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
Il Vicolo, take a king-size bow. Take one, too, John Seaton and Mark Purdon. They returned graciously on Tuesday to the scene of their 1995 DB Draught NZ Cup win with Il Vicolo and did it again. Seaton even claimed that he brought the same notes with the same words on to use for his victory speech. Whether he did or not, Seaton accepted the Cup in his usual humble style, and if he wasn't a speechmaker a year ago he's certainly made some ground up since then. "I didn't have a bet on the horse," said Seaton. "But I looked at the tote...the public seem to know," he said.
Il Vicolo won the $350,000 classic in much the same manner as he did a year ago, with the grunt of a big V8. For much of the latter part of the race, Purdon had his foot down. The plan was to wait for no-one. "The early part wasn't that quick. That's why I came out. I knew I had to get him into it some time, and I didn't want to run the risk of being down on the fence."
Il Vicolo was the first to gain a good place of those off the 10 metre mark, soon sitting comfortably in midfield five back on the outer. He made his move forward at the 1800m, and as he did Surprise Package, two spot ahead of him, also moved out, ran to the lead which he held briefly, and then snuggled in behind Il Vicolo. "He was always going to be hard to beat from there," reported Purdon.
But we have gone ahead a little quickly here: the early order was Anvil's Star who made an excellent beginning, stablemate Anvil Vance and Surprise Package; Grinaldi broke and lost five lengths, and Hoppy's Jet did the same in midfield after 300 metres.
Il Vicolo's arrival at the summit, triggered off a wave of new blood coming forward, notably Victor Supreme, Master Musician, Hoppy's Jet, Burlington Bertie and Grinaldi, who actually levelled with Il Vicolo at the 800 metres. "He missed away," said driver Brent Mangos, "but he has gone a super race until battling on the turn. I am sure if he had have stepped we could have been in the first three." Trainer Geoff Small wasn't surprised at the mistake. "I could tell he knew it was a big occasion taking him into the birdcage," said Small.
Heading into the last 600 metres, Il Vicolo was pumping hard. Purdon knew he had Surprise Package on his back, though that wasn't his main worry. He was more concerned with something arriving as though it had just joined in, a horse that had missed the hurly-burly, much the same as Just Royce did when running him to a neck in '95. This time it was Anvil's Star, the rank outsider - Just Royce was the 13th favourite - who emerged with a wet sail from the ruck, jinking his way past tired runners in the straight. Even as close as 50 metres out, Anvil's Star was determined to beat Il Vicolo for the Cup, but then the run ended, leaving Il Vicolo safe, secure, $210,000 ahead, by three-quarters of a length. Anvil's Star was that margin better than Surprise Package, and the same ahead of Anvil Vance, who trailed, lost his place and was back on the inner beginning the last lap, and Desperate Comment, who was level last at the 600 metres, met a check at the 400m where it became tight and messy, and did remarkably well to make up the ground he did.
Purdon said this was a tougher race for Il Vicolo than it was a year ago. "I could tell he wasn't liking the last part," he said, "but he really is a champion. It is a great thrill to win it again. It is the race of the year, and he was ready for it." If Purdon had a slight concern it was whether his preparation was quite tight enough. "Last year, he was ready a lot earlier because we came down for the Super Stars in September. I was just a bit hard on him last year. He'd had two trials before we came down here, but there were only three in them," he said.
There were some tales of disappointment from those beaten, noteable being Master Musician, Prince Rashad, Desperate Comment and Burlington Bertie. They got caught up in the backwash, which was always going to be a risk in a field that while even also had its vulnerable ones.
Robert Dunn, the driver of Master Musician, said the race didn't go his way over the last lap. "The first time I decide not to make my own luck, this happens," he said, referring to being badly held up and knocked out of it when Burlington Bertie went off stride near the 500 metres. "'Bertie' was cruising, but what surprised me was Glen Wolfenden handing up on Victor Supreme at the 1200 metres after she went round." Wolfenden said: "I had a nice cart round but I wanted cover to get round round that bend. She had her chance and I've got no excuse," he said.
The collect for Seaton and Purdon was $210,000, which in round figures takes Il Vicolo just past $1,500,000. He has won a phenomenal 29 of his 44 starts. This is the horse Seaton bought as a yearling at Karaka for $21,000, had it broken in by Gary Hillier, and then gave Purdon a half share in the horse after Hillier phoned him five months later and said he was getting out of the game. Seaton has been a great campaigner at the yearling sales for many years, and while Il Vicolo was dear he is not his dearest. "That was Malakula who cost $26,000 and won three," he said. Il Vicolo is something Malakula could never be. He is something very special: eventually a stallion of immense value.
