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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. http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

Only those who follow Natalie Rasmussen show a profit at the end of the season! Everyone who has studied it knows that following one rider/driver all season is a licence to lose money. Yes, there may be some good days but there will be a lot of bad ones and you have to forget all those to convince yourself this is a betting ploy that works.What is worse,if you claim you are ahead your betting mates know different. They have done the sums. The greatest of jockeys will make at the most a 30 per cent winning strike rate in a season. Not many professional drivers get even close to that. That means for 70 times out of a hundred you can only get a place dividend. Not enough folks. Not nearly enough. Natalie Rasmussen is different. Year after year she has returned her followers a profit. That is because a high strike rate and a relatively low number of drives make following her a winning proposition. And note that even she missed paying a dividend in 25 per cent of her drives. The profit this past season did not equal some former years, chiefly because Natalie’s following increased every year and longer odds winners are getting few and far between. But still her fans are winners. This past season in NZ Natalie had just 70 drives which makes her a realistic betting proposition since some have close to or more than 1000. That can get expensive. Very expensive. She paid a dividend in 51 of those drives. Late in the season she reached a return of over $700 based on a $10 each way bet on all her drives and finished close to that at the end -$690 to be exact. But we are doing this properly and if we key in the 19 losing drives that reduces the profit to $310. If you can find another horseman driving every month of the season who is close to that, good luck. This was not actually Nat’s best season. At times since coming to New Zealand she could show double that profit but her army has grown in recent times. Only one winning drive this season (A Bettor Act) topped a $200 return with a $10 each way bet whereas there were likely to be several in earlier seasons. Natalie has a remarkable strike rate and not just because she gets a nice pick of drives in the leading stable. Go back 10 years when she drove on a large scale in a Queensland season (over 600 races in at least two seasons) she still managed a win place ratio of close to 50 per cent. So if you are starting with a clean sheet and out to make a buck this season-stick with Natalie. She’s the Queen of the Silver Dollar!   Courtesy of All Stars Stables. http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

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

A RETURN to winning form and gun barrier draw has restored Kiwi filly Our Princess Tiffany as a dominant favourite for next Saturday night's Breeders Crown 3YO fillies' pacing final. Punters were very wary of the All Stars filly after an inglorious unplaced heat run and she eased from $1.30 to $1.80 favourite in last night's semi, but stand-in driver Luke McCarthy weaved his magic. McCarthy surged through from the back row and took Our Princess Tiffany to the front after 500m then dictated terms before ripping home in 55.3 and 27 flat to beat No Win No Feed and another Kiwi raider, Best Western, in a slick 1min54.8sec mile rate for 2150m at Bendigo. The other fillies' semi was much weaker and won in considerably slower time (1min56.3sec mile rate) by Our Road To Mecca, beating former Kiwi Buzinga. The biggest shock of the semis came when Emma Stewart's star, Two Times Bettor, flopped badly behind Our Princess Tiffany and didn't qualify for the final. Our Princess Tiffany has gate three in the final at Melton and has already firmed from $1.20 to $1.15 on the Aussie TAB. Buzinga is $9 second elect from gate two. The other Kiwi winner on semis' night at Bendigo was Ray Green's Perfect Stride, who led throughout and just held-on by a head over Star Hunter in by far the weakest of the two semis for two-year-old colts and geldings. "That's sort of what he's like. He just does what he has to," Green said. Perfect Stride's final hopes were boosted with the prized pole draw for the final, but he will need to step-up again to beat Emma Stewart's young star Be Happy Mach ($1.70) despite drawing outside the back row (gate 13). Be Happy Mach was dominant in the stronger semi, even though he was able to wok around and final the lead from stablemate Mirragon (who ran second) in his semi. Be Happy Mach won easily in a 1min55.8sec mile rate, while another Kiwi visitor, Zachary Butcher's Zeuss Bromac, grabbed the eye in third spot. Zeuss Bromac drew gate four in the final and has already been backed from $11 into $6.50. The best of the pacing finals will be the 3YO colts and geldings pacing division after two stirring semis last night. The final will be without nominal favourite Hurricane Harley after he mysteriously flopped and missed qualifying. But Emma Stewart still holds the key with the emerging Demon Delight, who produced a monstrous run from last to win the stronger of the two semis in a scorching 1min53.8sec mile rate for 2150m. Emerging stablemate Brevity led, copped plenty of pressure from NSW Derby winner Max Delight (fourth) and ran the race of his career for a fantastic second. The other semi won strongly in all-the-way fashion by David Aiken's improving Malcolms Rhythm, who beat a brave and seemingly always luckless Lochinvar Art after blazing home in 26.2sec and the end of a cosy 1min56.2sec mile rate. The All Stars' runner Jesse Duke couldn't lift of a poor heat run and missed making the final after battling into eighth in his semi. Max Delight drew best of the big guns in the final and is a $2.60 favourite from gate four, while Demon Delight (gate 10, $3.60) and Lochinvar Art (gate 11, $3.80) look the other key players despite back row draws.   Adam Hamilton

