When he retired from race riding David Walsh had ridden more winners in New Zealand than anyone else-even Lance O'Sullivan. Well over 2200. More than Mark and Natalie have trained together in fact. But after suffering from injuries and undergoing surgery before finally retiring officially from race riding, the always enterprising David offered his services, initially free of charge,to All Stars.
"I had never had much to do with the Standardbreds and I was thinking of maybe career opportunities which may involve them so I said to Mark and Natalie I would offer them what I could for free and learn from what they did"
David, never anything but a modest man in spite of his great achievements, didn't mind starting at the bottom, learning how to gear up, jog up and then drive some fast work. He has found it most interesting and stimulating and his admiration of Mark and Natalie knows no bounds.
"Not many people realise the time effort and expertise that goes into producing all those winners. They are not just great harness trainers but great trainers, period"
The admiration is mutual. David soon joined the payroll.
Recently David was appointed to a full time position as an advisor and trainer to apprentice jockeys in Canterbury but he is hoping that will not endanger his casual work status at All Stars. He has unfinished business.
"One of the challenges has been using the stopwatch. When you work gallopers you soon learn a fairly good system of judging times. But you are not carrying a watch. Using one and getting the times right and the sectionals has been a test for me and I am not quite there yet. But I am getting there."
And what about something like amateur driving ? Does it appeal ?
"Yes I would be open to something like that. Now that I am doing more hoppled work my interest in it is growing. You can't say what the future brings but it is something I would like to try."
In the meantime David's hard earned expertise with all horses is most valuable to the stable and, always a busy person, his work ethic is a bonus.
Almost certainly the only W S Cox Plate winning jockey active in a Standardbred stable, David is a man who looks forward rather than back. And he looks forward to more time with All Stars, these days very much his favourite stable. The feeling is mutual.
STATS CORNER (2) -THE LEADING AUSTRALASIAN STAKES EARNERS (As at February 25 2017)
1 Black's a Fake $4.575m 2 Im Themightyquinn $4.567m 3-Smoken Up $3.66m 4-Mr Feelgood* $3.36m 6- Monkey King $3.33 m 7 Lennytheshark $2.56 8 Smolda $2.4om-9Terror To Love $2.377m 10 Changeover $2.32m 11-Shakamaker $2.29m *Mr Feelgood earned the bulk of his stakes in the USA
Other horses we have found to have won over $A2m in descending order- Our Sir Vancelot, Lyell Creek*, Christen Me, Beautide, Village Kid, and Westburn Grant.
NZ ONLY -Elsu won over $NZ2m while Luxury Liner, Christopher Vance, Chokin, Auckland Reactor, Master Musician, Holmes D G and Yulestar won between$1.7m and $1.9m each.
*Lyell Creek seems a little short changed in Australian records at $2.25m.. He won over $2.9m according to his New Zealand record which would place him 7th on our overall(unofficial) list
STILL AN EXTRAORDINARY RECORD IN THE CARDIGAN BAY
As usual winning any Group 1 race is a challenge even for All Stars. We didn't make it this year but . Mark trained four successive winners in the race from 2000 -and drove them all.
Our winners: More the Bettor2016-Chase the Dream 2015-Follow the Stars 2014-Fly Like An Eagle 2011-Steve McQueen 2007-Advance Attack 2003-Lennon 2002-Light and Sound 2001 -Jack Cade 2000.
In addition Mark drove The Court Owl to win in 1994. He has driven nine winners of the race while Natalie took the honours with Chase the Dream.
Quinellas: Pacing Major 2016-Lazarus 2015.
The record in the Derby is not quite as impressive but we don't know of many stables who wouldn't mind swapping ! Our winners:
Lazarus 2016-Have Faith in Me 2013-Russley Rascal 2010-Fiery Falcon 2008-The Court Owl 1996.
Mark drove three of those winners, Tim and Blair Orange the other two. Mark drove Il Vicolo to win in 1994 but did not officially train him at that stage.
Quinellas- Chase the Dream 2016-Lazarus 2015.
***THE MEMORYOF FORMER RANGIORA HORSEMAN, FRANK MURFITT hung heavily over the celebrations of the Van Beek family after ASHLEY LOCAZ dashed home impressively to win his juvenile debut at Addington Thursday. That was after a typical ice cool drive by Natalie who sat patiently 3 back, looked to be giving the leaders a good start but flashed home along the inner to win going away.
"Yes he was dashing. He has genuine speed. He will go to the Kindergarten now" Natalie said. "It was an encouraging run and it gives us a line on the other young ones both theirs and ours and that's encouraging too"
Peter Van Beek, the team leader in the family syndicate, worked with Frank Murfitt,the astute trainer who once prepared Ashley Knight who became the fastest New Zealand pacer ever when he ran 1.52.2 in the USA only a short time after leaving the Murfitt stable. Ashley Locaz is from that same family and hasproduced heaps of winners.
Peter's wife, Judy, is Frank Murfitt's daughter. Since the they have bred various horses from the family with good results.
Ashley Cullen, the dam of the colt, won races from Dean Taylor and David and Catherine Butt stables and Ashley Locaz is her first foal after two earlier matings did not end well.
Frank Murfitt was associated with this family from the 1940's , chiefly through the mare,Naomi Brigade, and it has produced a number of good winners over the years. Some were bred with Dr Clive Moody a stable supporter and the addition of Bettor's Delight over a Christian Cullen mare seems again to have worked the oracle.
Peter recalled that they were anxious to get into All Stars but knew it was against the odds. But Peter had a cunning plan.
"We got the colt broken in by Mark Smolenski and knew he did Mark and Natalie's youngsters so we were hoping he might make an impression while he was there. Mark was not that keen because they had so many youngsters but Mark Smolenski suggested he might be the goods and Mark said he would take him for a week on trial. He has been there ever since.
DUANE AND JANET SAY GOODBYE
WELL IT IS NOT EASY TO SAY GOODBYE to all the thrills I have had working at All Stars. The highlight is quite hard to sort out. Lazarus's Cup win is an obvious one but Adore Me's Cup Day was great too and it was an especial thrill for me when I got the opportunity to go over for the Miracle Mile Day in Sydney. Not only was it a great occasion but we had such a great result that day. Have Faith In Me I always rated as a very special horse from his early days so there was that as well.
I have often been asked what sets Mark and Natalie's operation apart. There are the obvious things like how they develop a horse to the peak of its potential and the organisation and dedication that goes into it all. The special aspect for me is in their hands. They can just seem to sense through feel how a horse is doing, and if there is a problem working out a solution. They might not be able to tell you how they know but they just do. I mean the results just this year have been sensational, you can only stand and wonder. If I was any help in that I am proud of what I have been able to do but it is what they are able to do that counts most. I don't think many people outside the game could have any idea how hard they work and just how many aspects there are to running a big stable having that sort of success.
What can I take home from the All Stars operation ? Well Sky Major is already on a Purdon/Rasmussen regime back in Canada. I will be preparing him for Trevor Casey there and he is doing fine so far but training him the All Stars way will be a bit different up there. I am that impressed with their methods that I will be using them instead of the ones I have used up there previously and I had my fair share of success doing it that way.
New Zealand racing ? It has a lot going for it but I cannot understand the handicapping system and how it is badly designed for breeders and people who want to race their horses in New Zealand. I thought that would be the aim but it isn't really. It virtually forces people to sell horses to Australia or at least persuade them that is the best outcome and we are becoming just an export industry. I wouldn't have thought that was the best outcome for promoting the sport here. It has to affect the standard of racingand if that doesn't hold up there isn't going to be much new blood coming into the game and there are smaller foal crops anyway.
