CHAMPION PACER Auckland Reactor will be back in New Zealand at the end of the month to start his stud career and prepare for another racing campaign here.
In a surprise move, the owners of Auckland Reactor will return the horse to his former trainer Mark Purdon, who will work him up during October, November and December, at the same time taking him to the Stallion Station three days a week to collect his semen.
The stallion will stand for a fee of $5000, a price which his American owners hope will attract a book of at least 200 mares.
The decision to bring the horse home sparked a flurry of activity last week, with leading studs Alabar, Nevele R and Stallion Station all vying for a piece of the action.
But the real action will come on the racetrack next year when, pending the success of an about-to-be performed throat operation, Auckland Reactor will be set for the Auckland Cup and Interdominions in March and April.
Auckland Reactor's owners believe it is a recurrence of a breathing problem that has prevented the horse from producing his best in three races in North America, the latest at Chester seven weeks ago when he stopped as if shot when leading.
While trainer Kelvin Harrison blamed the poor run on the oppressive heat and the horse's allergies, evidence suggested the "Reactor" was flipping his soft palate again, a diagnosis made in Australia and New Zealand after his Miracle Mile failure last November.
And this week, the horse will go under the knife for a now routine and successful procedure, which involves pinning the soft palate so it cannot block his airway.
A similar operation was done on pacer Rockin Image, who has since become one of the best three-year-olds in the US.
Auckland co-owner John Curtin said the day he saw Auckland Reactor at Chester he was distressed for some time after the race and did not even want to go out on to the racetrack before it.
"He was probably terrified at running because he knew what was going to happen – his air would be cut off. Brian [Sears] said at the half mile he was done, bang, and he had to ease him down."
Curtin said it was a shame the operation was not done before the Reactor started his American campaign, as had been recommended, but local vet Paddy Hogan advised it was not necessary when she found a large ulcer caused by repeated flipping of the soft palate had healed well.
"Kelvin told us he was the fastest horse he'd had anything to do with and the evidence points to this as the reason why he can't show it on the racetrack.
"We don't know for sure, but he's too great a horse to give up on if this is the only problem. And we have nothing to lose by giving it another go. The upside is huge. If Mark can get him back to his best, there's nothing to stop him from going up there again after the Inters to show them how good he is. If he can make it in the States, it multiplies his stud income by 10."
Curtin said he did not adhere to the theory that by trying the horse on the track again it could damage his stud career. Pundits claimed Art Major would never make it as a sire because, after he retired from an all-conquering three and four-year-old career his trainer, Bill Robinson, was banned five years for drug use. But instead of being shunned as a drug horse like the know-alls predicted, he has become the hottest stallion in America.
"And I don't believe it has any effect on a horse's stud career if he goes badly after being great.
"Breeders know his speed and can see how his sire Mach III is flying. He's leading sire of three-year-olds here with fewer than half the number of foals as [second-placed] Christian Cullen.
"Auckland Reactor doesn't have to prove anything. His record speaks for itself. He still holds three New Zealand records and he has twice been Horse of the Year."
Curtin said just-completed tests at nearby Walnridge Farm had shown Auckland Reactor to have excellent fertility and Walnridge general manager and equine clinic director, Dr Richard Meirs, had been impressed by the horse's conformation and intelligence. Auckland Reactor will go into quarantine on Saturday, and fly home at the end of the month for another two weeks in quarantine, before rejoining Purdon and starting stud duties in mid-September. "He couldn't be prepared for the New Zealand Cup – that would interfere too much with the breeding season – but hopefully Mark will tell us by the end of the year whether he will make it back to the track," Curtin said.
"A lot of good horses have combined breeding and racing – Mr Feelgood has two-year-olds in the States this year and [recent 10.5 length Dan Patch Invitational winner] Shark Gesture bred 80 in Australia before going back to the States to race."
Curtin said Stallion Station, which has a share in Auckland Reactor, would not be supplying semen to Australian breeders this season. Under stringent new rules, only stallions which are kept in tight quarantine can have semen sent to Australia, a requirement which would rule out plans for Purdon to train him.
Purdon said last night he was delighted to have a second chance to train a once-in-a-lifetime horse.
"It's very exciting. I didn't expect to see him back here and certainly not racing."
Purdon said he could understand how some people might think Auckland Reactor had a chink in his armour, based on his latest form here, but if the problem was resolved there was no reason why he couldn't return to his all-conquering best. "And it wouldn't surprise me if he was even better for the experience he's had over there."
Purdon said Auckland Reactor was such a nice horse to work with he didn't think trips from A to B three times a week to collect his semen would upset him.
News that Purdon will be reunited with the greatest horse of his career climaxed what has been his best season since he started training in 1995, one which he celebrated at last night's awards with four category winners – Major Mark, Kylie Ree, I Can Doosit and Pocaro. But it is his record tally of wins, 116, and stakes, $3,074,834, that is the best testimony of Purdon's rare talent. "When we started the season with no Auckland Reactor I couldn't envisage we'd have such a good year."
- Sunday Star Times