12 successive win tally. In the past two seasons as stable manager she has had fewer opportunities but won three of only 14 drives in the 2018 season including one with Princess Tiffany (admittedly a Breeders Crown heat which was a walkover) and two raceday successes with Kayla Marie compiling a 10 per cent winning strike rate overall with 35 wins. There would have been plenty more but for her executive position at All Stars which encompassed nominations here and in Australia, flight and veterinary planning and a number of other responsibilities not directly connected to the training of the horses. It was a big challenge for someone who until then had followed instructions rather than giving them and acting as a team leader-acquired skills sometimes underrated by outside observers. Especially on the major days when All Stars had huge numbers involved the planning was intense . The work involved a 7 day mindset and in the regular absences of Mark and Natalie overseas heavy responsibility which can take a toll eventually, Some time ago when indicating she would return to Australia, Michelle referred to family pressures and the desire for a change of direction. “I have been here seven years and away from my family for most of that time and that is a factor in my thinking. I didn’t expect originally that I would be away this long. “I guess too there is a time for thinking about a new direction in life having followed this one for so long. Just a freshen up really. I have made no decisions about that but will have a chance to think and reflect on it when I get home” Michelle leaves with the best wishes of Mark and Natalie and All Stars staff, the longest serving of several Australians the stable has “imported” over several years.   Courtesy of All Stars Stables http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

Miracle Mile hero Spankem is set to race on this season setting up a big-three battle for harness racing’s Horse of the Year honour.  And crucial votes in the contest could end up being won at Alexandra Park next month as Spankem clashes with elite stablemates Turn It Up and Chase Auckland.  After his surprise thrashing of his Miracle Mile opponents at Menangle 12 days ago Spankem was sent for a veterinary examination as is so often the case with the better All Stars-trained runners at the end of long campaigns.  Any sign of soreness or issues would have probably seen the four-year-old sent to the paddock but trainer Mark Purdon liked what the vets had to report and Spankem will be Auckland-bound next month.  “They checked him out and said he is in great condition so we will aim him at the Taylor Mile (April 26) and the Messenger (May 3) at Alexandra Park,” said Purdon.   That means all three of the Purdon-Rasmussen mega race winners from this season will race on as Thefixer (New Zealand Cup) and Turn It Up (Auckland Cup) are also going to have autumn campaigns.  Thefixer will contest the Superstars at Addington on March 29 and then the Easter Cup and victory in the latter would go a long way to making him harness racing’s Horse of the Year.  But that will probably round out his season and if either Spankem or Turn It Up could sweep the Alexandra Park double they would enormously boost their chances on making the title race interesting.  Turn It Up could yet contest the Easter Cup but is more likely to head to the Rangiora Classic on April 7 before Alexandra Park.  There he will go head to head with Spankem and Chase Auckland in the group one four-year-old races before more than likely contesting the Jewels at Addington on June 1.  “He hasn’t had the summer racing of some of the others or the travel to Australia,” explains Purdon of Turn It Up.  “So he will probably press on to the Jewels whereas the two big races at Auckland will probably do it for Spankem.”  Spankem versus Turn It Up with the remainder of a strong four-year-old crop led by Chase Auckland would really spice up the Taylor Mile-Messenger double and could go some way to resolving the question of who the best pacer in the country is. The news Turn It Up is more than likely to race on until the Jewels will be welcomed by Addington officials as they prepare to host the massive day for the first time, with Auckland Cup-winning four-year-olds always a risk to miss the Jewels and be spelled to aim at the New Zealand Cup.   Michael Guerin

