Purdon ready for thoroughbred training challenge

By Dennis Ryan

26 Apr 2023

Purdon ready for thoroughbred training challengeChampion harness horseman Mark Purdon, pictured at the National Yearling Sale with Cambridge trainer

Mark Purdon has scaled just about every possible height in harness racing and now he’s preparing to test his skills in the thoroughbred code.
As the founder and still active member now in partnership with his son Nathan of harness racing powerhouse All Stars Racing, Purdon’s focus remains defined. But once the feature racing curtain comes down in a month’s time with the Auckland-Rowe Cup meeting at Alexandra Park, Purdon will line up his next challenge.
Having recently been granted a Class B thoroughbred trainer’s licence, he has a rising three-year-old gelding by War Decree waiting in the wings along with three yearling purchases from the National Sale at Karaka in January.
“The two-year-old was bred by some good friends of mine, Kerry and Mary Shaw, and he was entered for last year’s Karaka sales, but when they tragically lost a son they decided to withdraw him from the sales,” Purdon told RaceForm.
“I got a call from Kerry asking whether I would be interested in coming in with them and training him. They’ve named the horse Buster Shaw, which was their son’s nickname, so I’m looking forward to getting involved there.
“Mike McCann has done the early work with him at Riccarton and his next preparation will be with me.”
Purdon was a well recognised attendee at the New Zealand Bloodstock complex for the National Yearling Sale in late January, making three Book 1 purchases for a total spend of $400,000. Half of that was dedicated to the Savabeel colt out of Pink Graffiti from the Waikato Stud draft, and his other two purchases were a Proisir colt at $120,000 and a Tivaci colt from a Savabeel mare at $80,000.
“It’s great to get some of that Savabeel blood – he’s the Bettor’s Delight of thoroughbred breeding,” Purdon said in reference to the sire of current stable stars Self Assured and Akuta. “I’m going to race the Savabeel colt with the family – brothers Barry and Owen and their wives Katrina and Gaylene and my sister Suzanne and (husband) Tony (Herlihy).
“When Barry mentioned to someone he was getting into a galloper, they asked him who would be training it and he said ‘you’re not going to believe it, he’s never trained a winner!’
“So I expect I’ll have a few watchers to see how it plays out, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’ve got just these four to start with, but I’ve had inquiries from people like Terry Henderson of OTI Racing who is keen to get one into the barn.
“I know Terry from the good standardbreds he was involved with and he also had a horse or two with Barry when he tried his hand training thoroughbreds a few years ago.”
The return from overseas of Purdon’s son Nathan and his partner Mikayla Lewis has been part of the motivation for change, with the business and daily operational side of All Stars Racing now in the hands of the next generation.
“Once the Auckland Cup carnival winds up later in May, then I can designate more time to the thoroughbreds, I do want to be focused on them,” Purdon explained. “I’ll still be based at the Rolleston property, which is about 20 minutes from Riccarton, and I’ll have the facilities at home to use along with trips into the track.”
Purdon has enjoyed a rewarding relationship with Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jim Gibbs, who since handing in his trainer’s licence in 2008, has taken more interest in standardbred ownership. Along with his wife Ann, over the past 15 years Gibbs has won more than 170 harness races, virtually all of them through Purdon, amongst a total of 258 wins and 25 Group Ones across both codes.
Gibbs recently invited Purdon to join him for an early morning trip to his old stamping ground, the Matamata track, giving the fresh convert the opportunity to chew the fat with some of thoroughbred training’s heavy hitters.
“Getting to know Jim over the years has been a wonderful experience. He and Ann have become a very good friend and it’s been a pleasure to see the success they’ve had since joining forces with us,” Purdon added. “Looking ahead, having someone like him in my corner won’t do me any harm, there’s a wealth of knowledge there to tap into if I need to.
“I’ve been interested in the gallops side of the industry for a long time and I know quite a few of the people who have made their mark, but I’ve still got a lot to learn and it’s going to be a real learning curve, I’m well aware of that.
“Still, as my late great late mate Neil Pilcher always used to say, when it comes to having success in racing, 90 per cent of it is the horse itself and the other 10 per cent is good old common sense.”