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 http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

Things are looking pretty good for Luby Lou as she treads the comeback trail starting as early as next month at Addington. The brilliant younger trotter has not raced since winning the $100,000 NZ Trotting Derby at Addington in April 2018 her fourth win in five career starts. She beat Winterfell and Majestic Man that day but went amiss and was put aside for a long spell. Now a five year old she should not be hard to place in the coming season all going well. “She had problems in both knees and rest was a big part of the solution to that “ Mark said after working her alongside Oscar Bonavena on Saturday. “There is no sign of that so far. Its early stages yet in the prep but she is coming along well” Luby Lou also won the Trotting Oaks to make her the outstanding three year old trotter of her year. She is royally bred by Breckon Farms being by Muscle Hill from Luby Ann, an American mare by Andover Hall. Breckon Farms syndicated her for racing (the Super Six syndicate) and also syndicated her younger sister TICKLE ME PINK who won the Harness Jewels Ruby for Tony Herlihy’s stable at Addington in June giving Luby Ann her second G1 winner from her first two foals. Mark also trained the dam LUBY ANN who did not show quite the racing ability of her two foals though she had a private reputation and the best was probably not seen of her. She did win 4 of 18 starts though. Her breeding career has been otherwise a challenge for Breckon Farms. She failed to get in foal for two years after Tickle Me Pink before being served by What the Hill last November. There wouldn’t be many mares at stud with two Group 1 winners from their first two foals and Luby Lou should continue the good work all going well.   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