Smart 2yo old pacer Smooth Deal capped off a great night for Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen by winning the $90,000 Gr1 Breckon Farms Young Guns Cardigan Bay Stakes at Alexandra Park last night. Smooth Deal a future harness racing star was too good for his opposition in last night 2yo feature. Trainer and driver Mark Purdon was quite happy to settle near the back of the field and bide his time before launching wide at the 800m and then carreering away in the straight for the easiest of wins on the Bettor's Delight gelding. Stable-mate of the winner Virgil rushed home late for second after an early gallop and the Mike Berger trained Eagle Watch finished third after trailing. Purdon said after the race Smooth Deal was a smart pacer who ticked all the boxes. "He is pretty versatile. When I asked him to go around and lengthen out down the back he really strode out like a smart horse and just strode away at the top of the straight. "He is a great stayer and ticks all the boxes. Just a lovely horse," he said. Smooth Deal paced the 1700m in 2-03.4 a mile rate of 1-56.8. The last 800m was run in a quick 55.9 seconds and a closing 400m in 27.8. Earlier in the night Purdon also won the $75,200 Gr2 Delightful Lady Fillies Classic with the impeccably bred 2yo filly Sweet On Me who came from a difficult second row draw to outmuscle her rivals. in a 1-56.4 mile rate. Sweet On Me is out of the champion New Zealand Cup winning mare Adore Me who won 26 races from 36 starts. Sweet On Me(Sweet Lou - Adore Me)  looks to have inherited all of the family ability going on last nights impressive victory.     Harnesslink Media

The boss is back and that usually only means one thing: you can confidently take the short odds for Ultimate Sniper in tonight’s $250,000 Woodlands Derby at Alexandra Park. The star three-year-old pacer lost his unbeaten record in the Derby prelude last Friday when, after trailing, he hung in and paced roughly on the final bend, losing two lengths on eventual winner Jesse Duke. You can expect neither of those things — trailing or pacing roughly — to happen again tonight. Champion trainer Mark Purdon wasn’t in Auckland last week, he was busy putting the winning polish on his Miracle Mile night team in Sydney but he has been back this week and hands on with the Derby favourite. It is not that Purdon’s staff don’t do a great job when the boss is absent, after all they have won plenty of races in his absence including two last Friday, but Purdon is still Purdon and he picks up the smallest details others might miss. “I think he has a slight issue hanging from last week which we can fix for this week,” says Purdon. “I have put a Murphy Blind on him with a small hole in it to make him concentrate better. “I am confident he will be better and from that draw he will probably be in front. So he is clearly the one to beat.” Ultimate Sniper has looked a touch freakish this season and as good as stablemate Jesse Duke it is hard to see him beating him again. Another stablemate Another Masterpiece was scratched yesterday with an elevated temperature. Those looking for place and multis value should check out Bettorstartdreaming, who has the gate speed to find the markers early and follow close to the favourite which is the golden pathway to placing in major Alexandra Park saying events. Purdon has every reason to expect his heroics of last Saturday to be repeated tonight, with Smooth Deal looking a little too strong for his rivals in the $100,000 Breckon Farms Young Guns Final although Sweet On Me is going to have to overcome a tricky draw in the fillies final but she oozes class. But he has lost his big gun out of the City Of Auckland Free-For-All with Ultimate Machete’s huge frame finally giving up on him, with the multiple group one winner suffering suspensory damage which threatens his career. With him out of the race speedsters Star Galleria and Jack’s Legend become the two to beat, with the draw suggesting the former is the better bet. Michael Guerin

Nights like this make it all worthwhile for Mark Purdon.  Because it not the money or the glory that keeps Purdon away from home all summer. It is the satisfaction he feels when things go right and Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen can get the best out of their horses and do the right thing by their owners.  And things went all the way right on Saturday night a Menangle.  The All Stars trained four winners, three at group one level and most importantly the quinella in the A$1 million Miracle Mile as Spankem outsped stablemate Thefixer.  It was Purdon’s first driving success in the Mile, a race his brother Barry and brother-in-law Tony Herlihy had both driven the winners of before so Mark was thrilled to join the family honour roll.  “It is a race I’m glad I finally won because it is one I always wanted and it would have annoyed me if I retired one day not having got it,” says Purdon.  But personal glory is not what motivates Purdon to spend three tiring months on the road, with the Hall of Famer admitting his gruelling summer has sapped him.  “It has been hard,” says Purdon.  “I think the only time I have been home since early December was for the yearling sales and while it is great to have all these horses and to win big races traveling all the time isn’t easy.  “I think people see nights like what we had on Saturday and see the glamour but it has been a testing summer in some ways.  “But when you see the horses race that well and the thrill the owners and the staff get out of it, it is very, very satisfying.” As dominant as horses like Our Princess Tiffany (NSW Oaks) and Our Dream About Me (Ladyship Mile) were, Purdon still needed his rarest of training skills to get them there.  Both of that pair and Spankem were in doubt for this carnival just three weeks ago and part of Purdon’s mastery is his self-belief to change his plans at the last minute to suit how a horse feels.  Three weeks ago Spankem was coming home to New Zealand with a hoof abscess, now he is the Miracle Mile champion, with delayed flights also helping.  “I wasn’t surprised he won because his work last week was so good and his gate speed was a huge asset,” says Purdon.  “And he loved the big track and the speed racing. But he still had to be good to hold out Thefixer.” Spankem will now have a short break while Dream About Me retires a last-start group one winner. Our Princess Tiffany was breathtaking and has raced back to the head of the fillies ranks while All U Need Is Faith got a deserved listed win.  As for Purdon, he will make it part of the way home (Christchurch), flying into Auckland today to put the finishing touches on his team for Derby night at Alexandra Park this Friday.  The machine rolls on. Michael Guerin