You might notice a lot of horses sold to North America now are mares. That is no surprise. At home the sexes are kept separate for handicapping purposes. So a good mare never has to run against the colts and has plenty of race opportunities while the open class mares don't get many chances here like they do in America. I thought maybe something like that would help in New Zealand.
I still like the North American handicapping by the stable too. In those claimers you can put your horse at its right level or you can have a go at the higher staked claimers if you think you have a shot. You don't get that freedom here. But the racing is good especially on Cup Day and Jewels Day another of my favourites.
I still haven't decided what the racing future holds for me up there. I have been offered horses already and I still have a lot of connections up there who want me to train bigger numbers because we had a bit of luck with our claimers before. But at this stage I am still assessing things. Janet has a job she has always wanted at the University of Ontario and I will have to contribute my share ! We both have family there too and that is a factor in looking further north.
Will we be back ? I hope so. We both loved it here and I enjoyed the racing and the people in it. We worked hard but we had a lot of fun too. We certainly have not counted out coming back and from my point of view I have to say it is hard to leave a stable like All Stars.
Thanks to all who have helped and a Merry Xmas and happy New Year to you all from us both. You live in a great country.
OUR AMAZING THREE YEAR OLD SEASON
2015-2016 was a MEMORABLE season for our three year olds. They won EVERY Group One pacing race of the New Zealand season, quinellaed EIGHT of them and trifectaed one. In addition they won the NSW DERBY, VICTORIA DERBY ,VICTORIA OAKS and the NSW OAKS in Australia. That is THIRTEEN G1 winners from one crop. The New Zealand triumphs were-
SIRES STAKES FINAL; LAZARUS - 1950M 2.19.2 (1.54.8) quinella with Chase the Dream
SIRES STAKES FINAL: GOLDEN GODDESS -2200M 2.36.9 (1.54.7) quinella with Piccadilly Princess
GREAT NORTHERN DERBY -LAZARUS -2700M 3.17.1 (1.57.4) quinella with Chase the Dream
GREAT NORTHERN OAKS-PICCADILLY PRINCESS-2700M 3.17.9 (1.57.9) quinella with Golden Goddess
You will know them by now-Lazarus, Waikiki Beach, Dream About Me, Piccadilly Princess heads Golden Goddess.
NEW ZEALAND DERBY-LAZARUS- 2600M 3.08.5 (1.56.6)
NEW ZEALAND OAKS-DREAM ABOUT ME - 2600M 3.11.6 (1.58.5) quinella with Golden Goddess
NEVELE R FILLIES FINAL-DREAM ABOUT ME -1950M 2.18.1 (1.53.9) quinella with Golden Goddess
HARNESS JEWELS 3YO DIAMOND -PICCADILLY PRINCESS- one mile 1.53 quinella with Golden Goddess
HARNESS JEWELS 3YO EMERALD-HEAVEN ROCKS-one mile 1.52.4 quinella with Major Ben
**ALL STARS GROUP ONE WINNING THREE YEAR OLDS HAVE WON 42 races worth well over $2M IN STAKES THIS SEASON- $2m IN GROUP ONE RACES ALONE
***FOUR OF THE ALL STARS THREE YEAR OLDS (Lazarus, Piccadilly Princess, Dream About Me, Waikiki Beach) ARE UNBEATEN IN AUSTRALIA THIS SEASON
***LAST SEASON ALL STARS TWO YEAR OLD WON EVERY GROUP TWO YEAR OLD RACE RUN IN NZ- AND HAVE DELIVERED AGAIN
***TWO OF OUR CLASSIC WINNERS THIS SEASON DID NOT RACE AS TWO YEAR OLDS
MARK ON THE PREMIERSHIP
It's always nice to win the trainer's premiership and we have won more than our share but it is not a high priority for us again this season. Actually I never set out on a season aiming to win the Premiership. It is the most undervalued prize in harness racing for trainers with only the honour and glory to go with it. At the beginning of a season I do look at the team and assess how many races I think each horse can win or might win so I have a general total in mind I might aim at and help us judge how the season is going. But that is different from aiming just to win the Premiership.
Besides our operation is not really geared to winning it. We don't usually start racing seriously until October and we virtually close down after the Jewels to concentrate on the new season team so we have little firepower for three months of the season. We are racing more horses in Australia now too. We had a good lead at the weekend but I would not be expecting to hold on to that through until the end of the season unless it was a lot bigger by Jewels time.
To us stakes won is always the number one and we also concentrate on age group racing which tails off at this time of the year. We have a big group of two year olds so some might go on a little longer but we will be concentrating on Australian racing and bringing up the next generation of youngsters. The rising two year olds are really our main winter task because that is where your future stars come from.
I have to say that the premiershipis a talking point through the winter and someday it should have agood financial incentive went with it to the winning stable who helped create that.
PHIL AND GLENYS KENNARD RIDING HIGH
Phil Kennard recently reflected on the travelling to race meetings, sales, sales inspections etc and how it has cut down on his time at home in Halswell from Xmas until well into March.
"For me it is truly living the dream " said Phil whose wife Glenys shares most of his travels and all of his enthusiasm for the harness racing game.
Travelling around to the best race meetings with horses in contention for the big races -and winning our share of them-and the sales circuit with all that is involved there are what it's all about for us. Especially being joined by our friends and partners and enjoying their company. Its a very big part of it. Its not just the winning and the losing though winning is always better. Its mixing with so many great people while doing it"
The Kennards have not just enjoyed what they have been doing. They have been extremely successful in doing it.
The Kennards syndicate success story only stretches back to Fiery Falcon in 2007 yet they have won over 30 Group One races in the eight years since, including a list of multiple wins in the biggest New Zealand features. Luck as always plays a factor, but the Kennard model of buying syndicating and racing horses is a proven success apart from the luck.
Underpinning it is the experience of a very successful career in the real estate and building industries. Plus the ability to accept disappointment for what it is -what you must expect and a step along the way to the next triumph.
Phil has been following harness racing a long time and his first horses were through an association with Michael House. Michael still prepares a horse for Phil and Glenys most seasons. Brad Mowbray is a young trainer they like to encourage.
Since joining up with All Stars the success ratio has been high. Phil knows Mark and Natalie are the best judges around of yearlings so it is not often he does anything else but study the catalogue and make some choices, have a good look at the horses and then accept their judgment while he concentrates on the syndications. He may enjoy the sales time leadup most of all.
"Generally speaking we only invest back what we win. I know that is easier said than done but it keeps everything to a sensible level. We are not overstretched financially with our syndications -they are more friends than business partners-and that helps you enjoy the racing and the whole experience"
Phil doesn't breed horses and doesn't buy fillies. Good friends Ken and Karen Breckon-one example of the joy which can come from developing friendships through racing contacts-have the Kennards in a syndicate which includes High Gait. Generally "there's usually more risk with fillies, more frustrations. It's hard enough as it is. It would be different if we were into breeding but we are not"
There haven't been many trotters either and the trials of Prince Fearless have probably not been a strong case for extensions in that area but he is an undoubted talent.
Phil's real estate days in the family business have taught him how to keep his cool in the hurly burly of the auction sale ring.
"You can't expect to get all the ones you want. I assess a top limit for each horse based on what Mark and Natalie think and we don't usually go over that. This year we got most of what we wanted but it never works out perfectly"
In nearly all syndicates there are four shares. Racing with other people is very important to the Kennards because the social aspect of the game is a major attraction. He feels four shares is much the best option and is not interested in managing larger syndicates with a less personal touch.
Phil is open to selling them on too but always making sure it is well before the end of a horse's career potential when doing so. That is the way to repeat business.
Glenys is essential on the administrative side of the syndicates plus the thrills she gets from race days and nights. . Everyone is up to date and included in all decisions.