After the initial sighs of Australian relief comes the reality. And that reality is even without a full regiment of the All Stars army to converge on the Victorian carnival which rolls into gear over the next week,  we still have some serious firepower aimed at the August riches which start at Maryborough on Sunday. There would have been plenty of connections of leading Australian age group horses thrilled to here that originally the All Stars weren’t targeting the Breeders Crown with anything like the numbers of the past, although the two they are bringing in Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke are favoured in their divisions. But the Kiwi team has grown to eight and remarkably all of them are trained by people who have had success in Australia before. Joining the Purdon-Rasmussen horses will be fellow Kiwi trainers Ray Green (won BC juvenile with King Of Swing two years ago); John and Josh Dickie (numerous BC, Vic Derby wins and a Great Southern Star), Zac Butcher (who has won Victorian group ones and now make his training debut there) and Phil Williamson, who has an excellent strike rate when he ventures to Victoria. Even Jeremy Young, who makes his Australian debut as the trainer of Breeders Crown three-year-old filly contender Best Western, is widely travelled and successful in Australia when stable travelling foreman for Purdon back in the Auckland Reactor days. So with all eight of the Kiwis set to race in Victoria soon, here is a look at how they stack up.—-   Maryborough Sunday: Ultimate Stride (Redwood): Former sales topping trotter who overcame 30m handicap to win at Maryborough last Thursday, so good to go from a stand for the Redwood. “He is a good horse and better now than when he ran at the Jewels,” says trainer Williamson. “He can definitely win any race he is in and the stand doesn’t bother me.” Anthony Butt will retain the drive on the leggy son of Love You, who is a class horse and has an experience edge at the highest level on the locals. Liberty Stride (Vic Derby): It was impossible not to be impressed by her quite stunning recovery to win at Shepparton last Tuesday and Williamson says she is the real deal. “She would have raced in the best races over home but we were behind the 8-ball with her prep but she has real class. “She can give the boys plenty to think about in the Derby and the crucial factor will be whether she gets it right and is trotting after 400m. If she is, she can win.” Butt will also takes the reins on her. Kratos (Vic Derby): Won his lead-up race at Alexandra Park last Friday against older horses with a 1:59.4 mile coming off second line, his fourth win this season, all against older horses. Second in NZ Sales Series and fourth in the Jewels he is rated a good stayer and late season improver by co-trainer John Dickie. “He is getting better all the time and he will love the three races in as many weeks heading into the Breeders Crown.”Not as good as some of the Dickie superstars of the past, Kratos will still be an each way chance in the Derby and the Crown, with Josh Dickie to drive.  Shepparton, August 7: Perfect Stride: Trained by Ray Green and owned by the Rosatis, Chicago Bull’s little brother is a real speedster. Good enough to compete in the elite early season company in NZ he was put aside with the Breeders Crown in mind and jogged a 1:56.1 mile beating older horses at Alex Park last Friday. That was his second win on end and he is slick and getting tougher with time. Whether he is up to the Emma Stewart horses is a big ask but looks certain to make the final and Zac Butcher will drive in the heat at least. Zeuss Bromac: A dramatic late season improver for Butcher, this is the first horse he has trained. Third in the Jewels at only his second start he beat Perfect Stride last time they met but then missed a race two weeks ago because of a bad blood report. Looks stronger than Perfect Stride but maybe not with as much raw speed. “I don’t think missing that race will hurt him too much and he is a horse on the up,” said Butcher. “So I think he will make the final and hopefully he will keep improving on the way there. He is pretty untapped.” Kilmore, August 8 Our Princess Tiffany: Needs no introduction, she is sheer class. Already the winner of three Oaks races it will take something very special to beat her in the series if she brings her best form. Best Western: Stunned Belle Of Montana to win the Northern Oaks at Alexandra Park in March to give trainer Jeremy Young, known as Zinny, his first group one win. Not as good as Princess Tiffany but she is tough and follows a hot speed so Australian racing should suit her. “Maybe she can’t beat Princess Tiffany but she definitely can’t beat her if we don’t go so she will be on the plane with the others on Wednesday,” said Young. A strong second in a 1:55.1 mile at Alexandra Park last Friday, Best Western is yet another Breeders Crown drive for Anthony Butt.  Ballarat, August 9: Jesse Duke: Has a good horse’s record and would be a lot better but for racing some really classy stablemates in Ultimate Sniper and Self Assured. Still won a Jewels and is a good stayer but meets a solid crop of horses. Won’t just turn up and win as so many Purdon-Rasmussen horses have in the past but his $3 futures quote with the TAB could be a lot shorter because you know he will be in the final and once there the All Stars horses are there they are usually well backed. Probably no better than 3-4 others in the series. Michael Guerin