Champion horseman Mark Purdon has added another Grand Circuit event to his record. Purdon took the winning drive behind star four-year-old Spankem to claim the $1 million Ainsworth Miracle Mile at TABCORP Park, Menangle when leading throughout to defeat stablemate Thefixer and Poster Boy in a time of 1:47.7. It’s the first time Purdon has driven a Miracle Mile winner. Back in 2016, Have Faith In Me scored for the All Stars stable when handled by Natalie Rasmussen. Amazingly, the Miracle Mile was considered as an afterthought after missing the recent Chariots of Fire, Spankem showed his class and toughness after claiming the Canadian Club Sprint qualifier a week ago before scoring last night (Saturday). Boasting three runners in the event, the All Stars stable finished 1st, 2nd and 4th in the country’s premier sprint race. Spankem, a son of Bettors Delight, becomes only the 7th four-year-old to win the Miracle Mile since its inception back in 1967 and joins the likes of Mount Eden, Gundary Flyer, Westburn Grant, Iraklis, Christian Cullen and Have Faith In Me. New Zealand Cup winner Thefixer showed early speed from gate two and headed off Poster Boy while Spankem pushed forward quickly from his wide draw (gate 6) and found the lead before the end of the first quarter. The opening split was timed in 26.9 seconds. Spankem settled perfectly in front with Thefixer sitting behind him while Poster Boy and Chase Auckland also rode the pegs. My Alpha Rock was left facing the breeze with his stablemate Yayas Hot Spot landing one out/one back cover while current Grand Circuit leader Tiger Tara sat last on the outside. Defending champion My Field Marshal drifted back to the rear soon after the start but lost contact with the field and dropped out and took no competitive part. It was later established that My Field Marshal had suffered cardiac arrhythmia. Passing the half, Spankem went through the second section in 28.2 seconds. No moves were being made and Purdon continued to dictate terms in front and Spankem traveled strongly. Heading off the back straight, the third quarter was posted in 27.2 seconds. Upon straightening, Spankem led the way with Thefixer coming to his outside in readiness to outsprint him while Poster Boy and Chase Auckland also starting to wind up. In the straight, Spankem held Thefixer with Poster Boy closing off well for third and Chase Auckland running fourth. Tiger Tara eventually dropped off slightly in the straight to finish fifth. The final split was timed in an astonishing 25.4 seconds – the fastest ever closing split ever recorded in Australia. The winning time is the third quickest in the event’s history, only My Field Marshal (1:46.9) and Have Faith In Me (1:47.5) have gone faster. Naturally, Purdon was thrilled with the result. “It’s a great result for the stable; having three runners engaged and they’ve all performed really well so it’s particularly pleasing for the stable overall,” Purdon said. “Personally, it’s a massive thrill to win this race; it has so much history and a certain aura about it so it’s great to finally win it.” He added. Purdon has had three previous drives in the Miracle Mile; Lazarus (3rd), Jack Cade (2nd) and Young Rufus (4th). Only one leg remains of the 2018/19 Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit – the Gr.1 $200,000 Blacks A Fake Queensland Championship at Albion Park on July 20. Chris Barsby

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