But that is not her only contribution by a longshot. Phil says in some ways she is the driving force.
"If there was only one seat left on a plane going to watch one of the horses race I would be left at home" he quips.
"I do the sales and the speeches because Glenys prefers not to be that much in the limelight but it is a full partnership all the rest of the time"
Not surprisingly it is not easy to get into a Kennard syndicate. Shuffling regular associates into the right horses each year is a task causing some suspense among the lucky few and headaches for the Kennards. Fortunately the swings and roundabouts of horse syndicate ownership means most get at least one opportunity to race a top horse.
Phil is a keen thinker on the Standardbred racing business but because he has chosen not to follow an active role in administration at this stage does not feel he should comment on many aspects of it.
It's results which are most importantand results for the Kennard syndicates is fairly sensational.
Phil and Glenys have had over 150 winners from their Group One performers alone, and their stars have won nearly $7m. There are two million dollar earners (in their ownership) in Smolda and Highview Tommy with something disastrous having to happen to Lazarus ($901,000) to prevent himadding to that list in the spring. Five other horses have won over $500,000. The New Zealand, Woodlands Northern, Victorian, New South Wales and Queensland Derbys have all fallen to the Kennards. And all this in eight years.
A lot of us would like to share that dream !
*** It was only $22,500 and far from a sale highlight but Mark was the right man to take a horse called Revolver home from the first day of thePremier sale.
Just look at the connections, the "hook" which must have caught Mark's attention at some time even if his yearling buying success
is not based on nostalgia.
REVOLVER is by Auckland Reactor. Say no more. His dam is by VANCE HANOVER the sire who lit up the Purdon family's careers in the 1980's and 1990's .
Most especially for Mark when IL VICOLO kicked off his training career in such spectacular fashion. In fact he was the best horse Mark had trained--until Auckland Reactor came along.
And Revolver's dam, Penny Lane ? Well Mark has a history there too.
She has already left LENNON whom Mark and John Seaton also selected from the Sales. Winner of the Sapling Stakes, the Kindergarten Stakes the Young Guns Final (Cardigan Bay Stakes) and contender in any number of G1 events.
Revolver is a little different from Lennon. He is an embryo transplant foal after Penny Lane must have driven owner Don Bates to near distraction. Revolver is her first foal in five years and that is only the start. After having three foals off the reel on retirement including Lennon, the mare went 10 services without a live foal. She had three matings in 2004 missed to two and the foal from the third died. So it went on. Year after year to the best stallions available and no results. After Across The Universe in 2009, Revolver in 2014 was her next foal thanks to the transplant procedure.
A star from a transplant foal. Now there is a challenge for the All Stars principal. He's done everything else !
*****ROY PURDONhas won too many races to be as excited as his partner David Levene after More the Better came out on top at Addington last night but he still reflected on how long it was since he owned a winner at Addington.
"Well its too long. Probably back when Mark Roy was winning the Derby. I won the Oaks down there about the same time.
Right. Mark Roy and Pacific Flight both co-owned by Roy and both driven by Mark pulled ofF the NZ Derby, NZ Oaks double in 1993
"David is very excited" Roy quipped " and I have to say it is great to win a race down there again"
It shouldn't be the last. More The Better had to work to the front and set a strong pace (2.22.5 for the 1900m) and then scorched home in 56.6 (27.1) for Tim who was suitably impressed.
"It looked tight in the end but he was cruising half way down the straight and might have eased up a bit. I expect he will go to the Sapling Stakes now"
MORE THE BETTER
ROY PURDON is entitled to be called the greatest harness trainer in our history, but he doesn't get to the races often these days.
"I'm keeping well and get out to the stables of Tony and Barry in the mornings but my hips mean I can't stand up for any length of time so I can't get there as often as I would like" Roy said.
But he will be at Alexandra Park at least once during the upcoming carnival. Because he has a horse to race.
MORE THE BETTER the Bettor's Delight two year old who is All Stars's only two year old representative at the Auckland carnival as a step toward the Young Guns series is now co-owned with Mark by Roy and his long time friend Sir David Levene.
"Mark selected him at the Sales and he and Natalie gifted me a share which was a great gesture. I brought David in with me because we are old friends and have raced horses together before. We didn't have any stars but this one certainly seems promising on what he has done so far"
While Roy is famous for the number of great horses he has produced over many years Sir David Levene was originally famous for his paint products taking a family business from a one store shop in 1947 to over 100 through the country by the time the family sold out of the company in 1994. Since then David Levene, one of the original sponsors of Outward Bound and a long time supporter of many charities and Trusts such as for support of Parkinson's Disease has gained prominence he preferred to avoid as a major sponsor of golfer Lydia Ko in her amateur days.
"We have known each other a long time" Roy said. "Margaret was a long time friend of the girl David married. Actually another sister married Graeme Douglas (Douglas Pharmaceuticals) ; Graeme and David were knighted the same day and neither of them knew the other one was getting the honour as well. "
"I am looking forward to seeing the horse racing. I have been around too long to take anything for granted with horses but Mark seems very pleased with him at the moment"
It has been a good start with a dashing trial last week at Rangiora and the trip north worried him not a jot. His head was in the feed bin as soon as he arrived and now a northern racenight is his next challenge
HIS BREEDING -MORE THE BETTER is a breeder's dream-by sire sensation BETTOR'S DELIGHT from a sister to CHRISTIAN CULLEN and cost All Stars $62,500 asa yearling. He is also a half-brother to KATE'S FIRST. His dam is yet to really make her mark at stud but this is her first foal by Bettor's Delight. A colt by Art Major will be offered at the sales this season by the Radfords who have been soclosely associated with this family.
Racing is not always what you expect it to be. December 11 I thought we might win five up here. I was disappointed. We ran a lot of placings but we were kept to one win. Fortunately things got better from there.
We have a team of 20 up here now. I start feeding up at 4.30 Tim and Shaun are here at 5 and the ground staff begin at 5.30. We work the team, clean up the barn and gear, set out the feed and stroll out about 12 to feed ourselves and re-energise. We are back at 1 to fetch the team out of the paddocks and start the second shift. We equisage most of them, putting them in the water walker for 40 minutes, brush bandage and fluff themso we are tired at the end of the day. But we are passionate about our work, we strive to win.
Leading into the 18th meet our master horseman joined us. It is a great pleasure to work with Mark. He is quiet, genuine and by far the best horseman I have had contact with.
You have to to understand that I have placed myself with some great horseman. Bill Robinsn in the 1990's travelling the grand circuit and watching Brett Pelling and Kiwis dominate the next decade. Bill O'Donnell and John Campbell I was associated with in the 1980's and later with the likes of Tim Tetrick and Jody Jamieson. I was also fortunate enough to spend time with Stanley Dancer in his "last hurrah" , not to mention all the other great "behind the scenes" horsemen. So I know what I am talking about.
I love this life, its not work its a passion. To wake up in the morning and do something you love is gold.
The beauty of this game is to keep your mouth shut, keep your eyes open and ask questions. Most experienced horsemen are will to share their knowledge.
So now to the December 31st. Believe me these aching bones are going to try and win some races!
Good luck to you all and remember to take a wee bit of time to enjoy Christmas and stay healthy and happy from then on,
(A regular report from our foreman)
I have just enjoyed another busy Cup week and have been asked if there is anything like it back home in North America. The closest is the Little Brown Jug meet in Delaware in September which is a great week and is both a peak meeting for local horses and a lead in to the Lexington Grand Circuit and then the Yearling Sales which are in early October.
Basically there is racing from Sunday through Thursday in conjunction with the State Fair. The Jugette for the fillies is on Wednesday, and the Jug itself for the colts and geldings on the Thursdays with older horses on the Sunday but basically all levels of horses are catered for. Some will have won their way there through other State Fair race meetingsand the stakes vary from quite small to the big Jug prizes.