Mark Purdon will be backed up on the couch watching Queensland unfold on the tv screen on Saturday but still has some salient thoughts about how the races may unfold. “The good news is that the team trained well on Thursday and Poi is happy with where they are at. That is obviously a big thing going into the races “ he said How those races may unfold is the crucial question and it is probably Princess Tiffany will be out to use her class to dominate the race with her best rival drawn badly in the second row. “There’s not a lot speed inside her and she can really sprint out of the gate if you ask her. The one horse (Write About Lexy) can go out of the gate but you would think they would be looking to trail us” “Over a sprint distance you want to be on the boil so she may well stay in front the trip. “ Mark is not fazed by the fact Princess Tiffany (parked, fought well but close) seemed to have a hard run in her leadup race last week. “She is funny like that. There is not that much of her but when she has a hard race she often improves with it. She is tough” Miss Streisand, who fought well last week and has Sydney form has to come from outside the second row which makes things difficult for her. Breeder’s Crown plans for Princess Tiffany will be confirmed after the race. Mark concedes both Jesse Duke and Self Assured face challenges in the South East Derby. “You would think Lochinvar Art would want to lead all the way and he has the speed to get there. If Self Assured followed him out on his back he might not be too far back maybe in the second and third line on the outer which means he won’t have to do too much work” Mark said. “Jesse Duke will have to go forward from where he is drawn so I could see him parked out. It means both ours could be close enough to have their chance. Hopefully that is how it will work out . I would say the one on the inside of the second row IMake Mine Memphis) will be looking for a similar run and they may not be far away “   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

THE All Stars’ latest budding star Self Assured will back-up quickly at Albion Park next Saturday night. It takes a lot to surprise Mark Purdon, but that’s exactly what Self Assured did when he ran down decorated and more-seasoned stablemate Jesse Duke in a “warm-up” race at Albion Park last night (Saturday). Jesse Duke ran home in mesmerizing splits of 53.9 and 26.1sec, but Self Assured came off his back and snatched victory by a nose. “I didn’t think he could do that,” Purdon admitted. “He could be a really nice horse. “We changed a few things after that last win of his back home because he paced a bit roughly at times. We added the overcheck and took the half blinkers off. “He’s been unlucky in that he had a freak accident at home and missed lots of the good races back home, like the Jewels.” Self Assured will chase his fourth win from as many starts in the $31,600 Group 3 JC McMullen (formerly Premiers’ Cup) at Albion Park on Saturday night. Princesss Tiffany will also open her Queensland campaign in the $31,600 Group 3 South East Oaks this week. “Jesse Duke will have this week off and go to the South-East Derby the next week,” Purdon said. Purdon said the plan was for Princess Tiffany to join Jesse Duke and Self Assured in the Group 1 Queensland Derby (July 20) if she pleased him through the South-East Oaks and Queensland Oaks.   PURDON’S PLUNDER Where his stars are headed in Queensland: PRINCESS TIFFANY July 6: $31,600 Group 3 South-East Oaks July 13: $100,860 Group 1 Queensland Oaks July 20: $100,660 Group 1 Queensland Derby SELF ASSURED July 6: $31,600 Group 3 JC McMullen July 20: $100,660 Group 1 Queensland Derby JESSE DUKE July 13: $31,600 Group 3 South-East Derby July 20: $100,660 Group 1 Queensland Derby   Adam Hamilton

Braeden and Caroline Whitelock have decided to retire Kayla Marie to the breeding paddock where the Group One winning filly is sure to prove a great success. While lacking the brilliance of her close associate Princess Tiffany -as most fillies have- she has proven a worthy representative for both All Stars and her breeders, her dam , Braeside Star, G1 placed, being an early success as owners for the Whitelocks winning six and being second no less than 10 times in a 24 start career. Kayla Marie is a half-sister to Braeside Lady the dam of their first Group One winner as breeders from this family in O Baby. Kayla Marie was similarly consistent with 11 first 3 placings from 16 starts including 5 wins and a G1 result from the Sires Stakes Championship as a two year old in Auckland beating Havtime. That followed a strong second in another G1 the Caduceus Classic. This season’s highlights have been Group One second placings to Belle of Montana in the Nevele R Final and second also in the New Zealand Oaks. It is a proud record for a very game and ambitious filly always giving of her best often having to come off awkward draws.   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stable http://www.allstarsracingstables.com/

