Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:  Pacers 2002/2003 Season
Leg 8:  The Unique Group Auckland Cup   2002/2003Results   Points
             31/12/2002   Alexandra Park, Auckland, NZ  3200m  Mobile Start  $NZ250,000
  Grand Circuit Home Page

With Grand Circuit racing in Perth and Adelaide in January, the Auckland Cup (this past season on New Year’s Eve) has not been programmed to attract Aussie pacers across the Tasman. But it is a much sought-after race on the Kiwi calendar for the best stayers there.

In keeping with the New Zealand tradition of big fields in their major staying races, 17 horses were selected, including two emergencies – Hanover Zip (NZ) and Upanoff (NZ). Unlike Australia’s major two-milers where horses can be expected to be handicapped off several marks, only two pacers did not make the front.

These were the winner of the recent New Zealand Cup, Gracious Knight (NZ), and the veteran and prolific Group One winner, the veteran Holmes D G NZ. Both were placed off  10 metres.

Shortly after the barrier draw was made public with Ben Hur winner Young Rufus NZ having barrier three, the New Zealand TAB tightened the odds of this pre-race favourite into $2.50. The young stallion had returned to New Zealand from its campaign in Australia appearing to be more seasoned than it had been when disappointing in the New Zealand Cup some six weeks earlier. Trainer-driver Mark Purdon expressed his confidence in this son of Sokys Atom USA going away well and having the run of the race.

Respected New Zealand journalist, Jeff Scott, stated how the start will be crucial to the chances of the favourite.

“Sometimes he can make a flier, like he did in the Ashburton Flying Stakes in October. If he steps straight to the front here, his rivals will be in serious trouble.” Scott pointed out how the horse had been caught on the wrong foot at the start of the New Zealand Cup, losing valuable ground, but did recover to finish sixth.

“He again was a little messy at the start of the Ben Hur at Harold Park on December 6, but once he hit his straps, he accelerated quickly.” 


Young Rufus NZ

Auckland Cup Field
1.   Disprove NZ fr (D. Butcher)
   Atoll Bomber (NZ) fr (R. May)
   Young Rufus NZ fr (M. Purdon)
   Pocket Me NZ fr (A. Butt)
   Yulestar NZ fr (P. Jones)
   Rare Gem NZ fr (A. Herlihy)
   Eagles Together (NZ) fr (T. McFarlane)
   Alert Motoring (NZ) fr (B. Mangos)
   Pic Me Pockets NZ fr (M. McKendry)
  Falcon Rise (NZ) fr (C. De Filippi)
  Hanover Zip (NZ) 1st emerg.
  Upanoff (NZ) fr 2nd emerg.
  Franco Heir NZ fr (F. Cooney)
  Final Ridge (NZ) fr (D. Butt)
  Facta Non Verba NZ fr (R. Holmes)
  Gracious Knight (NZ) 10m (T. Mitchell)
  Holmes D G NZ 10m (B. Purdon) 

Facta Non Verba NZ had continued in its career best form the previous week winning the City Of Auckland FFA. Even before the barrier draw was made, punters were well aware that this horse being out of the draw would be given a wide alley off the second row. This did not stop some punters from showing a keen interest in this son of Tuapeka Knight NZ. The horse was a clear second favourite behind Young Rufus NZ at $5.50. The ‘Facta’ it seemed had been going away better in recent standing start events, and now became a popular each-way bet for smaller punters not prepared to back the short-priced favourite.

New Zealand Cup winner Gracious Knight (NZ) had been in need of the run when run down by stablemate Facta Non Verba NZ in the Free-For- All at Alexandra Park the previous week as it ‘blew’ badly after the race. Having proven itself over the 3200m, it was $7 on the tote. Co-trainer Warren Rich said he was confident he would have the horse spot on come Tuesday night. Its co-marker off 10 metres, Holmes D G NZ was next in betting, an $11 chance following several handy bets having been made the previous day.

The enigmatic Yulestar NZ was Jeff Scott’s value bet for the race. “These days he is becoming a hit-or-miss hope in its races. He was ordinary in the New Zealand Cup, and then showed his true colours with a sweet trip to outgun Young Rufus NZ in the New Zealand Free-For-All. The 2000 Brisbane Inter Dominion and New Zealand Cup winner has been freshened after another Jekyll-and-Hyde form slump in the Miracle mile, but has the luxury of starting off the front again on Tuesday,” wrote Scott.

Punters were not keen on backing too many horses in the race, and good odds could be obtained about former Grand Circuit contestants such as Pocket Me NZ, Pic Me Pockets NZ, Franco Heir NZ etc. The closer the count-down to the race moved, the more punters liked the favourite, with his barrier manners the only major flaw to his improvement.

It had been a topsy-turvy season for Yaldhurst trainer Mark Purdon. Several months earlier his stable consisted of what other trainers labelled as his ‘dream team’. At that stage Young Rufus NZ was not the star. Purdon then had made no secret that he considered his champion youngster of the previous season, Jack Cade NZ to be his most outstanding pacer. One by one members of the ‘dream team’ went down injured, including Jack Cade NZ. While this terrible run of luck was taking place, Young Rufus NZ was starting to get it all together.

To good judges of horseflesh, the Young Rufus NZ that paraded just prior to the Auckland Cup, looked a little sleeker and a harder version of the horse that had been sent out favourite six weeks before in the New Zealand Cup. If Purdon was worried by the standing start, he did not let it show. “He has thrived on the hard racing of the past few weeks, and has never been fitter. I think he is the horse they all have to beat, and I feel he will go away with them.”

The much travelled Pocket Me NZ was the first horse to break the line, crossing straight over to the inside. But Young Rufus NZ was not far behind, and Purdon allowed his five-year-old to provide a sample of its speed, racing past the leader to take up the running. Backers of the favourite could not have been happier around the first turn with Young Rufus NZ sailing along up front, and most of his main rivals buried back in the field. Purdon gave his horse more rein at the 800 metres and it really began stretching out in awesome fashion. That quarter was covered in a smart 27.8 seconds. The further the race went, the further this horse stamped itself on the race.

This entire son of Sokys Atom USA finally lived up to the tag of ‘potential champion’ that some had earlier given him. He was virtually in a race of his own, reaching the winning post almost eight lengths clear of Yulestar NZ and Facta Non Verba NZ. There were some handy pacers back in the field, which underlined the outstanding effort of the winner.  When you have trained, driven and even owned as many extra smart horses as Mark Purdon has, it takes a lot of horse to make such a horseman emotional. That night this young member of the famous Purdon family was as emotional as any of his close friends had ever known him to be.

“Winning any Cup is hard, but not many horses can win them like that. That was a very special victory,” said Purdon. “I think that effort shows now that he is the best pacer in Australasia. It has been a really hard season for me to see so many of my good horses get injured. Until tonight, it has been so frustrating, even with this horse, as he lost a couple of races that I know he could easily have won.”

Mark Purdon is not a horseman to extend praise lightly. The following week Young Rufus NZ confirmed this exceptional rating. When taken to Cambridge for a $27,000 Flying Mile, he came from back in the field to stop the clock at a sensational 1:54.8. Once again it was Facta Non Verba NZ who finished second. Writer Michael Guerin, when filing his report of the race, wrote: “The stallion unleashed a dazzling sprint, showing the sort of leg speed that makes you gasp.”


1977-1991 known as Australian Grand Circuit.  1992 New Zealand included, and Circuit renamed Australasian Grand Circuit.

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