There's always a crowd of around 50,000 for the Jug and a lot of horse people gather for the week. Most of the horses are kept on nearby training centres but there are terrific facilities for the horses on racedays including the Isolation Barn where the horses are require to be either 24 hours or 48 hours before they race and are trained from there for that period. The racing is terrific because it is a beautiful track always in great order and the best horsemen are there.
The atmosphere is a little more informal than Addington for most of the time and there are a lot of areas for people to just set up a table and chairs to watch the action. The informality is one of the main attractions and the costs arequite cheap by American standards. As here you can opt fordifferent levels (the Top of the Stretch tent is a popular option ) and standtickets on different days.
The action then moves on to the Lexington Grand Circuit meeting then the sales. The Grand Circuit is a great setup to give many different tracks a chance to host the best horses both in the States and in Ontario in Canada which is great for the fans.
But the Jug is a week for the enthusiasts like Cup week is and is a favourite of mine
I race All Star Angus with Mark and Seanbut as you would expect I raced a lot of horses back home (Canada) and in fact it was a good sideline business for us.
In North America the handicapping is done by owners through Claiming Races. I am surprised they have not been more popular here because if you know what you are doing you can do pretty well out of it. $60,000 a year and more was not out of the question when I was operating there and we never went above the $40,000 claimers when buying and usually much lower. It puts you to the test and they don't all work out
One of my very best friends in Canada, Mike Beaver, a guy I really miss when being over here, and I worked together. Mike was an all round horseman. He had been everything from a cowboy to an equestrian teacher who took youngsters through to some high grade trophies in Ohio State Fairs. He is a guy of many parts is Mike. We would sort a horse and it would spend some time with Mike mixing with all the other breeds of horses he had an freshen up. We then trained them up and raced them in claiming races. Because we were not wanting just to hang on to them we would line up time after time and it was good money. If they were claimed we would move on and sometimes claim them back later when they got out of their grade. It was business and a good one for us.
I miss it in racing here and I don't think the Kiwis appreciate how well the system works. I understand people here have a more personal relationships with their horses and fear that maybe someone will turn their horse into a star but it doesn't really work like that. You dohave to know what you are doing both when you are buying and training and setting them and sometimes you have to drop them down from the grade you bought them from.
You can still get out of it. If they don't make it in $20,000 claimers you go to the $15,000 or so and if you can win the stake makes up for the claiming value loss. So it is a pretty good deal all round.
It is always difficult when you lose good staff and with Brian and Lauren head back to Australia soon after making a good contribution for us and Maree (Price) is retiring so we have been looking around for replacements. I use an international horse website and decided to put an ad in that in it was surprising how many hits we got and quite a few people from the other side of the world are showing interest in joining us. We hae had family down from Canada and been showing them around the South Island so I only got back to work on Monday but we are well into it now with the older horses and the younger ones. I rate the two year olds this year overall as better than last year. I am not saying there is another Waikiki Beach or Dream About Me there but in overall quality they have impressed me. I have driven quite a few I like and one of them is Motu Meteor a close relation to Motu Premier who is going along great"
Here are all the juvenile G1,G2 and G3 events in NZ this season-EVERY ONE WON BY AN ALL STARS HORSE!
Feb. Sapling Stakes G3-(Chase The Dream) 1st, 3rd, 4th
Feb. Kindergarten Stakes (G3) (Waikiki Beach) 1st, 2nd 3rd-trifecta
Feb. American Ideal Stakes (G3) (Northern Velocity) 1st and 2nd-quinella
Mar. Cardigan Bay Stakes (G1) (Chase The Dream) 1st and 2nd-quinella
Mar. Caduceus (Southland) (G2) (Arden's Choice) 1st and 2nd-quinella
Apr Welcome Stakes (G2) (Waikiki Beach) 1st 2nd, 3rd 4th ! FIRST FOUR
Apr. Caduceus (G1) (Dream About Me) 1st and 2nd -quinella
Apr. Sires Stakes Filly Final (G1) (Arden's Choice) 1st, 3rd, 4th
May. PGG Wrightson Sales Final (LR) (Northern Velocity) 1st)
May PGG Wrightson Sales Final (LR) (Lazarus) 1st 3rd 4th
May Sires Stakes (male) Final (G1) (Chase the Dream) 1st, 2nd, 3rd-trifecta
May Harness Emerald (G1) (Lazarus) 1st, 2nd, 3rd -trifecta
May Harness Diamond (G1) (Dream About Me) 1st and 2nd-quinella
11 Group wins, 6 Group One, 9 Quinellas, 3 trifectas, 1 First Four
AprilNZ Trotting Championship G2 (High Gait) Q 1st and 2nd quinella
April NZ Trotting Stakes (G3) (High Gait))
May Harness Ruby (G1) (Missandei) 1st and 2nd -quinella
APG final (G1) Waikiki Beach
Breeders Crown (G1) Waikiki Beach
Breeders Challenge (G1) Waikiki Beach
Breeders Crown (G1) High Gait
Redwood Classic (G1) High Gait
Breeders Crown (G1) Dream About Me
CHASE THE DREAM-Male 2yo of the Year -2 G1
NZ Sires Stakes Final G1. Young Guns Final G1. 9st 6w 2 seconds $212,000
WAIKIKI BEACH -2 G1-Australian 2yo of the Year
APG Final G1. NSW Challenge Final. G1 Welcome Stakes G2 11st 11 wins$275,000
Harness Jewels G1. PGG Wrightson Sales Final $150,000
8st 6 wins-2 placings $265,562
DREAM ABOUT ME -Female 2yo of the Year-2 G1
Harness Jewels G1. Sires Stakes Final G1. 7st 7 wins $245,000
ARDEN'S CHOICE -G1
Caduceus Classic G1 8st 2 wins 2 placings $128,000
2 wins .4th NSW Challenge G1
PGG Wrightson Sales Final ($146,000) Nevele R Stakes G2
2nd Harness Jewels G1. Sires Stakes G1 $92,000 8st 1 win 6 placings
HIGH GAIT -G1
NZ Trotting Stakes G3. Sires Stakes G2. 2nd Harness Jewels 6st nz 5w
Harness Jewels G1
CASH N FLOW
4TH PGG Wrightson Sales Final ($150,000)
4TH Welcome Stakes G2
NEWS COMMENT- HAVE FAITH IN ME IN 2015-2016
As the curtain rolls down on the 2014-2015 season it is timely to review the future plans for the stunning 3yo star HAVE FAITH IN ME. Few would have thought he would be in a class of his own at the beginning of the season by the end of it and the way the brilliant little pacer slowly crept up and passed stablemates like FOLLOW THE STARS and HUG THE WIND has been quite astonishing and a highlight of the season. Even now there is slightly surreal feeling about how he stole one three year old feature after another with brilliance tamed with supreme efficiency. At the end of it he had won every G1 race that counted and was clearly No 1.
A decision was made to abandon his Australian winter campaign which might have had a few thinking of things like New Zealand Cup but Mark and Natalie actually have much more modest aims for him at this stage.
"We made the decision to give him 10 weeks off, a good spell. There was nothing amiss with him. He was 100 per cent. But we considered he had had quite a big season with racing from the spring through to the Harness Jewels and it was time for a break. There is not that much on for him in the spring so it might as well be a good break" Mark said.
Have Faith In Me is a deceptive horse because he is not a big framed pacer and goes best when given time between assignments. So there will be no special pressure on him this year.
