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Margaret Purdon, wife of the Hall Of Fame trainer Roy Purdon and mother of modern day legends Mark and Barry, passed away on Tuesday night just a day shy of her 86th birthday after a short illness. The sporting talent in the Purdon family wasn't  limited to Roy and their children as Margaret was a talented sportswoman in her younger days repersenting New Zealand at golf  touraments overseas and golf remained a passion right up to her recent short illness. Roy has been quoted numerous times over the years that his wife Margaret was the foundation on which all the success the family had achieved over the years was built on. Roy and Margaret had been married for 60 years. Here at Harnesslink  we would like to express our sincere condolences to Roy, Barry and Katrina, Mark and Natalie, Owen and Gaylene and Suzanne and Tony and the wider Purdon family at Margaret's passing.

Young Gippsland harness racing participant Mary Elliott embarks on the trip of a lifetime this week. Elliot is heading to New Zealand to take up a position with the Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen trotting stable after being recommended by local trainers Gary and Debbie Quinlan. The experience and education Elliot will gain in New Zealand working for one of the world's leading stables will be invaluable to her career. Elliot is a graduate of the Gippsland Harness Racing Training Centre and is keeping a tradition going as several past graduates throughout the years have been able to travel interstate or overseas to further their experience in trotting. Last year was a big one for Elliot, who registered her first win when driving Zoes Dream and also having her first starter as a trainer. Already 2015 is shaping as being another year full of achievements for the dedicated young horsewoman, who has been working in recent times for fellow Gippsland trainer Michael Hughes. KYLE GALLEY

What do harness racing trainer’s Mark Purdon, Belinda McCarthy and Emma Stewart have in common? The easy answer is prizemoney. To be more precise, Mark is the leading money earning trainer in New Zealand, while Belinda and Emma are the leading money earning trainers in New South Wales and Victoria.  If you look a little deeper, however, you’ll discover they share something else in common, which is undoubtedly an important factor in their success. Besides their outstanding ability with equines, and meticulous attention to detail, one of the key factors to their success is their ability to source quality horses from the APG yearling sales.  It is no coincidence New Zealand, Victoria and New South Wales’ leading three trainers are also the three most active buyers at the APG Yearling Sales. Importantly, statistics show the performance of these trainers’ APG Sales Graduates significantly exceeds the success they achieve with the other horses in their stable - quite an achievement considering the quality of horseflesh these trainers have in their team at any given time! A breakdown of all three trainers’ statistics for last season makes for some interesting reading:   Performance with APG Sales Graduates:   Trainer Starts Wins Earnings Average Earnings per Start Mark Purdon 62 32 $1,007,675 $16,253 Belinda McCarthy 146 32 $862,079 $5,905 Emma Stewart 124 36 $619,708 $4,998   Performance with remainder of Stable:   Trainer Starts Wins Earnings Average Earnings per Start Mark Purdon 477 140 $2,774,665 $5,817 Belinda McCarthy 547 122 $1,934,296 $3,536 Emma Stewart 396 112 $1,198,998 $3,028   Another amazing fact is Purdon, McCarthy and Stewart’s APG Sales Graduates which started last season already have combined earnings in excess of $7.2million, at an average of nearly $150,000 per horse. The figure is destined to grow as 60 per cent of their starters were only two or three-year-olds last season and have plenty of racing ahead of them, while many of their older horses are still in their prime. Of course, it is not just these three trainers who enjoy success with APG Sales Graduates.  The 50 leading trainers of APG Sales Graduates last season (based on total earnings) collectively earned almost $9.5 million in prizemoney with their APG Sales Graduates at an average of over $2130 per start. That last figure is more than two-and-a-half times the national average (which includes NZ-bred horses racing in Australia). So if you want to maximise your chances of success, make sure you’re at the APG Melbourne Sale on Sunday, February 1 to make your dreams a reality! Photos and videos of many of APG’s Melbourne Sale horses are already available for viewing by clicking here, and more are being added on a regular basis. Harnesslink Media

