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As a race it wasn't much of a spectacle. In fact for Auckland Reactor, Tuesday's $50,000 Firestone - Southern Demolition & Salvage Ltd FFA was no more than a light workout and one of the co-sponsors provided for an appropriate analogy. But the big crowd gave the unbeaten superstar a rousing reception anyway, and now the harness racing world awaits a 'clash of titans' in Friday's $300,000 Woodlands New Zealand Free-For-All.

That will be Auckland Reactor's first true test against older horses outside his own age group, but Mark Purdon has no doubt he is up to them. There have been the usual doubters that the son of Mach Three could take the step up from 3-year-old racing and improve enough to take on and beat the best older horses in the land as a 4-year-old. Purdon has not been one of them, and the form on Tuesday of Fiery Falcon, last season's second best 3-year-old, was a pretty good indicator. Another was the way he went to the line in last week's Cup Trial at Addington after working up to sit outside Monkey King and Changeover from the half as they sped home in 26.3.

This was the first time Auckland Reactor has been beaten anywhere in his career, but there is no money or glory in trials. Whether Auckland Reactor wins on Friday will have a bit to do with where he draws and just who does or doesn't back up from the Cup, but just safely through that engagement, he is almost certainly heading for the Miracle Mile later this month and staying for the Victoria Cup on December 20. "The (NSW) club rang me recently to see if I was interested in going, because someone had told them I wasn't," said Purdon. "But we would have to seriously consider it if he comes through the FFA okay. The only real problem with it is he can't get home again until the end of December, so we might as well take in the Victoria Cup as well," he added.

Much of the future from that point - getting home - will depend on what has gone on in the recent past, but one thing Auckland Reactor won't be doing is both the Auckland Cup and the Inter-Dominions. On Tuesday, Purdon was unaware that the proposed $1m World Cup at Menangle had been called off - if it ever even got off the ground that is - but there are nice 4-year-old races in Auckland such as the Taylor Mile and Messenger to compliment the earlier Auckland Cup. Beyond that, America is beckoning probably as much as Australia.

Auckland Reactor is owned by a small syndicate which includes Peter Heffering of Tara Hills Stud in Ontario and Jerry Silva one of the big owners in North America, and if he is to one day have prospects as a shuttle sire, he needs to prove himself as a racehorse in America. Such a mission is viewed by Purdon not so much as a challenge, but an ambition, and an Auckland Reactor at the height of his career is just the horse to achieve it. It will also be remembered that it was Purdon who was not adverse to trekking halfway around the world to take on the best trotters in Europe with Pride Of Petite in the Elitlopp back in the mid-90s.

Auckland Reactor sped out and sped home "on his own" to win on Tuesday in a 'pedestrian' 1.58 mile rate. "He went out of the gate on his own and he finished as he liked - he felt so good I didn't even have to worry about pulling the ear plugs." The half and quarter went by in dazzling sectionals of 54.8 and 26.3, but this was Auckland Reactor still in second gear. He won easing down by a flattering length and a quarter from Presido, who chased him around to show some sort of form, but he hasn't won a good-class race since Kaikoura three years ago. Good mares Artishake, Time To Fly and Letitia Franco had another good race among themselves further afield, but all eyes were on 'the unbeaten one'.

So far so good - now there are just the expectations to maintain.

Credit: Frank Marrion writing in HRWeekly 13Nov08

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