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

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

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

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

11 Group One wins in a career of 41 races is honour enough. Being in the first 5 in 37 of them and never finishing further back than 6th when she completed a race wasn’t bad either. And lets not forget those those 12 wins in a row from start one which had the harness world ga-ga. Dream About Me was certainly something special. Her first start and win was in a Sires Stakes heat at two and three starts later she won the Sires Stakes Final and then the Harness Jewels Diamond. She then went to Australia and was unbeaten there at two culminating in the Breeders Crown for fillies. She went back in the summer and won her first four starts went down to Tell Me Tales in 1.49.3 in the Robin Dundee before winning the NSW Oaks. She did not get back to Australia until this year when she lost her only race in Australia (1.49.3 mile behind Tell Me Tales) before winning the Ladyship. Three campaigns in Australia and the three leading female Group Ones, one for each trip. Not bad. If it wasn’t for Adore Me’s 1.47.7 win in the Ladyship Mile in 2015 that champion mare would have to bow to her “cousin” on the Australian front. Adore Me had to settle for second in the Ladyship Mile (to Vansumic in 1.51) on her first trip to Australia and won the G2 Brian Hancock leading into her success in that race in 2015. Dream About Me was well underdone when her winning streak was ended by Golden Goddess on her return from Australia but she won the Nevele R Final at her next start, added the NZ Oaks next start and was then cruelly beaten in the Harness Jewels flying home from a woeful draw for third After a warm up win at Ashburton at four she easily won the Junior Free for All on Cup Day before being set for the Auckland Cup. A four year old mare winning a 3200m staying race in 3.55.4 is something you don’t see every season, maybe not even every decade. “Splendour” went through a bad patch after that. Foot trouble ended an Australian campaign before it began and continued to plague her so that it was not until October she resumed now with Tim Williams She took time to hit her straps but was always in for the fight and when you are going down to Lazarus by half a neck in the Ashburton Flying Stakes you are doing something right. But nothing went right on Cup Day. Drawn on the second line and stopped in her tracks at the start she took no part. Ok so beating Lazarus was going to be a challenge but she was ready for the run of her life. After being fourth in the Free for All she was hit by more problems and was not seen on the tracks again until the following August, Beaten twice by Thefixer, she took out the time honoured Hannon Memorial and was beaten a mere head by Eamon Maguire who had a superior run before ensuring her strength as a stayer was in play in the NZ Cup going down very late to Thefixer (trail) and Tiger Tara a head and half a length from the winner. She posted a double at the Auckland Cup meeting including the Queen of Hearts which gained her an automatic start in the Ladyship but was well below her best in the Auckland Cup where the time of 4.03 was eight seconds slower than her winning time the previous year. But she went out on a high. The champion mare of New Zealand with her Standardbred Breeders win at Addington and champion mare of Australia with the Ladyship. It was a hell of a farewell. Dream About Me was a 1.50.1 miler and a 3.55.4 “two miler” . Just off of Adore Me (1.47.7 and 3.54.6) but not far off. $1.2m compared to Adore Me’s $1.67m. But really even being compared to Adore Me is as high a tribute to a mare in modern times you could find. Splendour was at her best in tough staying races rather than those of outright speed. It may be no coincidence her worst race in recent times was the Auckland Cup which was just a sprint home .She was resilient, coming back twice from major setbacks mostly to do with her feet which were of unusual design. Her limbs were as sound as a bell. Dream About Me was never the glamour mare Adore Me was. Because she was just so sheer bloody efficient in her work and in her races, utterly dependable, always giving her best, never quite demanding or hitting the headlines she so often deserved. But her power when others were fading, her determination when others were wavering, her resilience when others might have limped into the history books and that glorious finale -the lioness at the head of the tribe- those are things we will never forget.   Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables

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

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