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The changes at the highest level of New Zealand harness racing have finally hit home to punters. But they take a fair bit of getting used to. The sabbatical being taken by champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen became real when the field for Friday's Flying Mile at Cambridge on Friday was declared with Hayden Cullen as the new trainer for Self Assured, Spankem and Ashley Locaz. But what had a far more immediate impact was Purdon revealing to the Herald he will not travel to Australia this summer and any horses from what is now Cullen's barn who do cross the Tasman will go to caretaker trainers. Although Cullen is now in charge of what until last Friday was the All Stars Stable, Purdon was going to take the biggest guns to Australia for a possible inter-state campaign targeting races like the Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile. But with the re-emergence of Covid, in New South Wales in particular, and the closure of the state borders a full-scale Australian campaign has been ruled out. "I spoke to many of the owners today and it is just getting too hard and too uncertain," Purdon told the Herald. "Initially when we started talking about me taking some of what are now Hayden's horses to Australia for the best races, we would have been able to travel between Victoria and New South Wales like normal, which was crucial for them to race at both carnivals. "But we are not sure when that will open up again and then there is the question of quarantining on the way back home for me. "So a few of the owners are happy to leave the horses here while we have made other arrangements for those who still want to go." New Zealand Cup winner Self Assured and Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream, will stay home, returning south after Self Assured races at Cambridge on Friday. They were among the favourites for the Hunter Cup, Miracle Mile, Chariots Of Fire and Ladyship Mile. Spankem, a former Miracle Mile winner, will head to Sydney and join the Paul Fitzpatrick stable, with the intention he will be back to Cullen's care after the Miracle Mile on March 6. Ashley Locaz is likely to be flown to Victor Italian Lad may join the Craig Cross stable in Sydney. None of Cullen's three-year-olds will head to NSW for the derbies and Oaks there. The change of plans, while primarily caused by Covid, has still shaken up futures markets which were framed with the understanding Purdon would travel with the horses and effectively train them. So bookies and punters will now have to get used to markets which are no longer framed with the All Stars more often than not providing automatic favourites. Purdon and Rasmussen have taken most of this week off to give Cullen clean air as the new trainer but will drive Self Assured (Purdon) and Spanken (Rasmussen) in the Flying Mile at Cambridge. As good as the pair are, they face a huge task because with the preferential draw they have drawn the outside two barriers while Copy That, who has beaten them both before this season, gets barrier three on Friday. The night's other feature sees Majestic Man set to start a hot favourite in the 1700m sprint for trotters. By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

New Zealand's greatest harness racing trainer left on his own, perfect terms at Alexandra Park on Thursday night. In his last race before Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen take a sabbatical from training they quinellaed the $200,000 Auckland Cup as little mare Amazing Dream grabbed stablemate Spankem late to win the great race. Fittingly it was Purdon who drove the winner but it was Rasmussen who set up the win as her lung-searing last mile in front on Spankem to keep the attentions of Copy That at bay ultimately won the race for Amazing Dream. "That is what won me the race," admitted Purdon. "The pressure on at the lead made it a staying test and this mare is a great stayer." The win was historic as Purdon and Rasmussen, known as the All Stars, cease training from Friday, with the majority of their horses to be taken over by the young stable foreman Hayden Cullen. Purdon and to a lesser extent Rasmussen will still occasionally drive and it is likely they will return to training in some capacity but the days of the all-conquering All Stars machine look over. "I am very comfortable with that decision now and so is Nat and to win our last race officially training with a horse owned by Jean Feiss, who has been one of our most supportive owners, is a great way to end this chapter." Spankem was enormous in second while Copy That was also huge, with his race becoming so much more difficult when he was crossed at the start. The $200,000 Auckland Cup Earlier in the night Enjoy Me gave two of the stars of northern harness racing their first Group 1 win when she won the Sires' Stakes Fillies Championship. Trainer Steve Telfer, who this season started training in partnership with his sister Amanda, and young driver Ben Butcher were both registering their first wins at the highest level of racing when Enjoy Me used the passing lane to grab favourite Bettor Twist after she sat parked for the last lap. Teller and his Stonewall Stud bosses have believed in Butcher since he was a junior driver and their faith has been repaid as he has matured into a leading senior driver. "To get my first Group 1 is special but even more too to get it for Telf and Stonewall after how much they have supported me," said 25-year-old Butcher. Enjoy Me He wasn't the only passing lane major winner tonight as Aladdin, who was sold to new Australian owners just last week, took out the $200,000 Harness Million, beating stablemate Shan Noble in the last few strides. Aladdin Sundees Son ended, for a while at least, the argument over who is New Zealand's best trotting stayer when he easily beat Bolt For Brilliance and Majestic Man in the $95,000 National Trot, aptly named cause the winner set a new national record. Sundees Son was able to run to the lead uncontested in the middle stages and adds the National to the Anzac Cup and Row Cup as Group 1 wins at Alexandra Park, as well as a Jewels and a Dominion at Addington, giving him the record of a great trotter with the promise of so much more to come. Sundees Son By Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

