Australasian Grand Circuit
Stories:  Pacers 2002/2003 Season
Leg 4SEW Eurodrive Miracle Mile   2002/2003Results   Points
             29/11/2002  Harold Park, Sydney, NSW  1760m  Mobile Start  $300,000
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No annual harness race on Australian soil is promoted better that Sydney’s Miracle Mile. With the only way into the event being by invitation, the NSW Harness Racing Club has ‘milked’ the lead-up for all it is worth, usually leaving a place or two open as a ‘carrot’ for pacers to seek the final invite or two by contesting sprints at Harold Park the week prior to the race.

Kiwi pacers had won seven of the past 10 Miracle miles. Flying the flag this time would be the up-and-coming Young Rufus NZ and the proven stayer Yulestar NZ.  When the latter arrived in Sydney on the Tuesday, trainer Lorraine Nolan said her horse had trained on impressively since that reversal of form on November 15.

Controversy with the field selection is never far away from a Miracle Mile, as opinions will vary. This would again be the case. The race has also come in for some criticism over the restriction of the field to six. Prominent trotting writers, especially those from interstate, have in recent years been quick to spank the club for not opening it up to seven or eight starters.

One thing missing this year the club had no control over was the passing of Jack Honan, one of the last great characters of the sport’s emergence from the ‘Stone Age’. It was one of Honan’s many stallions that had sired Smooth Satin, the winner of the previous Miracle Mile. As a lad in the Great Depression, the young Honan had knocked about harness racing, often in company with Walter Ingham, father of two sons, Bob and Jack, later to become known as the ‘Chicken Kings’.  Bob had a passion for harness racing, and Jack for the gallops. They tossed a coin to determine which sport they would concentrate on, with Jack winning the toss. Jack Honan was to become wealthy beyond most people’s dreams in the flour industry, making millions of dollars when finally deciding to sell most of these.

The $20 million or so he spent on his country property/stud near Canowindra (NSW) enabled him to have the grandest looking harness establishment in the country. It had been his idea to build a property on US lines. He then would invite American friends to come Down Under and stay with him. His interest in North American racing was such that he had his own satellite dish mounted over his home to keep him abreast of racing there. This dwarfed his Sky Channel dish. Jack made many visits to the USA to shop at the yearling sales.


Because of the Australian’s wealth, leading American authority/trainer and a big purchaser at the sales, the late Bill Haughton, helped select youngsters for Honan to prevent the pair becoming entangled in any bidding duel. On one visit to the Honan property, this writer was being shown around by the colourful owner who casually explained with a wave of his hand that he would have more than a hundred horses on the property he had bought in the USA and New Zealand. Many of the ones he raced himself were trained by his stepson Wayne. This included the stallion Stature USA, sire of reigning Grand Circuit Champion, Smooth Satin.

Many Australian breeders might have been slow in warming to Stature USA as a sire after racing with success at Harold Park. But Honan was always sure this horse would make a good sire. “I paid $240,000 for him, and believe I really pinched him from the Yanks,” Jack would say about his outcrossed son of Big Towner (US). One of the many stories this man would tell his closest friends was the day a State Premier offered him a knighthood for $25,000. His Irish ancestry made him bristle at this. Jack Honan was 82 at the time of his passing in the same month as the Miracle Mile.

Steve Turnbull had returned Smooth Satin to racing at a day meeting at Harold Park in early November. The horse impressed, winning in the smart mile-rate of 1:57.5 for the 2160m trip. “There’s no doubt he needed that hit-out,” Turnbull stated after the race. “He only had two easy trials going into the race, and I hope to find another event for him before the Toohey’s Mile at Newcastle. That should fit him right up for the Miracle Mile”.  Smooth Satin was the first pacer invited into the field. His struggling fifth at Newcastle to Jofess in the Tooheys Mile seemed to suggest that despite its fast first-up win, the gelding was not yet near its best.