If you thought that the All Stars had been on a roll lately with their domination of the premier harness racing meetings this season, then the bad news for the competition is they are about to bring out some more than capable replacements in the next few weeks. One horse who has been away from the track for a fair while is Didjamakem Bolt who is on track to resume at the end of the month at Addington. The 6 year old son of Tinted Cloud has won six of his nine lifetime starts to date but it is a career that has been plagued by injury. Another star due to return to the track is Border Control who is being set for the same Addington meeting at the end of January as Didjamakem Bolt. The son of Bettors Delight who has won seventeen of his thirty five starts and taken a mark of 1 :50.6 is another to have been troubled by injury over the last few months but seems better this time in judging by his trial on Wednesday at Ashburton. Although only a three horse trial, with Christen Me, Border Control and Didjamkem Bolt involved it had plenty of class with Didjamakem Bolt winning by a head from Border Control with a nose to Christen Me. The 2400 metres from the mobile was cut out in 3:04.4 with closing sectionals of 56.1 and 27.3. Co-trainer Mark Purdon was happy with the feedback from the staff. "The boys reported they went well at the trials on Wednesday and we will see how they progress from there. " said Mark. Mark indicated that the Easter Cup could be the longer term goal of both pacers who have had long absences from the track as a result of various ailments. Another All Star runner to impress at the trials last Wednesday was last seasons leading 3 year old trotter in King Denny who cut out the 2400 metres from a stand in a very sharp 3:05.9 with closing sectionals of 57 and 28.4. King Denny could be headed to the Northern Southland meeting next Thursday if the the field stands up and the stable are very happy with him heading into his season's debut. Two other stable runners impressed at the same trials. The smart 3 year old filly Big Lucy is nearing racing trim and she won her heat in 3.02.8 for the mobile 2400m (56.5 / 27.2) while Snakes N Ladders impressed taking out his 2 year old heat in a smart 1.58.3 (57.3 / 27.1) Just when rival trainers were looking for some relief from the All Stars barn after all the racing they have had recently, they now realize that the replacements are of the same quality. Harnesslink Media

Plenty of harness racing pundits thought that the smart 2 year old Lazarus would be hard pushed to repeat his debut win when he lined up in heat two of the Young Guns series at Alexandra Park today. After all his main competition in Swamp Major and Motown had both drawn nicely in close while Lazarus had drawn badly at barrier eight. With the margin from their first meeting being so narrow, many thought that the result would be reversed this time. Swamp Major with Blair Orange in the bike left the gate quickly and grabbed the early lead while Motown slotted into a lovely trail from barrier two. Mark Purdon went forward from barrier eight with Lazarus and when Sabrage galloped he was able to slot onto the back of Kimani in the one by one. That is the way the order stayed until 150 metres from home where Mark angled Lazarus off Kimani's back and dashed home the last bit for a narrow but impressive victory. Swamp Major was game in second place with Motown battling into third place along the passing lane. Lazarus paced the 1700 metres in a quick 2:03.1, a mile rate of 1:56.5 with closing sectionals of 55.7 and 27. Part of last years Studholme Bloodstock's consignment to the yearling sales, Lazarus was purchased by long time All Stars clients Kennard Bloodstock for $75,000 and they were joined in the ownership by Trevor Casey and Kevin Riseley.  While loath to compare him to previous top 2 year olds he has trained, Mark Purdon gave the son of Bettor's Delight a good rap. " He is just a natural 2 year old and has great manners and that counts for a lot in these races." " The time didn't surprise me as they have been running time in most of the races here," Mark said. When quizzed about whether Lazarus looked the early favourite for the Young Guns final Mark was a touch more circumspect. " Bit early to say but he is certainly heading in the right direction,"Mark said  Harnesslink Media  