Just in case you needed a gentle reminder, All Stars delivered. Again. As the most dominant stable of New Zealand history is set to take a sabbatical, they proved yet again their brilliance when it comes to winning the biggest events on the harness racing calendar. Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen finished with a one/two finish in the Gr.1 $200,000 Woodlands Stud Auckland Cup at Alexandra Park, Auckland when star mare Amazing Dream ran down Spankem and Copy That in the 3200m stand-start feature. Yet again, they have completed the Cups double, winning both the New Zealand and Auckland Cups in the same year. And their success in the North Island feature pacing event is remarkable. The victory of Amazing Dream gives the stable their sixth consecutive Auckland Cup following the triumphs of Have Faith In Me (2015*) Dream About Me (2016), Vincent (2017), Turn It Up (2018) and Self Assured (2019). Other winners of the Auckland Cup for the stable includes Auckland Reactor (2009), Young Rufus (2002) plus Sharp And Telford (1996). The start was crucial with the three fancies all drawn alongside each other, Spankem (Natalie Rasmussen) began best and headed off Copy That (Maurice McKendry) before handing over to Amazing Dream (Mark Purdon). With the top choices all landing favourable positions, the first move in the race came from Ashley Locaz (Tim Williams) who swept around the field and took the lead from Amazing Dream. His time in front was short-lived as Spankem darted back around to reclaim the front-running role. The lead time was covered in 2:02.9. Spankem led the way from Ashley Locaz while Copy That squeezed off the inside to sit parked while Amazing Dream raced three back on the pegs. And the speed was on, Spankem kept rolling in front at a high rate. The first half of the final mile was covered in splits of 28.8 and 28.8 seconds. Entering the back straight, Spankem led the way with Copy That matching him on the outside while Ashley Locaz waited for the passing lane to emerge. Amazing Dream was able to force clear of her pocket position and found the back of Copy That down the back straight and loomed big danger. The third quarter was covered in 27.5 seconds. At the top of the straight, Spankem was holding Copy That but couldn’t withstand the finishing burst from Amazing Dream deep into the straight. Amazing Dream scored by a neck margin from Spankem with a gallant Copy That a further half-length away in third. The final quarter was timed in 28.5 seconds. The winning time was 3:56.5 – a winning mile rate of 1:58.9. Amazing Dream is raced by leviathan Australian based owner Jean Feiss and it was her third triumph in the event following on from Vincent (2017) and last year’s winner Self Assured. Amazing Dream, now the winner of seven Gr.1 events joins the likes of Dream About Me, Flight South, Kates First, Armalight and Delightful Lady (x 2) as Auckland Cup winners of the fairer sex since 1980. An Australian campaign starting next month is expected from the All Stars before taking their break.

The last race of Mark Purdon's champion training career could be decided by standing start manners in the $200,000 Woodlands Stud Auckland Cup on Thursday. The race will be the last time New Zealand's greatest harness trainer has a horse race in his name for probably a year, maybe even longer as Purdon and partner Natalie Rasmussen take a step away from training. Purdon confirmed to the Herald yesterday that from Friday, the first day of 2021, all horses trained by he and Rasmussen will transfer to current stable foreman Hayden Cullen's name. That means if stars like Self Assured and Spankem head to Australia for a Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile campaign in coming months they will be trained by Cullen, with Purdon the stable's travelling foreman. The changeover will start immediately, with Purdon and Rasmussen taking the opportunity to enjoy their new life with a few days holiday next week and Cullen coming north to training the team racing at Cambridge, with Purdon still set to drive them. But punters need to get their head around the very odd thought that from Friday the All Stars elite are no longer going to be under the daily care of Purdon. "It has been a big task getting all the paperwork together and Natalie has taken care of a lot of that," says Purdon. "But while we will still be involved leading into big carnivals and when needed it is very much going to be Hayden's team and we will only have a role to play when needed." It is somewhat fitting the biggest race on Purdon's home track for the first half of his life will be the last race he has a runner in before his sabbatical, with the Cup to be race nine on Thursday's twilight programme and the stable having no runners in the last race named in their honour. Purdon and Rasmussen not only have the Auckland Cup favourite in Spankem (barrier four) but also third favourite Amazing Dream (three), with the pair drawn handy alongside each other, with the second favourite Copy That drawn barrier two. With Spankem and Copy That all but unbeatable in front at this level is it easy to get the feeling whoever wins the standing start race to the first bend might hold the key to the Cup. But while they both tend to be safe from a stand Amazing Dream is a bit more of a mystery. "I took her to the workouts last week for her first standing start and she handled it well enough," said Purdon. "But racenight, especially having your first standing start in such a big race, can be different and I don't think she would like to be standing for too long before the tapes go." With a smaller field and only eight across the front line at Alexandra Park the Cup should at least not see a repeat of the debacle in the New Zealand Cup last month when the outside horses got a walk up start while those drawn down low were left behind, with Copy That the worst affected. But that shortened front line hasn't helped either Ashley Locaz (9) or Thefixer (11), both of who still now start on the second line. Thursday's meeting also sees the next clash of trotting's big stars Sundees Son, Majestic Man and Bolt For Brilliance in the National Trot, Bettor Twist and La Rosa in the Fillies' Final and a very competitive NZBS Harness Million for the three-year-old male pacers. Meanwhile, New Zealand Cup winner Self Assured, who misses the Auckland Cup because of a corn issue earlier in the month, heads to Cambridge on Friday week. Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