In physics, a quantum leap means jumping to a higher level without ever stopping. Indeed, without even travelling through anywhere in between. In our ordinary understanding of things, that is impossible. In horse racing (and with many sports), a quantum leap helps to define greatness in the eyes of some. When a horse can suddenly emerge on the scene with much improved form than its previous campaigns, this can be described by sports writers as  ‘a quantum leap.’ Was there a pacer around now ready to take a quantum leap?

It surprised no one that the Directors of the NSW Harness Racing Club had followed their invite to the defending Miracle Mile winner with invites to Double Identity and Jofess. Then, on the afternoon of the New Zealander FFA, invitations were accepted by connections of the first two home -- Yulestar NZ and Young Rufus NZ. If the club was to remain with the tradition of a six-horse field, there would be just one spot to fill. Following some persistent criticism in certain sections of the media over six horse fields in our major sprint, club directors this year did have the option of increasing the size of the field.

In previous seasons the Victorian Shakamaker would have been in the first two invited. He had done the things that only an outstanding horse could have done. This season the pacer was clearly not as brilliant. Many Victorians were prepared to make excuses for the stallion remaining winless in this latest campaign. Trainer-driver John Justice was still adamant the Inter Dominion Champion of two years before should be assured of a place in the first six. Even when the Andy Gath-trained Hearts Legend relegated Shakamaker to fourth in winning The Legends Mile at Moonee Valley on November 9, Justice was prepared to sit it out waiting for an invite. Like Barry Purdon with the ageing Holmes D G NZ, Justice was not prepared to go chasing a start in a sprint at Harold Park a week before the Miracle Mile. He reasoned the horse’s reputation demanded it be included in the field. 

Owner John Wolfe even went a step further. According to Justice: “John is dirty on the fact his horse has not already been invited. He feels the horse deserves more respect than Harold Park has shown him”. The trainer explained how their seven-year-old was found to have had a low-grade virus after its unplaced effort in the recent Legends Mile at Moonee Valley. “He has responded well to treatment. Everything tells me he will be spot on come Miracle Mile night”.

Being loyal to one’s State is common in all sporting codes, which probably helps explain why some members of the media can have a jaundiced eye towards favouring their State representatives. After all, Victoria and NSW are the two major States in this industry, and the competition can be keen even off the track. Many Victorians believed NSW Directors should have included Shakamaker among their first invites. But not all Victorians went along with this theory, as in truth, the handsome stallion was indeed struggling to regain its best form.

From the viewpoint of betting turnover, it was unthinkable a smart Victorian representative would not be in the field. Even when Shakamaker failed in the Legends Mile at Moonee Valley finishing an ordinary fourth behind Hearts Legend, the majority of Victorians probably found it inconceivable that Hearts Legend could possibly be selected ahead of ‘Shaka’ for a place in the Miracle Mile. Thoughts of the Justice-trained pacer suddenly turning around its run of mediocrity at this level remained widespread in Victoria.

Trainer Andy Gath believed Hearts Legend deserved an invitation from the Directors, believing his horse would acquit itself well if it did make the select field. Gath also believed the chances of his horse would be ruined if he asked Hearts Legend to contest one of the Harold Park sprints a week before the Miracle Mile. “I would have loved racing the horse in a sprint there, but Hearts Legend needs its races spaced, and running a week before would be detrimental to its chances if it made the Miracle Mile field”. This horse had been lightly raced because of hock problems, needing time after each start to recover.

If the Victorian Manifold Bay had been on the club’s early short list of possible inclusions after returning to racing from a virus, this was dashed when the five-year-old had strained a muscle after an impressive win at the Geelong trials in the first days of November. Trainer Grant Crane was able to still jog the horse, but fast work was out for at least two weeks. Manifold Bay had always promised much, but had a history of muscle strains in the back area near its rump. “It’s frustrating,” said Crane. “It takes about a month to get him spot on again.”