Adore Me might be forcing harness racing trainer Mark Purdon into a corner ... a corner in Victoria. The great mare recorded another group one at Alexandra Park last Friday but was made to work for the $100,000 Rosslands Queen Of Hearts, after Purdon made the brave decision to take luck out of play. He could have easily punched through from one on the second line to trail Helena Jet and see what happened next, aware than after winning a New Zealand Cup, Adore Me doesn’t really have that much left to prove. But instead Purdon chose to take luck out of play and snagged Adore Me straight off the markers, a move that saw him settle second last but gave him the option to progress when he wanted. That was at the bell and while Adore Me got to the parked position without great effort, Helena Jet and trailer Lancewood Lizzie had had easy runs and were going to make her work to get past them. So it proved as Adore Me took most of the straight to grab the front, courtesy of a 26.5 second last 400m, during which she even looked vulnerable at the 200m mark. It wasn’t her best or biggest win but like a female pacing All Black, she found a way to win at the highest level with what wasn’t her absolute best performance. Purdon was pleased after her defence of the title she won last season and confirmed the Flying Mile at Cambridge on January 9 is almost certainly her next target. But then he suggested a surprise deviation in her plans, with the possibility she could contest either the Victoria or Hunter Cup. Nominations for those races closed last Friday and Adore Me was among them, Purdon initially putting her in “just in case.” A far more likely target, then and now, was a mares race at Addington at the end of the month but while they would be at her mercy, the two Melton races are A$400,000 each, enormous money. But with the change of date for the Breeder Stakes from late January to March 20, all of a sudden Australia looks a far juicier option. And complicating the matter is the $50,000 Inter Dominion heat slated for Addington on February 14 is looking under threat, especially as Christen Me, Terror To Love and Franco Nelson are heading to Victoria. So Purdon needs to weight up whether to stick to mares racing for a total of about $300,000 from mid January to March, or head to Victoria and then have the possibility of the Inter Dominion on March 1, which means racing for A$1.6million. That is a huge difference and after what she did in the New Zealand Cup, who would argue she couldn’t win a Hunter Cup, especially as Beautide and For A Reason will miss that race. “Victoria is definitely becoming more of an option” admitted Purdon. “But really I want to take it one race at a time. So we will head to Cambridge and then make a decision after that. “If she went there she might only start in one of them, the Victoria or the Hunter Cup. But we are entered for them now so it is a possibility.”
 That would be news to the ears of the trainers of the other top mares in the country as a good race at Addington could await one of them. But if Adore Me stays that doesn’t look achievable because she showed again last week she can sit parked and beat them. Its not always easy, but she can still do it. Another horse who could have a Victorian change of plans is Christen Me. Trainer Cran Dalgety says the Miracle Mile winner is now a chance to head to the Shepparton Cup on January as his lead-up to the Victoria and Hunter Cups the following Saturdays. “He will need a lead up race to the Victoria Cup and the mile at Cambridge is too soon,” said Dalgety. “So I am looking at Shepparton, even though he would be off a 30m handicap.” By Michael Guerin Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand

Harness racing can be very cruel at times especially when everything is going well. That was the feeling in the All Stars barn this week when their top 3 year old Alta Orlando sustained an injury which has brought  a sudden halt to the career of this budding star. Mark Purdon was typically philosophical when talking about Alta Orlando this week " Its a suspensory problem in a back leg." "Its a shame as he was as fit as he could be and ready to race but that's racing," Mark said. Alta Orlando was at the top of his game from the time he stepped onto a racetrack as a 2 year old with his five starts as a juvenile bringing three wins a placing for $141,749 in stakes. His best win as a 2 year old was in the $195,000 Sales Series Final in a 1:56.2 mile rate for the 1950 metres. The 3 year old final of the same series that is held at Auckland at the end of this month was the next major race on Alta Orlando's schedule before his injury. The son of Courage Under Fire was a $35,000 purchase out of the 2013 Australasian Classic sale and is owned by longtime All Star client Neil Pilcher along with Hall Of Fame thoroughbred trainer Jim Gibbs and his wife Ann. Never an easy horse to drive, Alta Orlando has raced off the unruly in all the big races. That usually meant Alta Orlando doing a lot of work in his races as in this years Sires Stakes final where he was three wide for a long way but still ran third in a 1:53.7 mile rate for the 1950 metres. Regarded by many as the 3 year old from the All Star barn with the most ability, Alta Orlando had been the subject of overseas interest just before his injury which makes it all a bit harder for the connections to take. " There was a lot of overseas interest in Alta Orlando in the last few weeks and then this happened," Mark said. Everyone in the harness racing industry knows how fickle things can be at times but that knowledge doesn't makes situations like Alta Orlando's injury any easier to handle.   Harnesslink Media