By Jonny Turner    Champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen took a chance with Self Assured and it paid off when the star pacer exploded away from his opposition to seal their fifth consecutive win in New Zealand Cup at Addington. The All Stars stable duo went into the country’s biggest harness race knowing they had the most talented of horses, but one they rated just a 50-50 chance of stepping away safely when the starting tapes flew. Those concerns evaporated in the first few strides when Self Assured effectively sealed his victory with a brilliant beginning. The faultless display came after Purdon and Rasmussen took a calculated gamble by taking the five-year-old off the unruly starting position and then putting their masterful training skills to work. “The Cup is about winning and I took him off the unruly because I didn’t think he could win it from there,” Purdon said. “He was going to have to go around the field.” “It was a risk, if he had drawn on the inside you would say I have done the wrong thing.” “I was disappointed when he missed away in the Cup trial, but we did a lot of practice between then and today and he got it right.” Purdon and Rasmussen not only cemented their place in New Zealand Cup history with Self Assured’s three and a half-length win for his Victorian owner Jean Feiss. Spankem and Rasmussen held down second, ahead third placed Ashley Locaz and Tim Williams, to seal a race trifecta for the superstar trainers. Yesterday may have appeared like just another day at the office for Purdon and Rasmussen as they collected three group 1 wins and the trifecta in New Zealand’s most sought after race. But that is far from how Purdon sees it. “Having horses like this is what you do it for.” “And you have got to count yourself lucky.” “Most trainers have only got one of these type of horses and we have just filled the first three placings in the New Zealand Cup.” Self Assured’s victory was Purdon’s sixth win in the New Zealand Cup as a driver, equalling the late Cecil Devine. The master horseman has now trained winner eight times, six of them in partnership with Rasmussen. The thrill of winning the country’s biggest harness race is yet to fade as Purdon keeps etching his name into its history books. “You do get the same thrill from each win in the Cup, especially when you do it for different connections each time.” “It is lovely to do it for Jean, she has been such a great supporter of ours.” “She is so passionate.” “We have had horses in the past where I have suggested they have a better earning capacity in Australia after they’ve climbed the ladder here.” “But she wouldn’t take them off us.” Feiss enjoyed more success yesterday with her star mare Amazing Dream, who delivered an incredibly tough victory in the group 1 Nevele R Fillies Series Final. Purdon indicated the Melbourne owner’s two stars could clash in next year’s New Zealand Cup. Purdon and Rasmussen also took out the Group One the Sires Stakes Final with It’s All About Faith. The beginning that handed Self Assured a huge early advantage over his stablemate Spankem and the favourite Copy That was the biggest talking point following the running of this year’s New Zealand Cup. As Self Assured was settling into his handy spot in the trail behind his stablemate Ashley Locaz, Copy That was drifting back through the field. The North Island pacer was among several runners drawn on the inner that appeared to be disadvantaged when the starting tapes were released. After his slow start from barrier 1, Copy That eventually settled last with a huge task in front of him to catch Self Assured and Spankem. The effort the Ray Green trained pacer put in to try to get into the race told and Copy That faded into eight placing. Green labelled the start of the New Zealand Cup a disgrace, after the race.

