Purdon stable chases biggest haul of winners
Mark Purdon can't think of a better place to smash his record number of winners in a season than at harness racing's showcase event, the Harness Jewels.
And with six favourites in the nine races at Cambridge tomorrow, the Purdon-Rasmussen stable is poised to stamp its domination once again, the likelihood of a complete blitz spurring the TAB into taking bets on how many races the stable will win.
Purdon, who has trained 135 winners this term, three short of his 2012 record, is out on his own when it comes to winning at the Jewels, having trained 17 winners in the seven years of the event.
But while he has notched three wins three times and taken two scalps the other four times, the chances are that he will do even better tomorrow.
Purdon says he has never had a stronger contingent and rates Adore Me ($1.15), Isaiah ($2.10) and Follow The Stars ($1.30) three outstanding chances. But with a little luck he believes he can bag four wins, next best in order being Fight For Glory ($3.40), King Denny ($2.30) and Prince Fearless ($4.40).
The bookies will give you $3.80 if Purdon takes two wins, $2.50 if he gets three and $3 if he gets four, the payout increasing to $5.50 for five wins and $26 for six.
But the figures Purdon is really focusing on are the huge stakes he has ransacked in recent years - last year he had 22 starters and took home $349,613 of the $1.2 million in total prizemoney.
But that's not his biggest haul. In 2009, when the purses were bigger, he lined up 18 horses, one more than tomorrow, and with three wins, four seconds and one third, raked in $414,375.
A similar booty tomorrow would see the stable's season total of $2.66m push through the $3m barrier and close in on Purdon's two best years of $3.07m in 2010 and $3.41m in 2009, when stakes for many of the feature races were higher.
Purdon, who has widened his trawling to feature Australian races this season, where he has notched seven wins and A$220,000 (NZ$239,000), is in no doubt that the All Stars stable's increased success can be laid squarely at the feet of his partner Natalie Rasmussen.
"Having Nat is like having another me," Purdon said. "Particularly with the amount of travelling we're doing, it's nice not having to worry about what's happening at home."
Purdon said with Rasmussen's obvious skills it was no fluke that champion pacer Black's A Fake won $4m in his headlining career.
Rasmussen's organisational skills had been integral in preparing the big team for the Jewels.
In the run-up to tomorrow, Rasmussen had been in charge of six horses stabled with Barry Purdon, new foreman Ross Payne had been looking after another six at Bunty Hughes' stable and his son Michael had been overseeing six at Tony Herlihy's Clevedon barn, with Purdon floating between all three venues in what could have been a logistical nightmare.
And the horse who had thrived the most since coming north had definitely been 2-year-old trotter Prince Fearless, who had been overlooked by many tipsters, Purdon said.
"He's working very well and I'd put him ahead of Wanna Play [the bookies' favourite at $2.80]."
Purdon said punters shouldn't be afraid to back the horse just because he had made a couple of mistakes.
"He's only a baby and it's hard for 2-year-old trotters to complete a season without doing something wrong. But since we changed his shoes, and put a bit more weight on them, he's been trotting very clean and solid."
Purdon said Prince Fearless had the gate speed to go forward and contest the early lead, a crucial factor in winning at Cambridge.
Stablemate Wanna Play, on the other hand, had to be held together until he balanced up.
Purdon revealed Wanna Play had had a minor setback when overnighting at Bulls when his cover came off and he got a minor burn mark from the strap on his near hind pastern.
"But he hasn't missed any work," Purdon said.
Three-year-old Emerald favourite Isaiah had also thrived on the trip north, Purdon said.
"He seems to love the travelling and being away from home with all the extra attention he gets. I'd rate him our second-best chance because of his barrier draw. He's very fast away and is very tough."
Purdon can't split his three fillies Fight For Glory, Supersonic Miss and Linda Lovegrace in the Two-Year-Old Diamond but reported his own drive Supersonic Miss was a big improver.
"She definitely needed the run last week and her work this week suggests she's a lot better."
Purdon is hoping to punch through from the second row early as he is drawn right on the back of likely leader Joanne's A Delight.
Purdon says only bad luck will beat Follow The Stars, whom he rates the best 2-year-old he has trained, but has to start from the outside of the second row.
"He's a very, very good horse but I don't think he would want much going wrong from that draw. He's one you wouldn't be afraid to launch and give it a go if you had to."
Purdon's task was made a little easier when the sole Australian runner at the Jewels, Padrisimo, was pulled out on the eve of flying to New Zealand yesterday after coming down with a cold, leaving less traffic with only 11 rivals to go round.
Purdon knows the Art Major 2-year-old can do it tough. To win the Young Guns Final at Auckland he was forced four wide and to bag the APG Final at Melton earlier in the month he had to face the breeze.
With Purdon driving Adore Me, Follow The Stars and King Denny, and Rasmussen behind Isaiah, Fight For Glory and Wanna Play, both partners look to be in for a good day in the sulky.
But Purdon has a way to go to rival Rasmussen in the drivers' strike rate. With 53 wins from 164 drives he has a fine rating of 0.4661. Rasmussen, with half the number of drives, has reined home 39 winners, giving her a terrific figure of 0.6152.
To put that into perspective, leading driver Dexter Dunn, with 157 wins from 845 drives, has a rating of 0.3105 and none of the other top drivers can boast a strike rate higher than 0.2.