John Seaton is talking about racing him in America's Meadowlands Pace. Purdon says John is thinking of a holiday for himself and his wife, Anne. The reality may not be America, but sadly it may not be New Zealand either. Il Vicolo will soon be off to Sydney for the Miracle Mile, a race he finished second in last June.
Some great horses have won the Cup. Not since False Step in the 60's has a horse won the race in successive years. Not since Lordship, in 1962 and 1966, has a horse won two New Zealand Cups.
Il Vicolo take another bow.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HR Weekly
1995 AIR NEW ZEALAND NZ FREE-FOR-ALL
Champion 3-year-old Il Vicolo made a clean sweep of the John Brandon series, just as everyone thought he would. He led for all but the first 200m of the New Zealand Derby, and gave the others a sound beating, as he had done in the first two legs of the classic.
His next assignment is the Great Northern Derby, which will mark the end of a brief second-season campaign in which the best of his age group have been unable to test him, and in most cases were outclassed. Part-owner and driver Mark Purdon said it was likely that he would start off next season against the Cup horses... "We will plan it like that. We could race him in the New Zealand Cup next season," he said. Purdon said the key factor to Il Vicolo being so superior is his attitude. "He is very relaxed. He's a horse you can use up in a race, and he doesn't take a lot of work," he said.
Il Vicolo, who has now won nine races in succession and 15 from 18 starts, is part owned by Canterbury farmer John Seaton, who also has with Purdon a Soky's Atom 2-year-old from Il Vicolo's family, and a Vance Hanover colt from the Mark Lobell mare Bevie (dam of Alba Lobell) he will race in partnership with Tony Herlihy.
Ready For Love ran second, after driver Graham Ward made use of his gate speed to cross first, knowing Il Vicolo would give him cover. Mark Purdon did that before the 2200m, and Ready For Love made the most of a sit trip by lasting better than Brocketsbrae for second.
Credit: Philip O'Connor writing in HRNZ Weekly
After kindling his interest with modest success on the provincial tracks of Canterbury, Seaton stepped up a cog with the purchase of Il Vicolo for $23,000 as a yearling at Karaka in 1992, and he had been buying in the top bracket ever since. His name was synonymous with big spending at the yearling sales, major wins at major meetings, and forging a formidable partnership with his No.1 trainer and driver, Mark Purdon. Together, they took sure aim at the classics and the cups with colts from the most distinguished pedigress.
A dealer in every sense, Seaton revelled in the cagey science of auction bidding. He was a hard man to head when he set his sights on a prospect in the ring. Purdon was his faithful ally and confidante, and he valued their relationship both as a friend and professionally. "He was one in a million," he said. "It was a partnership that was probably meant to be. He had a big impact on my career. And it probably developed more as it went on."
Purdon said Seaton loved his 2-year-olds, and he would organise their yearling sale tour before the sales to inspect up to 75% of the offering. He said this one would be "a tough trying week. But I have got other clients and other horses, and it will have to go on," he said.
Mike De Filippi was a trainer for Seaton in an era before the scale grew with Purdon, and he raced the good horse Delegation with Seaton's wife Ann. "He came here with a horse when my brother Colin went north. He was very supportive and loved his horses. We never had any trouble, and he liked to celebrate a win with a jug of beer afterwards."
Roy Purdon, who watched Seaton nurture the careers od Mark and his son-in-law Tony Herlihy, was devastated when told by his son of Seaton's death. "I was shocked. I spoke to John on Sunday. It is just so hard to believe. He was so much fun to be with. I know he was devastated when he learnt of the charges Harness Racing New Zealand were bringing against him and when they came. It took the glamour off Addington's big day, and it is very sad for trotting." Purdon said he definitely thought it would have some sort of affect on harness racing. "I think Mark has been very strong through this. I wish I could see a better outlook for it all, but it is just too gut-wretching," he said.
Il Vicolo was Seaton's ticket to fame and fortune. But there were plenty of others, and his tally of wins has passed 250. Il Vicolo won two NZ Cups, in 1995 and 1996. He won the Sires' Stakes Final at two and three, the Great Northern and NZ Derbies, the Rising Stars Championship, the NZ FFA, and he sired Jack Cade, who for Seaton also won the NZ Derby, a Sires'Stakes Final, and the NZ FFA.