By Frank Marrion courtesy of the HarnessXpress One wouldn’t find two more deserving winners when Bettor’s Heart won the Ladyship and Stylish Memphis the NSW Oaks within an hour at Menangle last Saturday night. In recent months, Bettor’s Heart had been runner-up to Belle Of Montana in the Queen Of Hearts, to Princess Tiffany in the Premier Mares Championship and to Wainui Creek in the Breeders Stakes. So the G1 success was thoroughly deserved and it was worth waiting for – the biggest stake of all at 200k, a new lifetime record of 1.49.7 for breeding and an invite into the Miracle Mile just to put the icing on the cake. Bettor’s Heart had to come from behind Belle Of Montana and Princess Tiffany and literally flew the last bit to pick up Bettor Enforce right on the line. This from a six-year-old mare who won one race last season and who seemed stuck in the R70s. It was breeder-owner Wayne Higgs who thoroughly deserved the G1 success of Stylish Memphis however. Between her and her sister, Delightful Memphis, Higgs had been second in a G1 on no less than 10 occasions in the last few years. It happened to Delightful Memphis six times – five times to Spanish Armada and once to Partyon. And that’s not counting a second to Spanish Armada in the rich 2yo Sales race and G2 Ladyship and a second to Bonnie Joan in the G2 Southland Oaks. Stylish Memphis was second in two G1s in Auckland over Christmas to Amazing Dream and then beaten by Dr Susan in the Victorian Oaks. “It was starting to get a bit embarrassing,” said Higgs this week. “It was great to finally win one but it was straight back to work on Monday – that win will just pay the bills for the trip.” Quite apart Higgs’ recent experiences as a breeder-owner, not many would have invested more into the game when he began as a trainer-driver some 20 years ago. He bought cheap horses from all over the place and won 44 races in his second season, with the best of them being Benatom (7 wins) and Cam’s Legacy (5). Later he had a good one in White Arrow, whom he drove in a New Zealand Cup, but fair to say Higgs never got close to winning a G1 in those days and he would eventually realize the futility of that game. Ironically, the nemesis of Higgs and trainer Mark Jones in recent times, Mark Purdon, was largely responsible for the success of Stylish Memphis last weekend. And Purdon will now train Stylish Memphis for the remainder of the season. It might have seemed like Stylish Memphis, and Dr Susan for that matter, had gone to Australia to avoid the All Stars and that this latest development might look like a case of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’, but neither would be true. “There was no plan to go to Australia at all, but when I was in Auckland at Christmas, I heard that Amazing Dream was heading back to Addington for the Sales race,” said Mark Jones. “The only races coming up for Stylish Memphis were heats of the Fillies Series and two of those had restrictions. “So I had a chat to Mark about looking after Stylish Memphis in Australia and he couldn’t have been more helpful. “He was good enough to leave her in our name but he’s basically been training her for the last six weeks and he’s got her more settled now.” This was well evident in the Oaks when Stylish Memphis posted a seemingly suicidal lead time of 53.5, but then Purdon threw out the anchor with a 31 quarter and a half in 60, before rating Stylish Memphis home in 56.4 to finish in a 1.54 mile rate for the 2400m. “Giving her to Mark to train is a bit out of gratitude but mostly about having continuity in a top driver,” said Jones. “We had Ricky May engaged but when he couldn’t do it, there aren’t any better around than Mark either. “So what has happened – it’s just unfolded that way.” As such it is looking like the remaining three-year-old filly classics could well be a battle between Purdon and Stylish Mempis, and Natalie Rasmussen and Amazing Dream. Delightful Memphis was obviously a very good filly, but Jones says Stylish Memphis “has a touch more speed and brilliance and the racing in Australia has also toughened her up a lot”. She has now raced 12 times for six wins and five seconds for stakes worth $229,000 and her only miss was a fifth at the Jewels in what was a very hot field in hindsight. Ahead of her that day were Sweet On Me, Spellbound, Amazing Dream and Tiffany Rose and Dr Susan was sixth. “She had a few niggles coming to the end of that campaign and we probably shouldn’t have started her, but it’s hard to forgo a 150k race on your back door. “We also thought she was getting sold for big money and the vets had been stuffing us around.” Stylish Memphis is the third Bettor’s Delight and fourth foal that Higgs has bred from Memphis Melody with her brother Memphis Tennessee being sold as a going two-year-old for good money. Memphis Melody had earlier left six foals by either Artsplace, Art Major, Christian Cullen or McArdle, and only Harley Earl was a good horse. Higgs has since bred a two-year-old filly by Bettor’s Delight in Classy Memphis, but she is “not in the same league as the other two”. A yearling colt by Art Major is a lot more promising however with Higgs saying he is a better type than any of the Art Major colts he saw at the sales this year. Higgs is still racing Delightful Memphis with trainer Nifty Norman in America, where she has just qualified for another campaign. So far the now six-year-old has taken a record of 1.51.4 and won $508,000, having left Australia in mid-2018 with $280,000 in the bank. Quite probably she will return home later this year to be a broodmare although Higgs will be guided by Norman on that. Now it just remains to be seen whether her sister to can add some more G1s racing from the All Stars juggernaut, rather than against it. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Self Assured sets the pace, harness racing trainer driver Mark Purdon varies the pace,  third successive Auckland Cup for All Stars with a four-year-old. That’s setting the pace-big time! Self Assured left no doubt he is a star with a huge future after giving Mark an armchair drive in the $245,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup yesterday. Mark conducted the pace like Mantovani, easing in the middle stages and sprinting home in 26.9 to outclass his rivals in a great display of legal theft. The overall time of 3.59.5 won’t threaten the record books but All Stars have made a habit of stealing the race in recent years. Turn It Up, who won the Cup at his 9th start last year ran over 4.03 while Vincent the previous year in the hands of Natalie did not break 4.04. The fastest recent Cup since the 3200m was restored was Dream About Me who ran 3.55.5 for Mark in 2016 “He began so brilliantly I had to use that advantage”Mark said. “Yes we got away with a few cheap sectionals but you can’t take anything from him. He was taken on early. He is a terrific young horse” Mark didn’t win his first Auckland Cup until 2009 with Auckland Reactor but Self Assured is his 3rd driving winner in four years and 4th training success in that time. Thefixer trailed the winner all the way but could not foot it with that last 400m. “He was really good, tried hard, Self Assured was just too fast the way the race was run and is a terrific horse “‘ All Stars always thought so but a couple of setbacks as a youngster which including careering around the training track with a cart and no driver had connections holding their breath. But he showed in a triumphant Queensland winter campaign he was the real deal and has gone on proving it since. Australian four year old features now beckon and who knows? maybe the Miracle Mile won by Spankem as a four year old last season Tim thought Chase Auckland was really good having had to work in the middle stages and Blair thought Cruz Bromac may have just been feeling the effects of a busy campaign. Another Masterpiece broke at the start showing pace in the middle stages before the effort told. Self Assured has now won 8 of his 10 starts REMARKABLE 7TH SUCCESSIVE 3YO SALES PACE FINAL TO ALL STARS One Change spent the first part of his racing career as a nice little horse who might make the grade with the good ones. Now he is the best one and the others are trying to make the grade with him. “The horse who knows how to win” even if it is not by a lot, added to his Sires Stakes triumph in New Zealand and his honour as the leading juvenile last season with a typical no nonsense win in the $200,000 race. “I used him early because of that draw. After I handed to Tim on Flying Even Bettor because he was pressing, we got the run and he had his chance but I took some time to get past Tim. He came up trumps again. He knows where the post is. His win, the 8th of 11 starts for All Stars, Trevor Casey and stable associate Mike Woodlock, lifted his total earnings to nearly $500,000, not a bad return for the $30,000 he cost as a yearling. Initially picked out by the stable, he failed to impress in a veterinary examination. After he was passed in Trevor drew the stable attention to the fact he was still available and it was decided to take the risk. Some risk. Amazingly since 2013, All Stars have won this race with Isaiah, Lazarus, Ultimate Machete and Ultimate Sniper-all raced by Kennard syndicates-Have Faith in Me and Chase Auckland before One Change. It is the only stable in NZ to have won a feature race 7 times in a row a feat it has now achieved twice. While One Change went about his business in his usual efficient manner, drama was the lot of Smooth Deal checked by a breaking Line Up soon after the start and seemingly out of the race. He recovered to make a big run down the back before wilting the last bit for a brave fifth. Flying Even Bettor went a mighty race too wresting the early lead, setting a strong pace and just going down over the final stages. “He was a little hard to rate down the back. He was flopping along one minute and hard on the bit the next. So that was a big effort”Tim said. Mark refused to concede Smooth Deal was a special beaten but did go as far as to say he would have been “right in it” but for the early check. JEAN WASN’T THERE BUT THE RESULT WAS THE SAME ! It was back to business as usual in the Alabar Sires Stakes Filly Championship as Amazing Dream added her name to the list at least partly because of the skills of the serial winner of the G1 feature, Natalie Rasmussen. Natalie bided her time longer than perhaps some were expecting at the back, flushed out Ricky May and Stylish Memphis with a round to go and in the end was a convincing winner making her to top filly of the season to date with more to come. It was Natalie’s 5th driving win in the race since 2013 the first being Willow owned by Bill Feiss. His wife Jean has won the race a further three times and Natalie steered Golden Goddess to win for the Butterworths to give the stable its 5th win in the race also. Before the race much was made of the draw and how the smart fillies Spellbound and Need You Now were a danger on the front line but in spite of a lead-trail scenario they only battled in the run home leaving Stylish Memphis and Amazing Dream to fight it out. It must have been deja vu for Stylish Memphis’s co -trainer Mark Jones as Delightful Memphis, a full sister, had been runner up to Spanish Armada in her year before going on to a distinguished career. What was also unusual about yesterday’s race was that Jean Feiss was not there. An indefatigable traveller to New Zealand from Australia to watch her horses race, she was in Malta on New Year’s Eve and could not be there. The winning of the race may well have been Natalie’s ability to give her charge cover down the back straight but the determined filly left no excuses, powering away over the final stages. Natalie had also nailed Dina Bolt’s hopes doubting the crushing odds the public had about him. She gave him a nice drag in the trail, he took some time to wind up and while going strongly at the finish had to settling for second, Courtesy of The Allstars Site

