YEAR: 1995


Mark Purdon & John Seaton savour the win.

He was worth waiting for.

The question lurking but unsaid for weeks...whether youthful Il Vicolo was old enough, tough enough, man enough to take on the pack of seasoned older campaigners in the DB Draught NZ Cup over 3200 metres.

Tuesday's Addington outcome proved he was - absolutely.

Indeed, he had to pull out qualities he's never fully used before as first Master Musician and then Just Royce tested his courage and stamina dowmn the straight. Master Musician, feeling pain in his feet as pressure grew, drifted into the middle of the track and gently, slowly, fell back. No sooner had he left the pitface than he was replaced by a cheeky freshman, the M6 13th fancy, Just Royce. Hailed in few quarters - though Ashburton was one of them - Just Royce came at Il Vicolo like a dart. For more than a moment, he seemed likely to find his mark and tear off one of the great upsets of all time. "I had a good run all the way," beamed driver John Hay. "He felt tremendous on the turn. I kept passing them all in the straight, thinking I'd be fourth and getting closer all the time," he said. "For a moment, I thought it was going to be a dream come true," he said. It developed into such excitement in the end that already the older brigade amongst us are booked in for next year, and new fans will be waiting at the door.

The race very nearly had a fairly-tale ending, not for Il Vicolo who proved he's as cool as his trainer in a tight corner but Just Royce was one of three late invitees, paying more than $100 to win. Down at the top of the straight, 200 metres from the finish, Denice Swain, the trainer of Just Royce, didn't know what was happening. She saw the pair of them disappear in good style, changing ground as they went, but didn't know till later how close it had been. "I knew he'd go a great two miles. I had absolute confidence in him doing that. I was worried about putting him straight into this class, but I knew the owners would love it. I did the same with him as I did with Clancy the year he ran second in the Cup to Christopher Vance. He's such a lazy trackworker, it's hard to get a real line on him."

Buried deep for the entire race as he was, Just Royce didn't have to make any mid race moves. Purdon made his with Il Vicolo with more than a lap to run, when he followed up Ginger Man to settle like a gentleman outside Burlington Bertie. Master Musician came up with him. Robert Dunn, in the sulky of the 'Master' hollered at Purdon to see if he would ease, so he could slip across and give him cover. "He didn't even look round," said Dunn. Hoppy's Jet and Tigerish were handy on the inner, and Blossom Lady, tracked by Desperate Comment, were poised in the third line, Ginger Man just ahead of them. "I was a bit lucky that when I went up with a lap to run Burlington Bertie didn't race me," said Purdon. But the move still worried him. "I thought getting down to the quarter that I'd asked him too much...I'd set it up for the others behind me. I was going good enough, but I thought something would come at me. On the corner, I didn't really expect to win," he said. With one or two exceptions, neither did anyone else.

The race was run at a true pace, taking Il Vicolo 4:00.4, which equals the record for the race set by Luxury Liner in 1988.

It has been said before, and it's worth saying again, the Purdon, aged 31 and in his first season as a public trainer, and Cantabrian part-owner John Seaton are great sportsmen and ambassadors for harness racing. If there is any part of it that Seaton could well do without, it's making speeches. Now that Il Vicolo has won 21 races - from 26 starts - he is something of an old hand at it and he took the precaution of being prepared for this one. Purdon takes the pressure in his stride, just as the horse does.

A 4-year-old by Vance Hanover from Burgundy Lass, Il Vicolo has now won $976,777. Seaton had been buying Vance Hanovers in recent times, and thought if he stuck to stock by the top sire he might one day get a great horse. The winning hand was spending $21,000 for a black colt from Burgundy Lass offered by Yarndley Farms at Karaka. Burgundy Lass was a qualified but unraced mare by Noodlum from the Rosehaven family that has produced such standouts as Black Watch (14 wins), Remarkable (1:53.2), Reba Lord, The Unicorn, National Image and Pacific Flight. Il Vicolo is an entire with huge potential as a stud horse when he eventually ends his career. In the meantime, he is a star we cannot have enough of. Treasure him while we can.

Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HR Weekly

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