"By the time we get him back I think we might be battling to get him to the Cup meeting at Addington at all. You can't be too sure at this stage but his main aim is the December meetings at Alexandra Park and we won't be pressuring him to be ready for Addington. As usual he will tell us when he is ready"
"Then he will probably run in the intermediate cup races like Isaiah did last season and go on to the Taylor Mile and the Messenger. Nothing too exciting at this stage but there will be some races like the Chariots of Fire that we would be looking at of course and further ahead the Jewels. But we are not looking at taking on the top of the open class older horses at this stage"
The Auckland Cup is moving to December and the Inter Dominions the same so both of those are off the table.
"That is a general plan. You never know what is going to happen and we don't start aiming too high with any horse unless we know they are up to it. We know he has the ability to match the best but this is the sort of programme we have followed with other top three year olds in the past"
NEWS COMMENT "HOW I MAKE IT FAIR"
YESit a great thing to have several leading contenders chasing the same Group One race and Mark and Natalie's All Stars have been at it all season. Now with 23 in the Jewels on Saturday and with several first AND second favourites in the same race it becomes even trickier than usual. Punters expect their conception of the race to play out and owners always want to see their pride and joy given every chance to win even if they fall a little short at the end. The high expectations of owners and punters of top class horses put a lot of pressure on the stable to ensure everyone is as happy as possible.
It is not easy. And sometimes punters, especially, can get suspicious they backed the "wrong one" in a race with multiple stable entries where certain things happen in a race.
Mark Purdon is especially proud of the fact the running of multiple entries in major races has a squeaky clean record froma "team driving" perspective,
"You can never predict exactly what will happen in a race so sometimes you might see something happen and think or assumed it was planned that way but almost always that is not the case. I mean you are not going to do something to cost a stablemate a chance to win but we are very sensitive about the public view of how our horses are run. It is not only because we are the biggest stable and our image is important to the whole game. It is just that it is the right thing to do by everybody concerned"
One rule Mark has is that he does not give any instructions to outside drivers in major races, in this case Jim Curtin (Cash N Flow) and Blair Orange (Linda Lovegrace)
"I prefer them to drive their own race and that way there is no confusion if an inquiry eventuates. I don't want driving instructions to suggest that there is any teamwork involved. As I said sometimes the race just does not work out the way we think it will or anyone thinks it will and we want it to be open to any questions"
Mark saysthe stable drivers may have an understanding of what might happen but once the starter says go it is everyone for him(her)self.
"I like to think each driver is driving for the owners of the horse they are handling. In these sort ofraces that is the only approach you can have which works."
Of course topline drivers have a better idea than the public of the skills and foibles of their charges and those of rival horses. But even they often have to quickly adapt to surprise tactics and nothing is ever written in concrete.
Especially in driving instructions at All Stars.
Mark Smolenski Changes Tack on Breaking In All Stars future stars
ADAPT OR DIE !-MARK S CHANGES HIS APPROACH TO EARLY EDUCATION
Mark Smolenski has been breaking horses in for more years than he cares to remember and much of his business is taken up with handling All Stars youngsters fresh from the Sales and learning what to do and how to do it right.
For a number of years he has followed a traditional patter handling anything up to 30 youngsters at a time going through a set routine for six weeks or more while the fast ones learned quickly and the slower ones took longer. But in 2015 he thinks he has found a better way.
"Under my old methods the horses were handled once a day because of the numbers. That was ok but not so good for the horses who needed more attention in the learning process. So they took longer and when Mark and Natalie came around about this time of the year many of them were not as forward"
This year Mark decided to work just 12 youngsters at a time starting mainly with those from the Melbourne sale.
"It's been much better from our point of view. Staff demands are not as great and staffing is always a problem in any stable. But the main gains are just with the horses. You can mouth them in the morning and gait them in the afternoon so in effect they are coming to it twice as quickly'
"So far it is working out great. These are our first lot and they have done well. They were more forward than last year's group when Mark and Nat came to try them out and the trials went well"
One of the bigger interests among the first batch of youngsters was of course ALL OF ME a brother to Adore Me which went for $180,000 at the Auckland sale when retained by Charlie Roberts who will race him on his own account. Both Marks realise that he will need more time yet.
"He is a lump of a horse and can be a bit anxious at times. This is early days but he is probably not as forward as some of the others. But then Adore Me never raced until she was three and look how she turned out. Have Faith In Me was the same. This one is slightly different in type but time will help him"
Kevin Riseley Flying High in Two Countries -and at Two Gaits
Kevin and Carol Riseley do a lot of trans Tasman flying these days and many of the trips are pleasurable. The Riseleys have had wonderfulsuccess in their home country over the years but now they are fully involved in racing on this side of the ditch.
SUPERSONIC MISS has been one of his bigger winners to date but BORDER CONTROL has produced many thrills and is still the fastest 3yo in Australasia as well as KEPT UNDER WRAPS/THREE PINTS and he has purchased shares in several of the class of 2015. They are all pacers but back home in Victoria Kevin is even better knownfor his great success as a breeder and racer of trotting horses.
Kevin, who started breeding in the 1980's and has a state of the art property near Shepparton of 50ha is naturally proud of what he and his family have achieved.
"We are the only breeders to produce four Breeders Crown and last year we were lucky enough to win the Breeder of the Year award in Victoria" Kevin noted during his latest trip to Addington where Supersonic Miss and Kept Under Wraps were competing. He and Carol spent a week in Christchurch before flying home but will be back for the Jewels day on May 30.
Early on Kevin became best known through the deeds of National Interest a pacing bred trotter (by Torado Hanover) which won over $300,000. National Interest was from Late Withdrawal a daughter of Bay Goola one of Kevin's first purchases. He is still breeding from the family now into its fourth generation. He also stood stallions at Sheron Park which he established in 1985.
"Late Withdrawal was by our stallion Magnus Apollo and left Right Interest which won a Breeders Crown as well (as the NSW Trotting Derby and Oaks) as well as Magic Interest (Breeders Crown) and Astrud which was another topliner as well as others including Leavemein which is going well for us as a broodmare"
Kevin went into the harness game at full pitch. He has raced horses successfully in the United States and imported several mares from there. Among them was Panbroke a daughter of an American Horse of the Year and the dam of Tsaonga which was sold and went on to be Kevin's fourth Breeder's Crown winner as a breeder. She also left Mister Gunson and Dougie both prolific winners.
There have been plenty of other good winners from other sources including Be My Side which won a Vicbred 4yo Final and 13 of just 22 starts bred from Spring Wiper.
More recently Lennytheshark has been a big winner for the Sheron Park owner. The former NSW Derby and Vicbred Final winner, had nearly a year away from racing from mid 2013 after a leg injury but has bounced back possibly better than ever his recent wins including the appropriate Sheron Park Captain Sandy Stakes sponsored by the stud. His long term aim is the Inter Dominion in Perth in December.
In 2009 when he had around 30 broodmares, Kevin decided to cut back and offered 24 of them at auction. These days he has still kept the numbers down but his down to about five broodmares . retaining some Bay Goola line mares. But he is still a very busy man. He has widespread interests in racing and breeding administration He was also a member of a syndicate with purchased several yearlings for Barry Purdon's stable on one of whom Cheer The Lady won the NZ Oaks and-yes you guessed it, a Breeder's Crown.
Mark recalled how Kevin -and his nephew Martin- came into Supersonic Miss.
"Kevin rang me at the airport after the Melbourne sale and asked what shares were available in the colts. I had to tell him that they were all gone and he only one available was Supersonic Miss which I had bought on spec because she appealed to me. He came in on that and was always in Border Control too"
Kevin was a highly successful businessman initially with several panel repair shops in Melbourne and then a tow truck operation and trucking parts.
"I have handed that over to my son now and he has extended it interstate so I have even more time for the horses."
But cars and their business are still an interest. He has several classic cars including a Model T Ford and they are another interest for an interesting bloke.
