Can the Stars shine too brightly?

Michael Guerin Columnist

By , Michael Guerin is a Roar Expert

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    Mike Purdon after a win for Our Waikiki Beach back in 2015. (Image: Stuart McCormick/Harness Racing Victoria)

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    Can you be too good at something? In an industry as driven by money and winning as horse racing, the answer would seem an obvious “no”.

    But that is not how some sectors of the trots feel about the continued staggering success of the all-conquering All Stars stable.

    The mainly New Zealand-based training partnership of Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen is launching its latest attack on Australian riches this month, with a dozen exceptional horses targeting races worth millions in Victoria and at the Menangle track outside Sydney.

    Racing of all codes is used to champion trainers, with names like Tommy Smith, Bart Cummings, and even Winx’s trainer, Chris Waller, part of Australian sporting folklore. But in the smaller trots industry, the domination by the All Stars is almost total, particularly in the richest races for the pacing gait.

    Last year, they won 33 Group 1 races Australasia-wide. That would be a Hall of Famer career stat; they did it in 12 months.

    They won almost every major trots race you have ever heard of; the Inter Dominion (Smolda), Miracle Mile (Have Faith In Me), Hunter Cup (Smolda), New Zealand Cup (Lazarus) and Auckland Cup (Dream About Me) as well as every Derby and Oaks that matter.

    In fact, they were only beaten in two of the Group 1 pacing races they set their absolute elite pacers for. So basically, they win almost everything.

    And when you are that dominant the critics, and rumours, start.

    Some rivals say their domination cannot be good for the industry, with a better spread of stake money and percentages meaning more of the industry benefits. They are hogging all the gold.

    Others say the dominance – like so many sporting dynasties before it – makes watching boring.

    And of course, there are the inevitable rumours, which start every time a major stable has continued success, especially on this scale.

    Purdon did once receive a disqualification, in 2005 after he admitted to police of being convinced by his then major owner, who is sadly now deceased, into giving an illegal substance to a horse.

    Purdon did his time away from the sport without complaint and came back better than ever.

    He was always an elite trainer but when he started dating and then living with Rasmussen, a powerhouse Queenslander who trained Blacks A Fake to become Australasia’s richest ever pacer, the couple started to tear the record book apart.

    It would be like Waller dating fellow champion trainer Gai Waterhouse, with them pooling the resources and owners. The All Stars became nearly unbeatable.

    With Purdon’s skills and Rasmussen’s ruthless efficiency, the stable has become the greatest ever in Australasian racing and that fuels the rumours.

    But the reality is this: their stable is by far and away the most regularly drug tested in the sport and they have never had a problem since the 2005 indiscretion.

    In fact, when they produced first Adore Me and then Have Faith In Me to set fresh Australasian mile marks at Menangle, both horses had spent the days before the race in retention barns, where their moves and that of their big-race rivals were watched by security guards, as per NSW policy.

    So the rumours have zero substance, with New Zealand officials even taking the unheard of step of putting out a press release to confirm they have no problems.

    But that still doesn’t quell the envy and sometimes jealousy, often whispered under the breath, that follows the stable around.

    Our Waikiki Beach Mark Purdon

    Don’t expect their success rate to drop much in coming months, which will only add fuel to the fire.

    So how it is possible?

    Well, you have a training great who has started living and working with another training and driving great, with many of the industry’s biggest owners, so they get a fair share of the best-bred stock at the yearling sales.

    Then they work. Bloody hard. Most trainers work hard but simply don’t have the same level of skill and, more importantly, horse flesh that All Stars do.

    Somebody has to be the best and it is them, by a decent margin.

    But rather than admit that, some would rather point the angry finger.

    Purdon simply lets it go over his head. He is too busy working. Always working.

    Will it last?

    Of course not. No domination lasts. Whether it was the Roman Empire, St George winning 11 NRL premierships or Mike Tyson in the ring, they all eventually get toppled.

    There is always a new king, or in this case king and queen, waiting.

    And when it does end, fans and even rival trainers will forever mark the success of any new champion stable against what the All Stars are doing right now.

    Like so many artists, they will be loved more once they are gone.

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