One thing Australian harness racing trainers got tired of seeing last year was the sight of Follow The Stars disappearing up the track on his way to winning their 2 year old classics. Those trainers would have hoped that the brilliant son of Art Major would concentrate on age group features in New Zealand before heading back across the Tasman but the New Zealand handicapping system has meant that Australians will get to see plenty of Follow The Stars starting with the Victorian Derby. The New Zealand handicapping system rates every win in a race with a stake of $15,000 or more as a win that attracts a penalty, even as a 2 year old. Hence going into his 3 year old year in New Zealand, Follow The Stars is classed as a C8 for handicapping purposes which means he is graded just behind our best Grand Circuit horses. So not surprisingly the All Star team have decided that  it is too tough for a early 3 year old to race those older race hardened horses and are heading back over the Tasman with their star where under the Australian handicapping system, Follow The Stars is still an M0. Being an "Aussie" by birth, Follow The Stars was always going to spend a lot of time on that side of the Tasman as he is eligible for everything but the New Zealand handicapping system has fast tracked his appearance. The All Stars team have mapped out a programme for last years champion 2 year old and everything is on track at this stage. Follow The Stars is due to head to the North Island on December 13th and trial in the north before having his season debut run in the $20,000 Waikato Guineas at Cambridge on January 9th. From there it is on the plane to Melbourne to contest the Victorian Derby heats on January 31st. Following the Derby, Follow The Stars is expected to spend most if not all of his season in Australia which while not what a lot of Australian trainers would have been hoping for, will be greeted with a sigh of relief by a lot of trainers in New Zealand. With his great 2 year old record and being from the great American maternal family that he is from, Follow The Stars has stallion potential written all over him if he can reproduce at three what he achieved as a two year old. Harnesslink Media 

Mark and Dennis Dunford have had more success as owners than most at the All Stars Racing Stables. Alleluia, Hands Christian and Have Faith in Me are just the most recent winners that the brothers have raced out of the All Stars barn. But Dennis, an Auckland real estate executive recalled after the latter's great Sires Stakes victory that it wasn't always that way when they first got into harness racing. "I think I started racing horses about 1991 or somewhere around there." "We had a bit of success early on but no headliners and it seemed to get worse as time went on instead of better." "I decided I wanted to stay in the game and that if I was going to do so I had to change my approach" Out of the blue he rang Mark Purdon. "I didn't  know him and he didn't know me." "I said I wanted to to buy a horse and race it from his stable and Mark agreed." "He would select one for us at the sales for us to race."  That first one was Steve McQueen and it has gone from there" Steve McQueen was raced by the Dunfords in partnership with some friends and he was an immediate success. It was a great start for the Dunfords in their association with the All Stars barn. Steve McQueen only won three races before his sale to Australia but they were the key races. He won two Sales races including the $195,000 the Sales Open when driven by Blair Orange and also won the Cardigan Bay Stakes which was then then a Group Three race. One of his better runs at three was when he was beaten a nose in a Sires Stakes heat by none other than Auckland Reactor. Hands Christian has been a big winner for the Dunfords on their own account even if they have need the patience of Job to keep the racing faith with him after he had twice gone amiss with a tendon problem. One aspect of Have Faith In Me's triumph on Cup Day in the Sires Stakes which must have caused much celebration for the owners was how close they had come with Hands Christian beaten half a head by Gold Ace in the same race in 2011. Hands Christian wen on to win the Easter Cup but suffered a number of close defeats. Alleluia was at one stage the most brilliant three year old in the All Stars stable though he never quite lived up to that early promise. He is now racing in Australia. Mark Dennis was one of the most promising horses of his crop winning a Sires Stakes heat in 2.20.9 in one of only four starts here, winning two  of them. In the second he beat Smolda and All Star Man, Dennis makes no secret of  how his religious beliefs play a big role in his life and reveals that Have Faith in Me was intended to be called Have Faith In God. "Then I considered that the horses from that family generally have Me at the end of their name (Adore Me;Christen Me etc) so I changed it to Have Faith In Me. And you may have noticed I got to mention Deo Gratias (Thanks Be to God) in my speech! I believe all these things are part of life" Whatever the strategy or the beliefs it works. and that Deo Gratias might well be about the day Dennis Dunford decided to ring Mark. Courtesy All Stars Racing Stables - Check site here