HIghest priority though is still breeding or racing horses who can win a Breeder's Crown-and now a Harness Jewels to match.
Dennis Dunford -one phone call started trail of success
Mark and Dennis Dunford have had more success as owners than most at All Stars. Alleluia, Hands Christian and Have Faith in Me are just the most recent. But the Auckland real estate executive recalled after the latter's great Sires Stakes victory that it wasn't always that way.
"I think I started racing horses about 1991 somewhere around there. We had a bit of success early on but no headliners and it seemed to get worse as time went on instead of better. I decided I wanted to stay in the game and that if I was going to do so I had to change my approach"
Out of the blue he rang Mark Purdon.
"I didn't know him and he didn't know me. I said I wanted to to buy a horse and race it from his stable and Mark agreed. He would select one for us at the sales for us to race. That first one was Steve McQueen and it has gone from there. They haven't all worked of course but it was the right decision on the way to getting a really good horse"
Steve McQueen, raced in partnership, was a great start for the Dunfords. He only won three races -but what races ! He won two Sales races including a $107,000 prize in the Sales Open driven by Blair Orange and also won the Cardigan Bay Stakes then a Group Three race.
Hands Christian has been a big winner for the Dunfords on their own account even if they have need the patience of Job to keep the racing faith with him after he had twice gone amiss with a tendon problem. One aspect of Have Faith In Me's triumph on Cup Day in the Sires Stakes which must have caused much celebration for the owners was how close they had come with Hands Christian beaten half a head by Gold Ace in the same race in 2011. Hands Christian wen on to win the Easter Cup but suffered a number of close defeats. Alleluia was at one stage the most brilliant three year old in the All Stars stable though he never quite lived up to that early promise. He is now racing in Australia.
Mark Dennis was one of the most promising horses of his crop winning a Sires Stakes heat in 2.20.9 in one of only four starts here, winning two of them. In the second he beat Smolda and All Star Man He has done well in Australia and this month ran fourth to Beautide in 1.50.4 in the Group One Amatil Sprint. He has won over $200,000 across the Tasman with a best winning mr of 1.54.2.
Dennis makes no secret of how his religious beliefs play a big role in his life and helps names like Emmanuel. A two year old in the stable has been renamed Peace Be With You. He reveals that Have Faith in Me was intended to be called Have Faith In God.
"Then I considered that the horses from that family generally have Me at the end of their name (Adore Me;Christen Me etc) so I changed it to Have Faith In Me. And you may have noticed I got to mention Deo Gratias (Thanks Be to God) in my speech! I believe all these things are part of life"
Whatever the strategy or the beliefs it works. and that Deo Gratias might well be about the day Dennis Dunford decided to ring Mark,
They Won the Cup- But they thought they had run second!
Mary and Paul Kenny are two of the most enthusiastic owners you will find in harness racing. It is not unusual for them to fly down from Auckland to watch "Ruby" run a trial. But at their greatest moment in harness racing, Adore Me winning the New Zealand Cup, they thought they had run second.
"We were on quite an angle" Mary said.
"When they got to the line we thought we were second. I thought, well that;s quite good for a mare in a race like this. It took some time before we realised we had won"
Paul has been a major player in thoroughbred racing for many years and has had Sydney Cup contenders among others. But he was in no doubt about what it meant yesterday.
"This would take a lot of equalling"
The Kenny's were not alone.
Mark confessed he wasn't entirely sure Adore Me had won either.
"My view of John Dunn's horse (Franco Nelson) was obscured by the horse between us. So I wasn't really sure and probably would have accepted we had been beaten"
Arden Rooney didn't quite make it on the day but when you look at the time he ran it was terrific performance.
Hands Christian did not turn out to be a fairytale but as far as Natalie is concerned he won the most important tribute from a horseman of all - to his character and heart
"It wasn't good. I felt he propped soon after the start and that was where his leg felt the strain. But he never wanted to give up. He ran his heart out. When you look at where he finished it was a great effort. He is just such a amazing horse"
MARK AND NATALIE'S THOUGHTS ON THE CUP OUTCOME
"I am feeling good about our horses this year confident they can have a say in the outcome. Maybe not the level of confidence I had about JACK CADE in his year. I thought if things went his way he would win but it just didn't quite go our way,
ADORE ME has had a trouble free preparation. She has done everything we have asked, she is as fit as we can get her. I rate her a better mare than last season which is saying a bit but she is definitely stronger. She has been beginning well at home since the Cup Trial and I am hoping that was just a one off. A handy front line draw would have been ideal. She could be fairly sure of getting out to a position where you have a few options. Where we start behind Four Starzz Flash or maybe Hands Christian it will be fine if they do things right but you are not always in control of the situation. To beat horses like Terror To Love and Christen Me you need luck on your side and luck early is quite important. But I am sure she will be hard to beat if she gets that little bit of luck. I am not too concerned about the talk about mares. We took them all on in the Derby and the Auckland and Easter cups and she has proven she has what it takes.
HANDS CHRISTIAN has been the surprise packet. When we first sat down and graded the five runners we had for the Cup he was number five. Not because of his ability but because of what he had been through with injuries which are not easy to come back from. Now he is just about Number one ! He has always been a class horse and he seems to be just thriving.
ARDEN ROONEY is a stout stayer and that his ticket into the money. He has had a great prep. too I am really happy with him. He has done everything we have asked of him and he has thrived. He does a lot of galloping and he loves it. He is a better horse this time in. I think he will go a big race.
It is tricky trying to predict how the race might be run. You have to sum it up as it happens in a race like that. You might miss the start or one of the hardest to beat might and you have to react to that. Obviously you want to be somewhere where you have options where you can have more control of the race. It doesn't always happen like that.
Terror To Love and Christen Me still seem the hardest to beat for me. If Christen Me makes a smart beginning and Dexter decides he doesn't want to hand it up it is going to take a game decision to try and race him. The same goes for Terror To Love. Yet if you sit back a horse like that will control the race and you find it hard to get into it. I think there are only four or five realistic win chances -as it is with most Cups. Franco Nelson is one of the better upset chances. He has speed and if he gets the run where he can capitalise on his speed he will be hard to beat.
I respect good Australian horses but I am not sure about the two coming into this race. For a start number one is a bad position for a 3200m stand event. It is just hard to get away on even terms from there. And I don't know the two of them are up there with some we have had like in the peak of their careers. You never know of course ! But I am going with the favourites here as the ones to beat.
I think we have a real shot to win another Cup. I will know a lot more after 20m or so. But that's racing.
"I have been happy with HANDS CHRISTIAN for quite a while now. He has just kept getting better and better and his work this morning (Sunday) was right up there with what I was hoping for.. I suppose we all were afraid something would go wrong with the leg but it has stood up well. We have managed it which is why he has had only two starts but it hasn't given us much to worry about.
Two races in two years and win the NZ Cup ? You wouldn't think so and it might not be enough. We won't know that until Tuesday. But everything he does suggests that it might not be a problem.
He is not always a brilliant beginner. He wasn't perfect at the Cup Trial and he wasn't perfect at Ashburton but they were not big mistakes he recovered pretty quick. Not foolproof but you would hope he would do things right.
You do your homework before the race and consider your options but as Mark says you can't set anything down as certain. You can only aim for the run which will give your horse its best chance and that is what I will be thinking about. Its probably the great thing about standing starts. They make things much less predictable.
I think Terror To Love and Christen Me are maybe the top tier and Adore Me is just behind them or maybe up with them. Then there is a group which have an upset chance depending on how the race is run, but there are only a few of them. There are always a group which doesn't really have a winning chance and you have to keep an eye out for them too.
