Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:  Pacers 2002/2003 Season
Leg 5:  Ian McPhee Real Estate Ben Hur   2002/2003Results   Points
             6/12/2002  Harold Park, Sydney, NSW  2965m  Standing Start  $150,000
  Grand Circuit Home Page

‘Bigger than Ben Hur’ is an expression now etched in the English language following the record-breaking movie of the same title.  Moved forward on the Grand Circuit series by some weeks, it now enabled Sydney to have Group One racing on three successive weeks. The distance of 2965m would be 1205m further than the Miracle Mile. It would also be from a standing start – two points usually to the liking of Kiwi horsemen and their pacers.

This was evident when Harry Martin told the media that week how Double Identity had only a “50-50 chance of stepping away safely.” Having won two of the early Grand Circuit events, Martin’s gelding had taken an early and clear lead on the points table that would decide this season’s Grand Circuit Champion. A big showing in this race by the improved Martin-trained pacer would give all its rivals something to catch.

Smooth Satin, the defending champion and the winner of this race the previous season, was the lone backmarker off 15m. Double Identity was off 10m, along with Jofess and the veteran Holmes D G NZ. There was a good contingent from New Zealand. Also in the field off the front line would be Young Rufus NZ with trainer Mark Purdon again warming the seat, along with Jay Bees Flush NZ, to be driven by Mark Smith. The consistent Wally Walton (Matthew Gath) was up from Victoria, and also to carry the NSW flag were Rusty Mahoney (David Wilkins), Selby Bromac NZ from the Brian Hancock stable, Piccini (Richard Hancock), and Huzzaar (Danny Gallagher).

The recent winning streak by Double Identity had made Harry Martin somewhat of a household name in our two most northern States. This horse had won from a stand before. This was the Chippys Cup at Penrith, a rather modest race that was a far cry from this company. “At home he pings away from a stand, even without shorteners on,” said Martin. “But this will be a bit different under race conditions in this field.”

Martin firmly believed this forthcoming Grand Circuit race would be far more competitive than had been the Miracle Mile. “To be honest, I am not that keen on this week’s race from the standing start, but it is a Grand Circuit race, so you can’t really bypass it. No offence to the Kiwis in the Miracle Mile, but they did go back after the start and then just sat there. For them to have got into the finish of that race, they just had to go, and they didn’t. It was a mistake. You just can’t sit back and give good horses a start in these Grand Circuit races,” pointed out the oldest reinsman to be contesting Saturday night’s event.


Young Rufus NZ

Noel Ovington, editor of Sydney’s National Trotguide, in his preview of the race said he believed Young Rufus NZ was the best handicapped horse in the race. “Young Rufus NZ did gallop away from the stand in the New Zealand Cup, but trainer-driver Mark Purdon says he is confident his horse will step a lot better this week. If he does and perhaps finds the lead, Young Rufus NZ will take a power of running down.”

Mark Purdon was no stranger to winning the Ben Hur, a race first introduced in 1994 making it the youngest event on the Grand Circuit. That first winner had been Chandon for Vic Frost. Purdon saluted the following season with Il Vicolo NZ and again in 1999 with Bogan Fella NZ. It was the only NSW Group One race brother Barry had not yet won. He was back in Sydney with Holmes D G NZ with high hopes his old favourite would show the club directors how wrong they were in overlooking the horse in last week’s Miracle Mile.

Returning from suspension, Brian Hancock would be back in the sulky of Selby Bromac NZ, a winner the previous week in the Bohemia Crystal Free-For-All at Harold Park against pacers that had missed out on a start in the Miracle Mile. Wally Walton has shown it could run out a long trip having been second to Atitagain NZ in the 2001 Ben Hur, and more recently, second to Western Light NZ in the two-mile Kilmore Cup.

When Young Rufus NZ begun safely from its front-row draw, Purdon showed he had learned from his experience of being too far back in the Miracle Mile. Once his horse had become balanced, Purdon wasted no time in surging forward with the favourite seeking, the lead. Matthew Gath also had the same idea for his horse Wally Walton. He had the advantage of the inside and was able to retain the lead around the first turn, with Young Rufus NZ then able to drop in on the rails behind the leader. From this perfect trail, it was obvious a long way from home that the Kiwi performer would take no end of beating.

With some 1200m of the race remaining, Double Identity moved up on the outside of the favourite. Harry Martin had ideas of pocketing Young Rufus NZ. But Purdon was wise to this, quickly easing the favourite away from the inside line, fully prepared to race one horse wide for much of the final lap. At this point Jofess was on the back of Double Identity, trailed by Smooth Satin and Holmes D G NZ.

The leaders had been assisted by slow early fractions of 33.0, 31.0 and 30.5. Any top class pacer if given such an easy time up front could be expected of turning in a slick last quarter. Both Wally Walton and Young Rufus NZ gave nothing behind them a chance, closing out the race with a brilliant 26.8 final quarter. Young Rufus NZ had carried the day in the final few metres to beat the Victorian by a neck. Jay Bees Flush NZ was three metres away third, with Double Identity fourth. The mile rate of 2:03.9 was nothing flash. Those slow early quarters had played into the hands of the first two home, enabling them to turn in a flying final quarter.

“I was surprised we were able to get away with such easy fractions,” Purdon told journalists when waiting for the presentation. “The race didn’t pan out exactly the way I thought it would. I went into the race knowing we had to be in the first three or four horses in running to have a winning chance. When I was able to slot in behind the leader, he backed off again and settled well.” Purdon said he waited for something to come around the field and put some speed into the race. “But nothing did.”

The popular New Zealand horseman was delighted with his latest stable star. “He is going better now than he was during New Zealand Cup week in November. Perhaps the racing has helped improve him,” he said. The horse would back up again the following Saturday night in the $100,000 M.H. Treuer Memorial at Bankstown.

Double Identity had turned in another good effort having come off 10m, but the other horses handicapped behind the front row were each disappointing. Jofess (10m) was sixth, Smooth Satin (15m) seventh and old Holmes D G NZ beat only Huzzar home. This race provided by far the slowest mile rate (2.03.9) of all the Grand Circuit races held on the mainland for the season.

Until that week, Mark Purdon had been inclined to concentrate on the Auckland Cup on New Year’s Eve and forget about the Melbourne Nights of Glory carnival in February. This victory suddenly had Purdon reconsidering his earlier thoughts. “I am so proud of the way the horse has been handling the hard racing of late, and I had planned on sending him for a spell after the Auckland Cup. Now I am thinking this might not be in the best interests of Young Rufus NZ, so I will discuss this with connections. Melbourne’s two Group One races would be the $250,000 Victoria Cup on February 8, and two weeks later the prestigious $400,000 Hunter Cup.


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

back to top