Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories: Pacers 2001/2002 Season
Yulestar NZ might not have won this season, but its most recent outings suggested it was close to its best again. The gelding had finished second in the past two Auckland Cups. In a field of 12 with not too much depth to it this time, the 15 metres handicap was unlikely to prevent it from winning if the gelding was at its best. However, North Island harness racing writer Michael Guerin did offer a word or two of warning to supporters of the Inter Dominion Champion.
“Firstly, his best form has been away from Alexandra Park, where he has not won a race for two years. And since returning from Sydney, the horse has again been based on the grass track at Hawera (nearest track to the Nolan’s farm). Yulestar NZ traditionally is at his most vulnerable when trained at home, and it will be interesting to see whether he has enough residual fitness from his Australian campaign to help him over that,” he wrote.
The Achilles heel of Holmes D G NZ was his inability to deal with standing starts. These handicaps usually involved just the New Zealand and Auckland Cups. He had missed the start in two Auckland Cups and two New Zealand Cups, and Barry Purdon was now running out of ideas. “I will give him some practice at home this week, but we have done that before. He always steps away at home, but not when it counts in the big races,” said Purdon.
The horse was now out of the barrier draw, and with the Kiwi rule of ‘unruly’, it would have to start out wide on the second row – the only pacer on that line. “I am hopeful he might step away having plenty of room to himself. If he does step, then he will be a big chance because he is very well.” The horse had started in 63 races for 27 wins – an imposing record.
Colin De Filippi was also pleased with the condition of Kyms Girl NZ. “After missing her plane home, and by the time she finally did arrive back, I thought it was a little too close to line her up before the Cup. I don’t expect this to be a problem as she is a lovely mare with good manners. But it would have been nice to have had a hit-out at Alexandra Park. She does seem very happy and fit, so I don’t really have worries in this regard,” he said.
De Filippi said he believed the Cup would be a tough race with his mare coming off 10 metres, having been re-handicapped five metres for its win in the Treuer Memorial. “With Holmes D G NZ to start wide from the second row, Kyms Girl NZ with a fast start could work into a handy position very quickly.” The seven-year-old mare had won two Group 1 races in its past five starts. However, there seemed no real money for her on the fixed-odds betting, with her odds remaining an $8 chance.
Young Rufus NZ had drawn nicely in barrier four, and had been kept fresh since winning the NZ Free-For-All down at Addington. On the Saturday before Monday’s Cup, the pre-post favourite had stepped cleanly at the Auckland workouts and looked in great shape. “He felt good throughout his trial, and I think he will be spot on in Monday’s Cup,” said Mark Purdon. Reassuring words for the many supporters who were now climbing on board the bandwagon of this highly promising son of Sokys Atom USA.
Outside the big four who were proven in Grand Circuit racing, the only other possible hopes appeared to be Pic Me Pockets NZ and defending Auckland Cup winner Flight South NZ. A win by either would be an upset, though not as major as should either Facta Non Verba NZ or Gracious Knight (NZ) be successful. Making up the field were Mikes Pal NZ, Parisian Falcon (NZ), Wicklow Bay (NZ) and Sempre Celoce (NZ). Only two of the 12 starters were sired by a locally-bred stallion. Both Gracious Knight NZ and Facta Non Verba NZ were by Tuapeka Knight NZ.
Young Rufus NZ retained its position as favourite throughout betting. Holmes D G NZ was on the next line, just ahead of Yulestar NZ. If Holmes D G NZ was ever to step from a stand, it was possibly this race, with no horses drawn either side of him. Much to the delight of Barry Purdon and the stable’s many followers, the 12 times winner of a Group 1 race did go away pacing. Unfortunately for favourite backers, Young Rufus NZ was a little tardy away – slow enough to have missed making a contest out of grabbing the early lead.
With a strong belief in the ability of his horse, Barry Purdon wasted little time pussy-footing just off the speed with the son of Holmes Hanover USA. It was he who made the first significant move, charging around the field to take up the lead. Approaching the mile peg, Mark Purdon then turned the favourite loose, and Young Rufus NZ moved up stylishly on the outside of his brother’s horse.