(The tip from Natalie came after her assessment of the field in which she appeared to rate Adore Me above Hands Christian on Tuesday. Was that so we asked ?
"Not necessarily '' was the reply. It may pay to remember that!)
CUP COUNTDOWN (2)
CAN A MARE WIN THIS THING ANYMORE ?
Mares have not been notable in numbers winning the NZ Cup in recent years. In fact Mainland Banner was the last one in 2005 in 4.04 the slowest time of the last decade. Alta Serena, dam of Hughie Green, was the runner-up. Four years previously Kym's Girl won and Blossom Lady nine years before that. Then you have to go back to 1981 and 1982 when outright champions Armalight and Bonnies Chance were back to back winners. But you had to go way back to 1949 to find the next female winner in Loyal Nurse and it was in those intervening years that the belief grew what mares could not beat the males over a searching "two miles"- 3200m to you.
It was odd because mares had had a great record in the early years of the Cup winning nearly half of the first 17 runnings of the race.
The improvement in veterinary practice is one factor changing that. In earlier decades mare's coming into season in the spring affected their Cup preparations in a time when many contenders did not have the racing opportunities of today. And while in recent times the increase in rich races restricted to fillies and mares has persuaded many trainers that rather than a Cup gutbuster better to extend race careers by keeping to the easier assignments.
Kiwi Ingenuity who was unplaced twice, is the most recent star mare to try the Cup. Special Ops ran fourth behind Flashing Red and Its Ella posted a third placing. Maybe a mare is due to win again you might think.
Adore Me has the credentials. Unusually, Mark stepped her out against the best male three year olds in the Woodlands Stud Northern Derby and she put up a huge performance for third. Last summer he put her in the Auckland Cup and she beat all but Terror To Love Then last autumn he tried her in the Easter Cup which she won in 3.59 and change perhaps only a couple of seconds outside which she might have to run to win the Cup. She beat Terror To Love. It was the classic trial for the main goal, the NZ Cup.
Because of her feats against males, Adore Me is the strongest NZ Cup contender among the females at least since Mainland Banner. Which makes her at $10 at the time of writing a great Cup bet.
CUP COUNTDOWN (1) HAS HANDS CHRISTIAN HAD ENOUGH RACING ?
Of course he must have otherwise Mark and Natalie wouldn't be starting him ! But seriously will a lack of racing find Hands Christian out at the end of a hard 3200m ?
Its possible. Before his great run in the Canterbury Classic he had not raced for two years and five months since breaking down in the Messenger (4th) at Alexandra Park. In the previous month he had won the Easter Cup in 4.04 beating Terror To Love -only his third win at Addington after a heartbreak loss to Gold Ace in the Sires Stakes Final at three. But he had a lot of racing leading up to that Easter Cup including a win in the Paleface Adios in Australia.
To be honest few male pacers in modern times have won the race with two races in two years -actually none-and Mark concedes that he would have had more racing but for the tendon issues he has had in the past which has restricted the race pressure he and Natalie have been prepared to put him under. But he has been in work a long time and his actual fitness levels will equal most in this field. And he pulled up so well in the Flying Stakes he might not even need to go to the Cup Trial.
Hands Christian's being able to resume after such a long break and match up with the best has caught the eye of canny punters. When the Cup book opened he was at $61 but he is a lot shorter now. Even before the drive on Smolda or Adore Me was going for the Cup Natalie said she was more than happy to drive Hands Christian. The lady is a fine judge.
The record book is against the gallant Hands. But then record books have surrendered to Cup winners in the past and he is on track for a truly remarkable comeback-one of the biggest in cup history.
It won't be easy. You couldn't say it was probable. But it can happen.
SMOLDA A DIFFERENT SORT OF CHALLENGE FOR ALL STARS
MARK and Natalie have been around top horses for a long time and Mark's list of leading New Zealand Cup contenders is a lengthy one. But even among so many individuals Smolda stands out -and not because he is difficult to deal with. Its just that he can be a bit of a mystery. Top trainers don't like mysteries especially leading in to big races.
The reason Mark has had so many expert Cup preps_and now Natalie too is that they are experts at looking at a horse and see things other people miss. They also time a star against the clock and still know that all is not well even if the clock says it is.
Yes they monitor all the usual things, heart rates, feed bins, any signs of change. But all good trainers can do that. The difference between the good and the great is something else-the sixth sense, the feeling there is something going on which needs more investigating even before the experts are called in.
That is where Smolda can present problems-because he hates any fuss-about anything.
"He's always been a very laid back sort of horse" Mark says.
"It is hard to get a line on his work and always has been. He does what he has to and its always good work but you are left wondering just how good it was just how forward he is. It is not until you get to the trials or raceday you find that out fully"
There was a good example last January when Smolda in his first race in yonks buried a field at Addington in 3.10 and change. Even Mark was surprised by that one.
"Sometimes you forget how good he is" he said then.
But its his laid back approach which gives his trainers plenty of time for thinking.
Before his season debut he seemed pretty forward but racenight proved otherwise. Even Mark looked a tad disappointed but he just thought Smolda needed more racing. Then he thought maybe there was something else. Blood tests required. They came back perfect.
But something was niggling at Mark and Natalie. Sure enough a second round of tests showed a white cell count amiss. In between Smolda ate away at the same rate and did everything else by the book.
Many horses test the skills and patience of their trainers but not all because they are so relaxed and easy going. So in any race Smolda is stepping out in there is even for experts, a little doubt as to what is going to happen. He'll be good of course-but how good?
Sometimes only Smolda knows. And he's not telling!
DUANE 'S FROM CANADA -AND NZ SUITS HIM JUST FINE
Duane Marfisi has not been that long in New Zealand and he is already off to Australia. He left All Stars on Thursday to look after FOLLOW THE STARS and LINDA LOVEGRACE who went earlier in the day and it is a measure of the regard in which he is held that there was no hesitation in the assignment.
Not that Duane lacks qualifications. In fact he must be the best credentialled stablehand in Australasia. Many with his background might be looking for higher honours and recognition but Duane can't fault life as he has it now.
He came here about six months ago because his wife, Janet, had gained a position in animal research in Christchurch. She is a qualified veterinarian with a lot of experience in different fields in different countries before moving to Christchurch to work at an international laboratory. Previiously Duane had worked with horses in Ontario for many years. In fact he had a star of the tracks some years ago with Dali who had the misfortune to be born in the same crop as Somebeachsomewhere. That didn't stop Dali from winning major events at the Meadowlands as well as in Ontario. when establishing himself as the fastest juvenile in the world. His landmark victory was in the Woodrow Wilson at two a huge performance and he held the world record on a 1000m track at three when Somebeachsomewhere stole all the glory. But Dali still won $C1.4m and took a mark of 1.48.,2 before being retired to stud.
Duane can't get over the changes in training here compared to Canada.
"I think they treat them more as horses here than in Canada. I like the variety here too, the different tracks and different distances. We go a mile at home and that is pretty much it. That also makes a difference to the way we train them. We work them up in generally the same way but there are quite major differences."
"We couldn't put horses in paddocks up there in winter of course. It does me good to seem them getting out in the paddocks here in midwinter."
Duane worked with the leading horsemen in Canada before setting up on his own and spent about 20 years training around 25 horses in Ontario. He was well trained and rarely eased off the workload during the day.
"I'd go around the studs each year and look over the yearlings much as here and try and get one who could take you all the way. Dali (Real Artist) was a great horse but he was just born the wrong year."
It tells you a lot about the sort of guy Duane is that the former trainer of a champion is just as happy looking after the stars of All Stars without any airs, graces or feeling of superiority. One of his strengths is his people skills, getting on with all the staff with a quiet manner and strong work ethic.