Robert Dunn sees a silver lining to Franco Nelson’s controversial Miracle Mile snub. Because now the New Zealand Cup runner-up can be the flagbearer for his North Island satellite stable which opens this week. Franco Nelson was passed over for a Miracle Mile invite at the expense of Terror To Love, who got the second Kiwi invite to next week’s A$750,000 race, even though Franco Nelson beat him twice last week. Dunn says while he would love to be going to Australian pacing’s richest sprint he isn’t losing much sleep over the snub. “Sure, we would love to have him there but we could also go over, draw outside horses like Beautide and have no chance,” admits Dunn. “That decision is made and we have Auckland to concentrate on with him now as well as the Hunter and Victoria Cups later in the summer.” Franco Nelson will have plenty of stable company when he comes north this weekend, with Dunn and son John, who train in what is basically an unofficial partnership, sending six horses north. They will be stabled at the new Lincoln Farms property in South Auckland after owner John Street moved his harness racing operation from West Auckland. “We are privelaged to get some room at John’s place because he does things well,” says Dunn. “And the time has come for us to have a more permanent base in Auckland. “I have a lot of Auckland-based owners who want to see their horses race up there as often as we can. “And it is getting harder to ignore the stakes at Alexandra Park and the fact they have smaller fields. “So Franco will lead our team up there with horses like No Doctor Needed and Say My Name among the six we are sending up.” The Dunns won’t be the first Canterbury trainers to set up a northern base and most fall over eventually as they struggle for horse numbers or staff who can replicate the main trainer’s success in their absence. The latest venture would seem to have a greater shot at success than most though as the horses will be in the care of Matt Bowden, who has had a wonderful strike rate looking after the stable’s horses on previous extended northern raids. “Matt will be the man up there but of course John and I will be making trips up, especially John who will drive them racenight a lot of the time. “The driving can be shared with Dexter if needs be too because he drives up there a lot of the summer. “We are really excited about it because it gives up more options with our horses. “We haven’t gone into it lightly and we want to make this a permanent thing.” Franco Nelson has come though his two Cup week placings well and is being set for a $30,000 race at Alexandra Park on December 5 before having races available to him almost every week until mid-January, especially as the Harness Jewels winner is eligible for Four and Five-Year-Old mixed racing. He is then likely to head to Victoria and on to the Inter Dominion in Sydney on March 1. The Dunns setting up shop in the north will be welcomed by Alexandra Park officials as they continue to struggle for numbers in their better pacing races. Trotting races have been of huge benefit to Alexandra Park field sizes, a huge factor in turnover figures, but pacing races stronger than mid-grade still struggle. The Dunns sit second equal on the trainer’s premiership with 20 wins for the season worth nearly $300,000 in stakes. The runaway leaders at the Purdon-Rasmussen stable, which has won 36 races from 106 starters and have already banked $994,239 for the season, with nearly 60 per cent of their starters finishing in the first three.   Courtesy of Michael Guerin - Harness Racing New Zealand