After the club had filled the first five candidates for the Miracle Mile, spokesman, General Manager Peter V’Landys, said the size of the field and the remaining places would be determined after Friday night’s meeting at Harold Park. “Although we now have the power to run eight horses, we will not do that just for the sake of it. There will have to be eight horses worthy of a start,” he said.

That Friday night the club held two sprints. The first in barrier order was: Leftrightout, Pick Handles, Strong Blade, Sunset Soky NZ, Selby Bromac NZ, The Fall Guy, Maldon Blaze and Rusty Mahoney. Sprint 2: Piccini, Wally Walton, Smooth Satin, Lifesnotfair USA, Jay Bees Flush NZ, Seelster Sam NZ, Ameer, and Out Swing N NZ

Club Directors did break with tradition, lifting the number of starters to seven. However, Directors stuck to their guns with no invite for Shakamaker. Hearts Legend slipped into the field, and the Victorian Petes Dream was included as the emergency.

The field in barrier order was: 1. Seelster Sam NZ (Dennis Wilson), 2. Hearts Legend (Kerryn Gath), 3. Jofess (Darren Hancock), 4. Yulestar NZ (Peter Jones), 5. Young Rufus NZ (Mark Purdon), 6. Double Identity (Harry Martin). Second row – 7. Smooth Satin (Steve Turnbull).

Despite Double Identity drawing the awkward alley of barrier 6, the TAB Sportsbet on the morning of the race had it favourite at $3.75, from Jofess $4.50, Smooth Satin $5, Young Rufus NZ $5.50, Seelster Sam NZ $6, Hearts Legend $8 and Yulestar NZ the outsider on $10. So even was the field that it was generally conceded if given the right run in the race, each of the seven starters had to be some chance of winning. However, some of the best known identities on harness racing did not go along with this market on the race.

For instance, leading NSW horseman, Brian Hancock, who for once did not have a starter in the race, believed Smooth Satin was likely to win, from Double Identity and Jofess. “If I had the pick of which horse to drive, it would be Smooth Satin. This guy is my kind of horse, all class with a big finishing sprint". Michael Guerin, the New Zealand writer and regular visitor to Grand Circuit racing in Australia, believed it would be a two-horse war between Young Rufus NZ and Smooth Satin. Bill Hutchison, Australia’s best known form analyst, went for Young Rufus NZ to win over Jofess and Smooth Satin, while Adam Hamilton of the Melbourne Herald and Sky Channel, selected Young Rufus NZ, from Jofess and Smooth Satin.

The respect for Young Rufus NZ was obvious, as the Purdon brothers had done so well in our major races.  Older brother Barry had won this race twice with Holmes D G NZ, with earlier successes being Christopher Vance NZ in 1991, and Chokin NZ going back-to-back in 1993 and 1994.  The Miracle Mile was one race that had escaped younger brother Mark. In his only two drives in the race, he had finished second both times with Il Vicolo NZ. “I like my chances with Young Rufus NZ, and after speaking with Brian Hancock on my chances of being able to cross the field at the start, it is something I do have in mind”.

One other NSW trainer who had a high opinion of Young Rufus NZ was Michael Marais, the former horseman from Zimbabwe. Earlier in the year he had made an offer of $400,000. Unfortunately, connections wanted quite a bit more for their horse”.

As the harness racing world Down Under prepared to watch Sydney’s major race unfold, down in Victoria just 20 minutes before the Miracle Mile, an interesting sidelight was unfolding. John Justice had taken Shakamaker to Bendigo for a free-for-all still believing he and his horse had a point to prove. Bouncing back into the winning list against a moderate open class field would not be enough to quell the anger still inside the horseman. Justice burst away with his stallion soon after the start, maintaining a fast pace throughout. On a track not noted for its fast times, Shakamaker won by 13 metres, with the mile rate for the 2415m of 1:58.8 creating a new track record for the distance. (Despite this fine performance, the Victorian star in the following weeks would never again be the horse he had been two years earlier, going some way to supporting the hard line the Club Directors in Sydney had taken.)