"I don't really miss that pressure you have with a top horse or a leading stable. I watch Mark and Natalie on the phone so much of the day and I know all about that. I am happy just working with the horses"
But surely Duane might think once more about his own stable ?
"My ideal is to buy a place close by here and have maybe four horses to work when I go home. That is as far as I would want to go. I have done all the rest"
"We love it here. The family is a long way away but everything else is just great"
It hasn't taken long for Duane and Janet to get involved in one area however. Along with Mark and Natalie they have shares in All Star Angus a young trotter in the stable.
MATT ANDERSON GETS A PERFECT START
Matt Anderson got his All Stars career away to a great start at Rangiora on Sunday when Better With Bourbon won with a well judged drive- his first for Mark and Natalie.
BETTER WITH BOURBON shot out from the 3 gate and Matt handed up to the favourite Western Art which Nigel McGrath was always going to take to the front. From then it was just a matter of Matt timing his run and the brother to Emmanuel ran home in better than 59 to win well. It had all gone to plan.
It's an ill wind which blows no good the adage goes and the departure of Nathan and Michael Purdon on their OE this months left an opening for a mate, Matt, 22, at All Stars
He has spent six months with Tony Herlihy but always intended heading back south and the All Stars chance is a dream come true.
It was great up there with Tony but you don't get many driving opportunities with the number of meetings and field sizes. Even the senior drivers battle to get full books so it is pretty tough"
"With Nathan headed away there was an opening for a junior driver "
Matt does not have a racing background but after starting with Dean Taylor spent a year with Robbie Holmes who gave him his first winner, Highview Ebony, at Rangiora last August within two weeks of his being granted a raceday licence. Trouble Whiz (Lou Driver) won on the same track in November and in the north Matt reined f three winners for Ken Sefonte and one for Maurice McKendry so he had the confidence of experts. He has now added two more to the list.
ANOTHER BIG SEASON AT PREMIER MEETINGS FOR ALL STARS
ALL STARS won 38 races this season just at Premier meetings those wins being worth more than $1.7m. By comparison only eight trainers have prepared more than 38 winners all season at any type of meeting and none have won more than $1.2m in total. All Stars is tantalisingly close to $3m for the season a mark it has reached only once before.
The Premier total while not a record for the stable is remarkable in that the stable was lightly represented in early Premier meetings. Strike rates however were extremely high.
All Stars only had seven starters on Show Day at Addington this year and only four at the first Premier meeting at Auckland on December 6. While it reached a peak of 20 starters at an April Premier at Addington it had seven and eight respectively in the two Premiers leading into the Jewels. It only had five at the Addington February Premier and there wee only six at the Auckland Cup meeting when FOLLOW THE STARS announced himself on the G1 scene. There were also only a handful when Alta Orlando gave All Stars its second successive win in the PGG Wrightson Sales Finals. The stable won 10 Group One races at Premier meetings alone, ADORE ME 's Easter Cup win being at a non Premier meeting.
The most rewarding individual meeting (apart from Jewels day) was, as is so often the case, the New Year's Eve meeting at Alexandra Park where a total of $267,000 was topped with four winners two of them Group One winners while Isaiah won the richest race on the programme the sales pace final
BLAIR SUMS UP A DECADE AT ALL STARS-AND HIS TOP FIVE BIG MOMENTS !
BLAIR ORANGE was due to finish at All Stars stable on Saturday after a decade associated with the best stable in the country- and plenty to show for it.
He finished on a high breaking into the "100 club" for the first time the latest in a string of records he has established over the years.
"My target was 50 at the start of the season. I thought I was doing well when I got to 75 and then I thought, well I might as well go for the 100. I might not get a chance to get this close again"
With help from the Mark Jones stable he has achieved his target -well ahead of any previous season.
The stimulus All Stars gave his young driving career speak for itself.
He had of course helped make his own luck, making marked improvement to rein 37 winners in the 2002 season mostly for smaller trainers like Trevor Craddock, Mike Austin, Craig Buchan, Kevin Townley, Andrew Stuart, Brian Kerr, John Parsons, Michael House and Peter Cowan. It is significant that his 100th winner for this season was for Austin and his last driving night under the All Stars banner features a drive for Buchan. But the chance to work with Mark Purdon was going to another level and Blair has always aspired to the next level.
"Mark rang me out of the blue. I had never driven for him. We talked, he made me an offer and I accepted. "
Ohoka Atom was his first winner for the stable but one of his biggest thrills came a month later when Waihemo Hanger won at the Cup meeting.
"I had never driven a winner on Cup Day so that was special ." Ironically one of his earlier regular drives for Mike Austin, Ado's Invasion, was second handled by Mark Jones.
Blair's career had started nearly seven years earlier when he was with Tim Butt and drove Whizza Nova to win at Reefton in 1996. He won 18 races in his first season for All Stars but by 2007 topped $1m in stakes won thanks chiefly to Ohoka Arizona, Fiery Falcon and Steve McQueen. In only one season since have his stakes won been less than seven figures. His best season for the stable in terms of wins was 2012 when he won 46 for All Stars from a season driving total of 81. However even in his final season with Mark and Natalie driving many of the A graders he won 39 races for the stable.
Altogether he has won $12.6m in stakes for owners over the years.
His biggest month for All Stars was in March of 2009 when he drove 11 winners for the stable going close with 10 in the same month this season.
So as he heads for his own training career -though with plenty of free lance driving still part of the package-what has he learned. Naturally the answer is "a lot".
"Obviously the overall organisation is something you don't work with often. I have worked in other top stables such as Tim and Anthony's but there is always something different they do, something you can pick up on.
"The handling of the two year olds has been one of the great experiences for me. How they are brought along and managed and each one assessed for what they can handle as youngsters. Then how they are managed during their campaigns. There was a lot in that''
"But the overall routines and stable management was just as important. So much to learn and adapt when I go out on my own training. Mark is a master at planning a programme so the horses peak for the big days. Not many can do it like he and Natalie can''
" From a driving viewpoint the horses at All Stars give you confidence in what you are going. That is a hell of an advantage and it carries over to your other drives "
If it was so good why leave ?
"I would have been quite happy to stay to be honest if an offer like Ken's (Barron) had not come along. But I was going to have to strike out a bit more on my own sooner or later and this was a deal I thought too good to let pass. It could open the way for me to have my own training operation which is the long term aim. In the meantime I will still be doing a lot of free lance and some of that for Mark Jones who has been such a boost to me this season."
Blair is aware there are plenty with doubts he is doing the right thing but that is of no concern to me.
"While I was mulling over the offer I had a few doubts myself but once I made the decision I was confident it was the right one and what anybody else thinks is not important to me.
It would be fair to say Blair Orange came to All Stars still an apprentice and left as graduate with honours on the driving track. So what were his five most memorable experiences at the stable ?
In no particular order:
- LENNON "I won a lot of races with Lennon in my first season with Mark and races like the Kindergarten, Welcome, Sapling and the Sires Stakes. He was a class horse and he gave me a lot of confidence I could measure up in the big stuff"
- WAIHEMO HANGER "He have me my first winner at the Cup meeting and that was a huge thrill for me at the time. You don't forget things like that"
- AUCKLAND REACTOR- "I won the Taylor Mile behind him. He was just a terrific horse. He had that something extra you never forget "
- ADORE ME -"Winning the Easter Cup gave a thrill like Auckland Reactor had. A special horse to drive"
- HIGHVIEW TOMMY " He might have only run second in the Cup but second in the Cup was a big thing for me. It is the race everyone wants to win and we went close. He gave me a lot of other big moments too and Tommy could be full of surprises so you never knew quite what was going to happen"
(Blair set some sort of record with Highview Tommy too driving him to win in five successive seasons. Maybe not even Mark has done that with one of the team in Blair's eara).