Harness racing is one of those sports where luck plays a big part at times. Sometimes when things are going bad nothing positive happens where as when your luck is in, the world is your oyster. No one knows that better at the moment than well known owner Trevor Casey who has been riding a wave of success in the last few years. One of his many stars at the moment is the talented Majestic Son filly, Hot Pants. A $30,000 purchase at the Australasian Classic Yearling sale in Auckland in 2012, Trevor races Hot Pants in partnership with co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen and right from the start Hot Pants has shown promise. Although she didn't win as a 2 year old, Hot Pants ran second in the $82,000 Sales Trot to stablemate Dieu De L'Amour ($58,839) and fourth to another of Trevor's youngsters in Daenerys Targaryen ($106,923) in the 2 year old Trotters Championship. Hot Pants looked to have come back bigger and better at three when she won her maiden race by 10 lengths just prior to the New Zealand Trotting Oaks. But thats where things started to go wrong and Trevor didn't see it coming. "Mark was very confident of a big run in the Oaks and although she ran third, she was beaten 10 lengths and was very disappointing," Trevor told Harnesslink this week. A few days later Trevor got the call all owners dread. "Mark rang to say that Hot Pants had bled badly after the Oaks and the vet advice was that she was finished as a racehorse and should be retired,"  he said. Trevor put Hot Pants in the broodmare paddock but was toying with the idea of selling her. " I have plenty of well related and performed broodmares as it is and didn't fancy another one, he said. Trevor watched Hot Pants tearing around the broodmare paddock and wondered to himself if there was anything that might help Hot Pants get over her bleeding episode. It was at this point Trevor contacted well respected Victorian vet Alastair Maclean who is a good friend for advice. " Alastair sent me some powder to treat her with which over time seemed to pick her up and I became keen to try her again" he said. The next hurdle for Trevor was convincing Mark Purdon to try her again. "Mark was reluctant initially but came round after a couple of conversations," he said. So four months after being retired, Hot Pants returned to the All Stars training establishment at Rolleston to try to resurrect her racing career. No one involved really knew how it was going to turn out let alone Trevor. So there was some understandable nervousness in the camp when Hot Pants lined up for her first start back at the end of September at Addington. A nice fifth in the hands of part owner Natalie Rasmussen was as good as could be expected in the circumstances and it was decided to press on The first up start had qualified Hot Pants for the $24,505 final of the Alabar Super Series and with a peach of a drive from Mark Purdon she got home over Indiana Jones and Commander Paris. Next up was a junior drivers race but Trevor wasn't sure if it was the right move. "Mark was keen to put up stable driver Matt Anderson" "He had great confidence he would get the job done and as usual his judgment was spot on," he said. From there Trevor was keen to start on Cup Day but Mark had sorted out a 1950 metres mobile on Show Day and it was there Hot Pants lined up. Wide for 500 metres before finding the death seat, Hot Pant was left parked as Sunny Ruby set a scorching pace in front. Able to slot down onto the running line at the 700 metres mark when a horse broke, Mark angled her off the inner on the corner and burst through the middle late in the piece to claim a great win. Hot Pant's time of 2:25, a mile rate of 1:59.6 was a new New Zealand record for a mare 4 year old or older. Trevor was suitably impressed with Hot Pant's performance. "She has always had speed but now she has developed a staying game as well."  "To set a New Zealand record after doing so much work was a great effort,"he said Just as important was how she came through the race. "She has come through the race really well and all going well we are planning to head to Auckland now," Trevor said. It should be of little surprise that Hot Pants is going as well as she is when you look at her bloodlines. By boom trotting sire Majestic Son, Hot Pants is the first foal from the lightly raced but talented mare Dutch Annie (4 wins) ($35,719)  The second foal is last years talented 2 year old filly Yagunnakissmeornot ($26,180) who won four times in her debut season and finished fourth in the Harness Jewels. The grand-dam of Hot Pants is the brilliant racemare Miss Whiplash 1:58.6 ($151,765) who left last years 2 year old trotting filly of the year in Wanna Play 1:58.9 ($52,171)  who is also raced by Trevor. Wanna Play is also by Majestic Son making her a 3/4 sister to Hot Pants. One thing you can guarantee now is that when Hot Pant's racing career comes to an end for the second time, Trevor will manage to find a spot for her in his broodmare band. There is a fine line between success and failure in harness racing and the story of the successful return of Hot Pants to the track shows how fine that line can be at times. Harnesslink Media  