Contrary to what some people talking through their pockets would have you believe about stables or family when having dual starters racing for big money, the Purdon brothers each played for keeps. With Mark keen to wrest away the lead with the favourite, Barry Purdon called across to him: “You can race me all you like, but you are not taking the lead from me,” he shouted, urging his old favourite on. The battle for the lead at this point was intense. It also proved to be brief, as when older brother Barry made it clear he was there to stay in the lead with the gelding, brother Mark quickly realised there was no point being engaged in a two-horse war this far from home. He eased Young Rufus NZ slightly, hoping that someone from back in the field might go forward, providing them with cover.
When the field reached the home-turn for the last time, a brotherly challenge with Young Rufus NZ was not the only test to then try the older Purdon’s faith in his horse. Yulestar NZ, who had enjoyed a good run throughout, was coming up strongly, as were Gracious Knight (NZ) and now Kyms Girl NZ. The favourite was the first of this quartet to give ground, with Gracious Knight poking his head in front. In an act of class, courage and defiance, Holmes D G NZ refused to lie down, again reaching the lead some 50 metres from the post.
The hopes of Yulestar NZ were dented in the straight when its sulky lost a tyre as a result of the wheel being struck by another horse. Under hard driving from Barry Purdon, Holmes D G NZ showed great fighting qualities to get across the line ahead of Yulestar NZ, Gracious Knight (NZ) and Kyms Girl NZ. The favourite tired in the long run up the straight, beating only four home.
Until that night, four horses in Australasia had shared Grand Circuit honours with each having won 12 Group 1 events. These were Village Kid, Westburn Grant, Chokin NZ and Holmes D G NZ. Now there was only one holding the record of 13 Group 1 successes, with the latter lifting its earnings to $NZ1,777,395. No New Zealand pacer has banked more than $2 million in earnings, with Master Musician NZ achieving this milestone if you add in bonuses this horse picked up in the 1990s.
The winning trainer-driver was acutely aware of this situation. That night he told the media it would be great if the gelding could get beyond $2 million. “The money itself doesn’t matter, as much as the chance to do something no other New Zealand pacer has done,” said Purdon. “If he could, it might silence some of those doubters he has had, and he might also on retiring be called a champion.”
Purdon hinted strongly that the Sydney Inter Dominion was not really on the gelding’s agenda at that time, preferring to be in Melbourne for the Nights Of Glory Carnival, with the Victoria Cup in particular being his main goal. “He won the Victoria Cup three years ago, and by the way he is racing now, he must have a big show of picking it up again.”
Part-owned in Melbourne by Terry Henderson (who had also been a part-owner of Chokin NZ with this stable), another part-owner was former New Zealand All Black coach John Hart. It was the latter who was given a rousing reception when speaking at the presentation on behalf of the four part-owners.
In finishing a gallant second after losing a tyre in the home straight, Yulestar NZ had been unlucky. However, driver Peter Jones backed away from claiming it had definitely cost him the race. “But it would have been very close,” he conceded. Yulestar NZ too had his share of knockers in recent weeks. But none could have been critical of the gelding’s effort that night.
Having seen Holmes D G NZ lose numerous two mile major races, his trainer-driver was never among those who claimed the gelding was not a true two-miler. With the horse going away from the second row nicely that night, then working around the field to take up the running, there was no way the older Purdon brother was prepared to hand over the lead, even to his brother driving the favourite. It was then that Barry told what he had shouted across to brother Mark when Young Rufus NZ had loomed up at the mile wanting the lead.
Mark Purdon made no excuses, other than to say: “We lost some ground at the start, then I knew we were in trouble when we could not get the lead away from Holmes D G NZ.” Another big effort in the Cup that would not go unnoticed came from Gracious Knight (NZ). Its gutsy third clearly put the writing on the wall that with natural improvement next year, this pacer could develop into a real Grand Circuit performer.
|1977-1991 known as Australian Grand Circuit. 1992 New Zealand included, and Circuit renamed Australasian Grand Circuit.|