Seaton enjoyed racing his horses with friends, notably Tim Vince, and they shared notable victories with Cool Hand Like (Noel Taylor Mile), a Sires' Stakes Final (Light And Sound), and the Cardigan Bay Stakes (Jack Cade and Lennon). He decided to race Advance Attack, the brother to Courage Under Fire, himself, and his wins included the Cardigan Bay Stakes, Sapling Stakes and Welcome Stakes
His other big winners included Beatem, Bella's Boy, Born Again Christian, Flashing Sword, Hindover, Horizon, Kotare Testament, Ohara, Perfect Seelster, Raptorial, So Cool, Tricky Vic, Ulrich and Willow Chip. His ownership included 41 horse aged 4 or younger, including 2-year-olds by In The Pocket, Soky's Atom, Il Vicolo, Presidential Ball, Rustler Hanover, Badlands Hanover and Artiscape.
The cause of Seaton's death will now rest with the coroner. He leaves his wife Ann, and daughter Ann-Marie. He also leaves a stable of horses - young ones with great potential he couldn't live to see - a state of the art training establishment, boots that are really beyond the size of anyone in harness racing to fill, an engaging smile that made you smile back, and a dreaded horror of being called to the microphone.
John Seaton will be sorely missed in harness racing. But sadly, John will miss it so much more.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly 17Nov04
Australia might have an Inter-Dominion 'King' in the form of Brian Hancock, but we've got one of our own too. His name is Mark Purdon, and the race he's become synonomous with is the New Zealand Derby. Purdon won the star-studded 3-year-old event for a staggering seventh time when he and Likmesiah flashed home to nab Winforu on the post last Friday night.
Purdon's Derby dominance began in 1993 when he partnered Mark Roy, and has been followed by Il Vicolo (1995), The Court Owl (1996), Bogan Fella (1997), Young Rufus (2001) and Jack Cade (2002),not to mention the 'furore' over Hunka Hickling when he was beaten a head by a wayward Stars And Stripes in the year 2000.
This year the task ahead looked almost insurmountable, firstly because Likmesiah with saddlecloth 15 had one of the worst draws compared to the guns he was up against. And the picture wasn't any rosier turning for home, because Winforu was about to slip down into the pasing lane having enjoyed a dream sit behind the leader, and Likmesiah was just getting balanced around faltering runners as he prepared to charge for the line.
But as he so often does, Purdon proved that at no time - especially in the big races - can you underestimate those blue silks with the silver stars. "I thought that his draw could turn out to be not too bad a one, because there was always going to be a lot of speed early," Purdon said. "It just depended on how the race panned out, and whether we were going to have to cover too much extra ground. Turning for home I was wondering how wide we were going to have to come, because Colin (De Filippi, driving Roman Gladiator) was going nowhere."
A furlong from home Likmesiah exploded out of the pack, and it quickly became clear that Winforu was going to have a fight on his hands. Purdon timed his pacer's run with the sort of precision that would make your heart sink if you were connected to Winforu, and after some anxious moments it was confirmed that Likmesiah had indeed got to the line first. "He just knows how to sprint like that, because that's the way we teach them at home," Purdon added.
The $100,000 Lion Foundation sponsored Group 1 event was yet another triumph for Likmesiah's sire Christian Cullen. He was responsible for four of the 14 entrants, all being from his first crop, and they included hot favourite Roman Gladiator (10th), V For (8th) and the desperately unlucky C C Mee (7th). Christian Cullen's principal owner Ian Dobson was one of he first to congratulate the Met Two Syndicate members. "I was thrilled for them," Dodson said. "Especially that syndicate though, because I've become fairly involved with some of the members with having a couple of my own horses out at Mark's. I didn't think Likmesiah could do it turning for home, but I think he even surprises Mark because he seems to grow another leg on racenight. The Cullens have got that will to win, all the trainers are saying that to me."
Fifty people will tell you there's no more fun than racing a horse as part of a syndicate. Better if the horse can win, and huge smiles when it's a race like the New Zealand Derby. Most syndicates are made up of people who can't quite afford to race a horse on their own. Or, even if they can, prefer the friendship and fellowship it provides. These are the sort of people who made a lump sum payment of $1,620 and put in $100 a month to join the NZ Metropolitan Trotting Club organised, Met Two Syndicate two years ago. They bought three horses. One of them was Likmesiah, who won $60,800 with his trademark late burst to win the New Zealand Derby. His total earnings are $205,517 - a handsome profit from the $15,000 he cost on Mark Purdon's bid as a yearling.
Credit: John Robinson writing in NZHR Weekly
It was 4.00pm Saturday when John Seaton got the call. A committee member of the Metropolitan Trotting Club was on the line, with news that Sly Flyin was out of Cup Day's NRM Sires' Stakes Final.
Until the shocking news broke almost everyone thought that the $81,000 winner's cheque had Sly Flyin's name written all over it. But not Seaton. "He was definitely the horse to beat, no doubt. It would have been a different race though, because from where he was he would have had to do work too," he said. "I rang Colin (De Filippi) on the Monday night because I felt sorry for the horse and his connections. I know what it's like to have a horse break down on you; Cool Hand Luke's just one example."