Gallant Hands Christian who survived one of the more unusual New Zealand Cup preparations only to falter during the big race, has been officially  retired and Mark and Natalie are confident he will find a good home. Hands Christian had 13 wins from just 34 starts winning over $330,000 the best being the Easter Cup for owners Mark and Dennis Dunford for whom Mark selected him as a yearling. He missed both his five year old and six year old seasons because of two separate tendon injuries but battled back this year running a close second to Adore Me at only his second start in two and a half years. A winner first up at two, Hands Christian had the first of his "near misses" when beaten half a head by Gold Ace in the Sires Stakes Final in 2010. Four November's later both were racing on Tuesday but Hands Christian had spent a lot of his time in boxes and paddocks in the interim. He was a close up third in the $250,000 Sales Pace, broke and retired from the Northern Derby, won a Derby heat in Australia and then had another heartbreak second to Gold Ace, beaten a nose,  in the Harness Jewels running 1.54.4. Third in that race was Terror To Love three years before the pair met in the Cup. After a win in the Geraldine Cup following a disappointing NZ Cup meeting, Hands Christian beat Easy On The Eye and Gold Ace in the Waikato Futurity. He then beat boomers Franco Emirate and Mah Sish in the Free For All leading into the Easter Cup and beat Terror To Love and Gold Ace in the Easter Cup. He then went to Australia and beat the Northern Derby winner Sushi Sushi in the Paleface Adios. Not long after that he went amiss in the Messenger and it was a long road back as we know. But his second placing in the Flying Stakes in his first start in 27 months was a reminder of his class. For her part Natalie was already a big fan and even after the disappointment of Tuesday she was full of admiration. "I think something happened fairly early on because he just didn't have the dash he had at Ashburton. "But he never turned it in." "He tried his heart out." "He is a very gallant horse and I was pleased to be able to drive him in the Cup." "It was a big ask but he had done his part to make it happen" It was also a massive training achievement just to get the brother ot Christen Me to the post. He never saw a beach or a swimming pool yet survived a searching preparation skilfully managed. Mark thinks Hands Christian will have no trouble finding a good home. "He would be ideally suited to something like a trail horse. "It wouldn't put the pressure on his leg a racing prep does and he would handle it fine." "He is a lovely horse with a great temperament too so he would enjoy that" Farewell Hands Christian -never a lucky horse, never a star but big on ability with a heart to match, Courtesy Of All Stars Racing - Check site here

Over the last decade, the New Zealand Free For All on Show Day has lost some of its lustre as the distance was fiddled with and some of the best didn't front up after racing on harness racings big day on the Tuesday. This year however, the distance is back to 1950 metres and has drawn all the major Cup players from Tuesday bar For A Reason and promises to be an epic encounter. Adore Me has come through her New Zealand Cup run in great fashion and even though she has drawn barrier six after the scratchings she is a great chance to make it a double for the week. Mark Purdon is happy with where Adore Me is after Tuesday.  "She seems fine." "She had Wednesday off and a light workout today"  "The draw is not so good because they will probably go hard the whole way but we didn't think the Cup draw was that good and look what happened" he said. Terror To Love has drawn on the inside of Adore Me at barrier five after the scratchings and driver Ricky May is expecting a big run. " Terror has come through Tuesday really well and I expect him to go a big race." "He will cope with the quick backup better than most," he said. Drawn at four after the scratchings is the unlucky horse from Tuesday in Christen Me who after missing away was timed to run his last 2400 metres in an unbelievable 2:50.5 with his last mile in 1:53.3. Blocked for a run half way up the straight in the Cup, Dexter is sure to go forward and try to make up for the bad luck on Tuesday. Franco Nelson has drawn barrier seven after the scratchings and his driver John Dunn was philosophical about drawing outside the three big guns. "He has come through Tuesday's race really well but the draw means I am going to have to drive him with more of a sit." "I hope to hook on to Adore Me's back early and if they go to war up front, he should be powering over them at the finish," he said. As good as those four are the potential winners don't stop there with Seel N Print from barrier one a player while Messini, Gold Ace and Pembrook Benny are all more than capable of finishing in the money. For us it came down to the draw and Christen Me gets the nod from Adore Me, Terror To Love and Franco Nelson. Throw in Messini and Seel N Print for first four players. Harnesslink Media 

Adore Me paying up for the New Zealand Free For All on  Friday is the clue to her immediate racing programme. It means the Miracle Mile is taken off the agenda and the champion mare will race domestically through the summer. Mark Purdon has set a domestic program for his star mare for the next few months. "There are two top races for her at Auckland in the Northern Breeders Stakes on December 5th and the Queen of Hearts on December 19th and another $100,000 mares race at Addington in January so those will suit her" Mark said. Adore Me came thru the Cup in excellent order considering the time of the race  although Mark indicated that stories of a hugely torrid race wide on the track might have been overstated. "In some ways Pemberton Shard not being able to carry me to the straight was a good thing" Mark said. "While we had to go wide there for a bit up until then we had had quite a soft run. "The other horses which had made runs (Terror To Love, Franco Nelson etc) had made their runs from further back in the field which would have taken more out of them. "When we were coming to the corner I was confident she was at least going to run it right out the way she was going. "Fortunately it turned out that way," he said.  Mark said that all those accepted for Addington on Friday will run and everything which raced Tuesday had come through their races in good order.  Courtesy Of All Stars Stables - Check site here

