Cityscape chats to legendary Canterbury-based trainer/driver Mark Purdon, who co-trained and drove last year’s New Zealand Trotting Cup winner Lazarus, and cracked more than 2,000 career training wins just ahead of the big November.
More than 2,000 training wins is a remarkable achievement. What do you think the secret to your success is?
I think ‘dedication’ is the one word I would probably use here.
Tell us a bit about your current star (and last year’s NZ Trotting Cup winner), Lazarus.
Oh, he’s a champion. He’s been a fantastic 2 year old, 3 year old, 4 year old – you know, there’s not many horses that would win the Cup as a 4-year old, and he just annihilated them. So he’s been a special horse; the Cup last year was fantastic, and we’re very much looking forward to this year’s race again.
The build-up to the Cup must be big.
Yes, we started in June. It’s a tremendous amount of work getting ready for big race like this – about five and a half months – so you hope that it all pays off.
What do you look for in a potential champion?
What I look for and what someone else looks for might be quite different. But I’m looking for a horse with a good head and eye; checking conformation [the physical appearance in the arrangement of muscle, bone and other body tissue] is very important – you want to check knees, fetlocks, and hocks are all looking like they’re supposed to, and hopefully to know that they haven’t been under undue pressure so that they have the capacity to perform when you need them to.
You’ve raced literally thousands of times; any memorably hairy moments on the track?
I’ve had a fall or two, although fortunately in my early years! There are situations where a horse goes down in front of you and you just can’t do anything about it; you just go over the top. But every driver with a long career has had similar incidents; you just take it as part and parcel of the job.
The Purdons are a family with a horse racing legacy; is there much rivalry there?
Yes, my father [Roy] and Barry are the only other people in New Zealand with 2,000 training wins. My father trained for many years, he’s 90 and retired up in Auckland now. Barry is still running his own very successful stables in Clevedon.
How do you like to celebrate a big win?
On a big day like Cup Day, after the excitement of the race, by the time you’ve done presentations and so on, put the horses to bed and got everything squared away, you’re just about done in! I like to plan an evening celebration a bit later, typically with the staff and the owner.