A highly successful Auckland Inter Dominion Carnival concluded at Alexandra Park last Saturday and it was no surprise to see the dominance of the “All Stars” stable throughout the carnival. With five runners to contest the 2700 metre $500,000 IRT Pacers Grand Final, the stage was set for a terrific contest with a memorable victory to 4Y0 Bettor’s Delight-Reality Check entire Ultimate Sniper who was unbeaten, outstanding and sensational during the heats take the ultimate prize. Driven all through by Natalie, Ultimate Sniper starting from gate five was given time to balance mid-field in the running line before going forward to park outside Barry Purdon’s A G’s White Socks (gate 7) which had taken over from stablemate Mark Shard (gate 6) after crossing another stablemate On The Cards (gate 4) . There were no further moves until the bell when Chase Auckland went forward three wide from four back being trailed by Cruze Bromac, Thefixer and Triple Eight from the rear. Cruising up to A G’s White Socks on turning, Ultimate Sniper showed great staying prowess to prevail by a neck from Mark Shard along the sprint lane, with Thefixer flashing home late for third a nose away a half neck in advance of Cruze Bromac and A G’s white Socks. Running the journey in 3-14.7, Ultimate Sniper returned a mile rate of 1-56 (last half mile 55.2 – quarter 27.9). Raced by a large ownership involving former Inter winners Phil and Glenys Kennard - Smolda & Lazarus), Gavin Douglas, Phil & Margaret Creighton and Kevin Riseley who had tasted victory with both Lennytheshark and Lazarus, Ultimate Sniper recorded his 14th success from 20 outings which include 3 placings and stakes of $842,793. It was Natalie’s fifth Inter Grand Final after steering the great Blacks A Fake to victory in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010, while Mark Purdon has now figured as a trainer or driver four times Mark Hanover 1991 (D), Smolda 2016 (T/D) and Lazarus 2017 (T/D).   THE TROTTERS Five year old Majestic Son-Una Bromac gelding Winterfell, a top class youngster of his era after winning two heats, was victorious in the $150,000 HR Fisken & Sons Trotters Grand Final over 2700 metres in a time of 3-21.7. Trained by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, Winterfell with Mark in the sulky began swiftly from gate two to lead, with Majestic Man (gate 4) crossing him shortly after to momentarily assume control. Coming away from the inside entering the front straight to once again take over, Winterfel was allowed to roll around unpressured with Sydneysider Tough Monarch outside him. When Todd Mitchell went forward in the last lap from three back with Massive Metro to join him on straightening a blowout result looked eminent, however after the soft passage Winterfell defied all rivals to prevail by a half neck over Majestic Man along the sprint lane, with Massive Metro a nose away in third place. In a last half of 58.3 – quarter 29, Winterfell raced by Lone Star Christchurch proprietor Trevor Casey returned a mile rate of  2-00.1.   Harness Racing Australia