They won the Cup- But they thought they had run second! Mary and Paul Kenny are two of the most enthusiastic owners you will find in harness racing. It is not unusual for them to fly down from Auckland to watch "Ruby" run a trial. But at their greatest moment in harness racing, Adore Me winning the New Zealand Cup, they thought they had run second. "We were on quite an angle" Mary said. "When they got to the line we thought we were second. "I thought, well that's quite good for a mare in a race like this. "It took some time before we realised we had won" she said. Paul has been a major player in thoroughbred racing for many years and has had Sydney Cup contenders among others. But he was in no doubt about what it meant yesterday. "This would take a lot of equalling" The Kenny's were not alone. Mark confessed he wasn't entirely sure Adore Me had won either. "My view of John Dunn's horse (Franco Nelson) was obscured by the horse between us. "So I wasn't really sure and probably would have accepted had we been beaten" Arden Rooney didn't quite make it on the day but when you look at the time he ran it was a terrific performance. Hands Christian did not turn out to be a fairytale but as far as Natalie is concerned he won the most important tribute from a horseman of all - to his character and heart. "It wasn't good. "I felt he propped soon after the start and that was where his leg  felt the strain. "But he never wanted to give up. "He ran his heart out. "When you look at where he finished it was a great effort. " He is just such a amazing horse" Courtesy Of All Stars Racing Stable - Check site here

It was a gem of a moment. Away from the crowd, out of sight of most on course. But it was the most memorable scene of a day where just about every superlative had been used.  Natalie Rasmussen gave Mark Purdon a big hug and whispered in his ear: "Well done darling, I'm so proud of you, so happy for you.'' And then, hand in hand, the couple stood there reflecting on what they'd just achieved. For it wasn't just the New Zealand Trotting Cup they'd won. The partners had just completed what would have to rate as the most dominant display ever seen on a racecourse anywhere in the world. Adore Me's win was their sixth of the day - they'd won all but one of the races they'd contested, and run second in the other. Backup, Rare Opportunity and Messini were entrees to the prestigeous Sires Stakes Final when Have Faith In Me led home a stable trifecta, then Vice Consul, Adore Me and one race later Prince Fearless made it seven wins. And four of those winners were in New Zealand record time.  The blue colours with the silver stars seemed to be everywhere, and in every finish. It was a feat which wasn't going unnoticed by the man in the hat, helping gear up their next runner. It was brother Barry Purdon, lending a hand in what was a massive operation for the stable with 20 runners on the day. He'd been through this in the early 90s, when he had a large stable, he said, and knew how much hard work it was. "Mark's a champion trainer and his success is due in part because he's so hands-on," he said. "But you're still only as good as the people behind you and he has that with his staff and owners. And he's instilled that much confidence in them that they keep coming back. "I'd like to have 10 great horses in my team too but you have to go through the numbers to do that and I doubt I could get the right people to help these days. "We used to have horses racing at Addington, Sydney and Melbourne at any one time and if you haven't got the right people helping you just can't send them away. "It's a very stressful lifestyle. You have to plan every day and that's what this stable is good at, they know exactly where they're heading.'' It's in the planning that Rasmussen has really helped the All Stars team since she and Purdon joined together two years ago. But she could praise only her own team last night when the gear bags were being packed up. "I'm so proud of the horses. And we have an amazing team of owners and staff. We'd have the best group of track drivers we've ever had. "But achieveing this sort of thing takes a lot of work. It's all day. every day on Sundays, but it all comes down to days like today and they give you a kick along and keep you going a bit longer.'' Purdon admits, however, that only this last week he and Natalie had been questioning their lifestyle. "Natalie has done a big team all her life in Brisbane, like me, and she knows how demanding it is,'' Purdon said. "We were asking ourselves the other day just how much longer we wanted to be doing this. "I'm up at 4am every day doing the work lists, feed up is at 5.30am and we start work at 6.30am. "We've got 12 staff but it's still a big job with 55 horses in the stable.'' The crowd of more than 20,000 who cheered their runners home race after race will be hoping it doesn't end any time soon. Courtesy Of Barry Lichter

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