When the big day dawned, Seaton's own representative Jack Cade took the weight of the public's money and he carried it all the way to the post and home with a herculean performance in the Group 1 feature. Parked for the entire journey, Jack Cade gritted his teeth as the last half went by in a sensational 55.7 seconds and he got there by a neck from Lord Vicolo. That lethal combo of Seaton and Mark Purdon had done it again. "This is such a huge thrill," Seaton said afterwards. "To win this race with Il Vicolo and them come back and win it again with one of his sons is just brilliant."
It was indeed a magic result for Il Vicolo, who sired the quinella in the season's first major 3-year-old event with two horses from his very first crop. It wasn't far away from being the perfect fairytale either ...the other by Il Vicolo in the race was Tricky Vic, incidentally bred by Seaton, who met trouble during the running and could have finished a lot closer. Seaton says he doesn't have second thoughts about selling the Vance Hanover stallion that took him to dizzy heights when winning back-to-back NZ Cups in 1995 and 1996. "I didn't like the stud business, it is not me," he said. "I just love watching my horses run. And I knew that with Charlie Roberts and Andrew Grierson he was going to a good home. I don't think people realise just how good Il Vicolo was at two, three, four and five."
Seaton was always keen to get his hands on some of Il Vicolo's progeny, and at the first available opportunity Jack Cade was picked out by his right-hand-man Mark Purdon at the Karaka Sales. The gelding from Smooth Fella mare Janet Blue Chip cost them $30,000; he has now pocketed over $228,000. As for Jack Cade's immediate plans, Seaton says "that's up to Mark."
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 15Nov01
Everyone has a favourite horse. Mark Purdon's will always be Il Vicolo, the brilliant son of Vance Hanover which helped put him on the map when he launched his training career in the 1995/96 season.
Beaten only three times at two and never at three, Il Vicolo won 31 races in total and his back-to-back New Zealand Cup victories in 1995 and 1996 sit highest on the shelf of Purdon's fondest memories. And now that he is winning races with Il Vicolo's progeny, it is the next best thing. Purdon guided Jack Cade to an all-the-way victory in the PGG Yearling Sales Series Open, an event Il Vicolo himself won seven years earlier.
The win has pushed Jack Cade's dad into second on the list of leading sires of juveniles (by dollars won) for the season, which is no mean feat considering this is his first crop. Jack Cade (three wins), Tricky Vic (two) and Lord Vicolo (one) have been the main contributors, vindicating Purdon's faith that he would make it as a stallion. He and principal owner John Seaton specifically went to the Sales last year with the intention of bringing two or three home, and there was something about Jack Cade that stood out. "I liked him on type, and there was a lot of quality about him," Purdon recalled. "Il Vicolo did not have many in the sales, but they were all nice types and I think his average reflected that."
Jack Cade stamped himself as top 2-year-old material right from the word so this season, winning first up at Alexandra Park in a sensational 1:57.5 mile rate over 1700 metres. He has only been out of the money once in six starts since, when an unlucky fifth in the Welcome Stakes, and although not offering excuses Purdon says the gelding hasn't been a hundred percent lately. "He has had an on-going respiratory infection since about February," he said. "It is not a common one, and he has had a cough and a slight nasal discharge. Bill Bishop has been treating him and we are getting on top of it now. He has been a bit brighter in the coat lately."
Just last week Purdon and Seaton sold Il Vicolo to Woodlands Stud. There has been a great deal of interest in the stallion after his first season results, and Purdon says letting him go was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make. "He had a lot of sentimental value to me. During his first two seasons at stud I used to bring him home and jog him through the winter. It was just a bit of a change for him. He was always a lazy trackworker but he loved it, and he loved being back in the same box that he had when he was racing. We didn't get him back last year because we were just too busy with the horses; I was quite looking forward to having him around again this year."
It is ironic that Purdon signed on the dotted line only a matter of hours before a son of Il Vicolo he trains won the richest 2-year-old event of the season, but he says that is just the way it goes. "There was never o lot of money in owning a stallion in his early days; when you are striving to get numbers on the ground you have to do deals here and there. "But winning the race again with one of his progeny is a great feeling, and I am pleased for the new owners too because it is a nice start for them."
Purdon has not retained any breeding rights to Il Vicolo, saying he is busy enough with the racing team as it is. He has only got one broodmare - Super Smooth, the dam of Scuse Me - but there is a possibility she could visit the Vance Hanover stallion when the time comes next season. Apart from two Il Vicolo fillies bought from the same sale as Jack Cade, Purdon has a yearling gelding by the sire that is showing promise and he also bought another one privately this season.
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 09May01