Harness racing master trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen have grabbed another Gr1 title after Winterfell won the $150,000 HR Fisken & Sons 2019 Inter Dominion Trotting Final in a thrilling finish tonight at Alexandra Park. Driver Mark Purdon seized the initiative early in the race re-taking the lead from Majestic Man after that horse had crossed him out of the mobile at the beginning of the race. Despite being nursed around the final turn and being headed early in the run home Winterfell fought back like a top horse and stuck his head in front just before the line to get a deserved win. "I had to nurse him a bit around the final turn," Purdon said after the race. "Once he got around the final turn he trotted faultlessly. But he did have ground to make up again, because he had been headed at that stage by the horse on the outside of him"  "I was a bit concerned but he was very tenacious to the line," he said. Massive Metro was brave in defeat fighting on well for third after heading the favourite on the turn and Majestic Man got going late in the run home and dashed into second. Winterfell (5g Majestic Son - Una Bromac by Live Or Die) trotted the 2700m mobile in 3-21.6 a mile rate of 2-00.1. The last 800m was run in 58.2 and the final 400m was trotted in 28.9 seconds. Harnesslink Media

When a youthful Mark Purdon captured the 1991 Auckland Inter Dominion aboard Mark Hanover trained in partnership by legendary father Roy and older brother Barry, little did he realize what the future was to hold. All in, the Purdon’s have figured in nine Inter victories, three in the pacing ranks and six with the trotters. For champion trainer/driver Mark it has been a ritual to go in search of Australasia’s most prestigious harness event, with success coming on several occasions. Following Mark Hanover, A few years went by before Mark’s name began to become dominant, especially in the trotting ranks scoring with Pride Of Petite in 1996 (Melbourne), and 1997 (Adelaide) when driven by brother in law Tony Herlihy which became one of the greatest races ever seen at Globe Derby Park, then came Buster Hanover (Sydney) in 1998 with Herlihy again the winning reinsman. Thirteen years elapsed before I Can Doosit trained and driven by Mark with Grant Payne as associate trainer scored successive victories – Auckland in 2011 and Melbourne 2012. Back in 1993 Mark’s father Roy had combined with Barry to land the 1993 Trotters Grand Final in Auckland with Night Arrow. In 2016 and 2017 it was the pacers that really made Mark a force to be reckoned with when two outstanding horses Smolda and Lazarus came on the scene. Smolda being victorious in 2016 and Lazarus 2017 when both series were held in Perth. Partner Natalie Rasmussen is no stranger to the Inters either after her outstanding pacer Blacks A Fake scored at Hobart in 2006, Adelaide 2007, Melbourne 2008 and Menangle 2010 and could have easily been five after going down narrowly to Mr Feelgood at the Gold Coast the year before. Barry Purdon himself will have two Grand Final runners this year when A G’s White Socks and Mach Shard step out to do battle. Since registering the partnership, Mark and Natalie have qualified five horses for this year’s series headed by Ultimate Sniper, Cruz Bromac, Chase Auckland, Thefixer and Ashley Locaz. With Mark, Barry and Natalie being the most prolific name in New Zealand and Australian harness racing, the name Purdon will be prominent for a long period of time to come.   Len Baker

A desire to take on some on the best trotters in the world is one reason Oscar Bonavena won’t be at this season’s Inter Dominions in Auckland. Because trainer Mark Purdon believes the sensational four-year-old is good enough to race extensively in North America and that is his ambitious long-term aim with Monday’s stunning Ashburton winner. Purdon and training partner Natalie Rasmussen didn’t pay up yesterday for the Inter Dominions which begin at Alexandra Park on November 29, preferring to concentrate on the Dominion at Addington on November 15 and and Australia later in the season. “I think if we look after him now it will pay dividends in the long run and the series can be hard on horses,” said Purdon. “So he will miss the Inters and his next start will be in the Dominion. “Then he can head north for the Flying Mile at Cambridge (Dec 24) and the National Trot (Dec 31). “After that we want to look at Australia, where the Great Southern Star at Melton will be his big aim.”But Purdon is thinking even further ahead, with plans for Oscar Bonavena to be staked for the best races in North America and head there for a long campaign.                                                                                   --HRNZ Just when and for how long could isn’t set in stone and could depend on how he handles their racing style and Purdon says the fine details have yet to be worked out. “I’d love to give him his chance up there because I think he is good enough and the money is so big. “So we will stake him for those and whether we train him up there or Chris (Ryder, part owner) takes him over we will decide closer to time. “So while that is all a long way off that is the plan and one of the reasons we are missing the Inters.” The thought of Oscar Bonavena maturing even more and performing to his best in the US would make local trotting fans salivate as he has the raw speed and stamina to go close to a 1:50 mile time under the right circumstances. The Interdom trotting series has been hit hard by withdrawals but is still headlined by Marcoola, Sundees Son, Majestic Man and northern group one winners Temporale, Massive Metro and Lemond along with Australian raiders Tough Monarch and Big Jack Hammer. The pacing series has survived the latest round of payments far more intact with most of the biggest names still there but Purdon has a very slight word of warning around second favourite Self Assured.  “At this stage we are taking him but that won’t be absolutely confirmed until after the Cup carnival because that is when we make our final decisions, after seeing how they all come through that.”
 So punters would be wise to hold off backing Self Assured, especially as the All Stars already have Spankem, Thefixer, Chase Auckland and Cruz Bromac for Auckland and it wouldn’t be a total shock to see Self Assured have the Miracle Mile as is prime target. Another horse whose Inter campaign must be in doubt is Ultimate Sniper, who will be allowed to miss the New Zealand Cup after his below par performance at Ashburton on Monday. He will instead head to the NZ Free-For-All but with so many four-year-old options in the second half of the season he is no good thing to be at Alexandra Park for the series, with the Auckland Cup on December 31 maybe a better option rather than the four-race Inters.   Michael Guerin

