Purdon Lauds Chariots Depth

29 February 2024 | Adam Hamilton
 Its Merlin. Photo courtesy Harness Racing New Zealand

Its Merlin. Photo courtesy Harness Racing New Zealand

CHAMPION Kiwi trainer Barry Purdon has won a record four Chariots Of Fire and insists he will have to upstage “as strong a Chariots as we’ve seen” to add a fifth victory at Menangle on Saturday night.

Purdon, a New Zealand Hall of Famer, won three of the first five Chariots with Ginger Man (1995), Franco Hat Trick (1998) and Holmes DG (1999) and added a fourth with Our Sky Major in 2015.

He’s got two of the 10 runners – Sooner The Bettor (gate one) and Its Merlin (seven) – in his quest to win a fifth Chariots.

“It’s been a special race to me and it’s great to be back in these big (Australian) races, but we’re going to need plenty of luck this week,” Purdon said.

“I’ve got a really big opinion of my two horses, especially (Its) Merlin on what he’s done back home and his only run here, but this is a heck of a race.

“We thought last year’s Chariots was a bit special with Catch A Wave and Captain Ravishing going so well at the time and, of course, Catch A Wave won it and went on to win the Miracle Mile as well.

“But you’d have to say this (Chariots field) is at least as good (as last year). It’s got to be as strong a Chariots as we’ve seen.”

Many agree with Purdon and believe two, maybe even three of the $250,000 Group 1 Chariots Of Fire runners will get spots in the Miracle Mile ahead of the older stars chasing berths through two $100,000 qualifying sprints on the same night.

The quality of this four-year-old crop has already been proven with Don’t Stop Dreaming, trained and driven by Purdon’s brother Mark, running a fantastic second to Australasia’s pin-up pacer Leap To Fame in the Group 1 Hunter Cup at Melton on February 3.

Don’t Stop Dreaming has since cruised to two Menangle wins and has been backed from $2.70 to $2 since drawing barrier two in the Chariots on Monday.

While Barry Purdon oozes respect for Don’t Stop Dreaming, he leans to Jason Grimson’s latest star Frankie Ferocious as the hardest to beat.

“That shows the depth, doesn’t it,” he said. “Mark’s horse looks special, but I was really taken by Jason’s horse the other night. To really burn off the gate like he did and still dash home and win so easily, he’s obviously very good and so fast.”

Purdon rates Its Merlin, who has a 3-3 record against Don’t Stop Dreaming in their six NZ clashes, as his best hope despite drawing much wider than Sooner The Bettor.

“I couldn’t have asked any more of (Its) Merlin in defeat last week. He did so much work and just kept coming, still making ground in the last 40-50m. And he should be better for the (first) experience around Menangle, most horses are,” he said.

“Zac (Butcher, driver) has probably got to come out with them early from the wide draw and try to drop in somewhere. He’s good at that.

“Sooner The Bettor has really good early speed, so he can use the pole and has options.

“He ran really well two starts back coming off a sit, but just switched-off a bit in front last week, so maybe taking a sit on one of the big guns would suit him best, but I’ll leave that decision to Gavin (Fitzpatrick, driver).”

Purdon said he would “seriously consider” running one or both pacers in the Miracle Mile a week later if they snared invites.

Purdon has won five Miracle Miles, but not since Holmes DG went back-to-back in 2000.

·       Adam Hamilton is a paid contributor writing on harness racing for News Corp.


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