The defending champion Smooth Satin would go into this race having been a beaten odds-on favourite at both of its last two outings. After its fifth behind Jofess in the Newcastle Mile, it had then raced without cover when a rather ordinary third to Seelster Sam NZ at Harold Park a week before the Miracle Mile. If some fans of the gelding were concerned over its latest two starts, trainer-driver Steve Turnbull remained confident. “You will see a much fitter horse this week,” he predicted, then reminded people how Smooth Satin had also been beaten the previous season in the Newcastle Mile and again in one of those lead-up sprints in Sydney before winning the Miracle Mile.

Thunder and heavy rain swept in over Harold Park just before the opening race on this big program was scheduled. Then, word came through how the clerk of course had been delayed in traffic getting to the track. The show must go on, and the arrival of the clerk of course and the running of the opening races got the meeting under way.

Double Identity’s biggest hurdle was thought to be starting from the outside barrier. Should any of the five pacers drawn inside the favourite grab the lead coming to the first corner, then it seemed more than likely Harry Martin and Double Identity would be caught out facing the breeze. With that scenario in mind, Young Rufus NZ was considered a great chance of landing in the one-one spot, allowing others to do the bulk of the work. Pre-race plans do seem to go astray in major events. This race would be no different. Very early in the race, several of the seven drivers would be discarding their Plan A.

In many previous starts to a Miracle Mile, drivers would often come out running as though their very life depended on being the leader into the first turn. Contrary to expectations, with the exception of Seelster Sam NZ, the speed out of the gate this time was only marginally quicker than some of the usual Friday night sprints at Harold Park, with several drivers actually prepared to back off from the pace. This enabled a surprised Martin to slide Double Identity across the field and land in the one-one position. “I was in shock,” he later admitted. “I thought I would be forced to go up and sit outside the leader. I could not believe it when looking across just after the start there was this huge gap between Jofess (outside of the leader Seelster Sam NZ) and the next horse in the field. I thought, ‘this is all right, we will drop in for cover and be very hard to beat from here.”

When Martin took the favourite to the lead in the final lap, he was travelling like a winner. Then, out of the pack emerged Smooth Satin, the defending champion. “I really thought the way Smooth Satin was finishing up the home straight that he had me, but my bloke just pulled out that little bit extra close to the line,” a delighted Martin confessed minutes later in Victory Lane.

At the post it was Double Identity by a half-head from Smooth Satin, with Jofess a gallant third. Young Rufus NZ came in fourth ahead of Hearts Legend, Yulestar NZ and Seelster Sam NZ. The winner’s mile rate of 1:55.2 for the 1760m distance was the fourth fastest since this race was first held in 1967. At 62 years of age, Martin had also become the oldest driver to win a Miracle Mile. The previous oldest had been 60-year-old Joe Ilsley in 1984, driving Double Agent. Club Directors would have been delighted that for once, all three placegetters were NSW-bred.

Martin that night put down the way Double Identity was shod as the reason the horse had improved considerably over the previous season. “He was born with a ‘club foot’, and he is also a terrible ‘knee knocker’. He not only hits his knee – he really whacks it if not shod to overcome this. This is the reason why he races best on bigger tracks. I believe I do have his shoeing right now, as he handled Harold Park a lot better tonight,” he said.

Martin said the win in Australia’s major sprint had taken 40 years off his age. “I feel twenty-one. It’s unbelievable and I can hardly talk.” (The latter was soon over-come). The veteran horseman was soon eager to answer all questions from the media, talking about his years as a roof tiler, a farmer, and raising five kids. The grey-haired grandfather had done a remarkable job, only taking over training Double Identity when it was four. The gelding at two had been trained by Colin Grimson and then at three by Peter Neilson.

Martin was already thinking of the Christchurch Inter Dominion in March, pointing out that he had seen two Grand Finals across the Tasman. The first had been the victory by First Lee in Auckland, and later the dead-heat between Jay Ar and Robin Dundee, the winner of the first Miracle Mile.


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

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