The only real Achilles heal of New Zealand’s most powerful stable could prove to be the sore point for punters at Addington tonight. Because if there has been any one weakness for the all-conquering Mark Purdon-Natalie Rasmussen stable in the last decade it has occasionally been standing start manners, more particularly the standing start manners of their age group stars when stepping up to intermediate or open class racing. And that could be just as big a concern for Self Assured when he makes the leap into the big time tonight as trying to actually beat New Zealand Cup favourite Spankem. Self Assured was the winter stunner of the pacing season on both sides of the Tasman, going from a maiden in late May to an unbeaten winner of six including the Queensland Derby two months later. During that winning streak he looked so special he is the second favourite for the Inter Dominions which start at Alexandra Park on November but as good as he might be tonight’s 2600m standing start is one hell of an introduction to racing older horses. Not only does he face Spankem (30m) but Ultimate Sniper (10m), Another Masterpiece (fr) and proven open class performers like A G’s White Socks and Classie Brigade (20m) and Henry Hurbert (10m). So Self Assured is going to need to beat most of the top of the New Zealand Cup market at only his seventh start but at his first standing start, and that is the part that really worries Purdon. “I think he can run with these horses, especially with the handicap start,” he explains. “He is a very fast horse who only missed so much racing last season after a track accident otherwise he would have been right up with the best three-year-olds. “So while Spankem is the best of ours and deserves to be favourite any time they are all off the same mark, he would struggle to give Self Assured the 30m head start.” But he may not have to. Because Purdon admits he is worried about the first five strides for Self Assured and how the composition of the field will play against him if he does miss away. “If he gallops, and he can be a bit nervy when the tapes goes at home, then the other horses rushing up behind you can make it hard to get them pacing again. “So I think he will be okay but he might be slow away and that could mean losing that handicap advantage.” If Self Assured does struggle with his first standing start he will join stable greats but occasional standing start strugglers like Auckland Reactor, Adore Me and even the greatest of them all in Lazarus, who cost himself his first open class race by bobbling away. All of which suggests the $2 put up by the TAB bookies for Self Assured is way too short and that punters should pay more attention to history than hype. While Spankem is the best horse here the 30m handicap will make his job tough but in the small field it could also mean he is only midfield on the outer starting the last lap so he is still the one to beat. Oscar Bonavena should continue on his winning way in the open trot after a mammoth performance last start in a stronger field while the stable strongly favour One Change in the Sires’ Stakes heat after he drew the ace. FRIDAY FANCIES Best bet: One Change (Addington, R4, No.1): Should lead or trail and be too good as stable still rate him their best three-year-old. Mobile aid: Havehorsewilltravel (Cambridge, R6, No.9): Raced in far better field last Friday and looks perfectly placed tonight.  Manners the key: Matua Tana (Addington, R9, No.17): Huge motor and if he behaves even the big field and 25m handicap won’t stop him.   By Michael Guerin

Defending New Zealand Cup hero Thefixer is the centre of a radical plan to get him back to our greatest harness race. And while champion trainer Mark Purdon describes himself as “relatively confident” Thefixer can make it to Addington for the second Tuesday in November it is very much a case of punters beware in futures betting. Thefixer has yet to race this season and was supposed to trial this week but has been suffering from hoof soreness. Purdon, training partner Natalie Rasmussen, their vets and blacksmith have come up with an idea not even Purdon has tried before in his legendary career. They have found Thefixer is happiest when not wearing conventional shoes so they plan to shoe him the mornings he fast works, then immediately take the shoes off and only put them back on again for his next workout. “In between times he would wear a boot, similar to the ones endurance horses wear when they are competing on rocky surfaces, to protect the hooves. “It is not ideal obviously and we have never tried anything like this before but we think it can work.” Thefixer has long struggled with hoof problems, particularly in the frog area at the rear of the hoof. The stable tried to cover that with what is known as an egg-bar shoe but they found it was restricting the blood flow to the hoof and not letting it spread on impact with the ground and therefore dissipate the concussion load. “So his hooves were getting worse and after we took his shoes off on Monday he has been a lot happier since. “He will wear the endurance boots when he is on the treadmill or in the resistance cart and then shoes when he is fast worked.” Purdon says hoof issues aside Thefixer is very forward and he could even race in the Canterbury Classic at Addington tomorrow week, depending on how he handles his new regime and fast works on Monday. “Even if he can’t make it there he has races like the Methven Cup and Flying Stakes at Ashburton and the races even closer to the Cup. “So we think we can get him there but we also know things like this put him at a disadvantage compared with a horse like Spankem, whose campaign has gone so well so far.” Spankem’s track record-equalling win at Oamaru on Sunday has seen him ascend to  $3.40 favouritism for the Cup on November 12, while Thefixer is now the $4.20 second favourite but that is certain to drift. The reality is while Thefixer overcame some issues on his way to winning the Cup last year, he is at best of comparable ability to Spankem but at the moment one is in the zone and the other not so much. Both horses were among nine the All Stars nominated yesterday for the Inter Dominions, which start at Alexandra Park on November 29, with the leading stable entering six pacers and the trotters. Spankem and The Fixer are joined by Ultimate Sniper, Chase Auckland, Ashley Locaz and the surprise nomination of Queensland Derby winner Self Assured, who isn’t in the New Zealand Cup. And their trotting team is headed by Oscar Bonavena with Winterfell and Luby Lou. Entries for the Inter Dominion close at 11am on Monday morning and are free so while that may lure some decent Australian numbers in, how many make it to Auckland for the series will be interesting. There is an understandable fear of the Purdon-Rasmussen horses from Australian stables but in reality, with Thefixer’s issues, the fact Ultimate Sniper and Self Assured and only four-year-olds and Ashley Locaz and Chase Auckland lose more than they win in open class, Spankem is the only truly scary Interdom pacer the All Stars have and he was unplaced in the Final last season.   by Michael Guerin

Plans for Turn It Up to resume in the New Year have had a setback after his recovery programme was interrupted last week -and it could be ongoing depending on his immediate progress. “He was doing well. He had finished his schedule of being boxed after his knee operation and was set to do month on the water walker” co-owner and trainer Mark Purdon said. “But after a week they weren’t that happy with his progress and he has gone back to box rest. They are still concerned about how it looks and so a lot will depend on what happens next” Last season’s Auckland Cup, Easter Cup and Harness Jewels winner was a star of the season with 11 wins and four seconds in 15 career starts. The decision was made to bypass any chance of a NZ Cup preparation so as not to take any risks with his knees and his racing plans were aimed at Australia in the New Year with targets like the Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile .Those plans are now under threat. “It is really bad luck and after we took the path of lesser risk after the Jewels” a disappointed Mark said “We will just have to see how it develops but it was news we didn’t need at this stage”   Courtesy of All Stars Stables.

By Jonny Turner Trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen have chosen Oamaru as the starting point for Miracle Mile winner Spankem’s New Zealand Cup campaign. The 5yr-old, who looked sharp winning his first public appearance of the new season at Tuesday’s Ashburton trials, will be set for the Hannon Memorial on September 22. Spankem unleashed an eye-catching burst of speed to outsprint his Hannon-bound stablemates, Ultimate Sniper and Chase Auckland, in their 2400m handicap.  Purdon said he has been delighted with the way his Miracle Mile winner has returned from his winter spell. “He has come back really well, we are very happy with him,” the trainer-driver said.  Ultimate Sniper, was far from disgraced when overhauled by Spankem and runner-up, Clasina Maria, in the last 100m of Tuesday’s event.  The 4yr-old a half a length and a neck behind the first two in his first public appearance since winning the New Zealand Derby in April. Ultimate Sniper has returned in excellent following his battler with the knee problem, which required surgery, that ended his brilliant 3yr-old season.  Purdon said the 4yr-old and fourth placegetter, Chase Auckland, had also pleased him since returning to training.  “Ultimate Sniper had a little bit longer out than the other two.” “But, I have been very happy with the three of them, they have all been training well at home.” “And I was happy with their efforts in the trial.” Spankem and his two stablemates will trail again, next week, before heading to Oamaru for the Hannon Memorial. “We will trial them again next week and then we will look to kick them off in the Hannon,” Purdon said.  Purdon and Rasmussen’s remaining two New Zealand Cup nominees –Thefixer and Ashley Locaz – could also head to the trails this week. Defending New Zealand Cup champion, Thefixer, could not trial this week as his fitness has slipped behind his three stablemates that stepped out on Tuesday.  The pacer had to be given a few easy days to recover from a hoof issue, recently. Purdon confirmed it was the same issue that dogged the 6yr-old ahead of his epic home straight duel with Tiger Tara in last year’s New Zealand Cup.   “He has just had a slight setback, but he is over that now and he should be at the trials next week – all going well.” “It’s the same hoof problem, but we are a bit more advanced with our knowledge now, so we were on to it straight away.” Purdon said Thefixer’s hoof issue was one that was unlikely to go away.  “He is just one of those horses - we are just going to have to monitor it and keep on top of it.”  Classy trotter Oscar Bonavena looked sharp in winning the fast class trot at Tuesday’s trials.  Purdon and Rasmussen gave the 4yr-old a month off over winter, rather than sending him to the Breeders Crown. That plan could pay big race dividends at the New Zealand Cup carnival.  “We gave him those last couple of runs for the Breeders Crown, but there are probably bigger things in store for him,” Purdon said.  Oscar Bonavena powered to the line showing no signs that the knee issue that ruined his 3yr-old season was still affecting him. Purdon said the Dominion would be the major target for the lightly raced squaregaiter.  “We are rapt with him, hopefully he will be there at Cup week in the big ones.” The All Stars stable have just two Dominion nominees with Winterfell in contention for the 3200m feature, as well. Reprinted with permission of HRNZ

Star three year old of the season Ultimate Sniper will be nominated for the New Zealand Cup in November though at this stage he is still in the “throw in a nomination” category in what is looking like an increasingly complicated spring racing scene. “Our other main candidates, The Fixer, Spankem, Chase Auckland and Ashley Locaz will be there hopefully, but we will be adding “Snip” because it could be one of those springs” Natalie Rasmussen said. One of the factors involved is just how well Ultimate Sniper has done over the winter . He is also another All Star who did not race at 2 blooming in spectacular fashion as a three year old. His 10 starts yielded 8 wins and a second placing his record only marred by a gallop in the Vero Stakes, his unplaced run. He was second to Jesse Duke in the Northern Derby Prelude then winning both the G1 Derby events here as well as the Sires STakes Final. Missing from the nominations will be Funatthebeach who left All Stars for Sydney on Sunday. He will race out of the Tritton stable though is ultimately bound for the United Stakes. Such sales, and the sad demise of some likely rivals, does give All Stars a strong Cup hand and with the Inter Dominions as a quick backup . Mark won the New Zealand Cup with Il Vicolo as a four year old and later with Lazarus at the same age.Both horses had raced at a high level at two and three   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables

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