By Michael Guerin
New Zealand’s most successful ever horse racing stable is being disbanded in news that will stun the industry.
All Stars Racing, the all-conquering harness racing stable of champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, will cease training from December 31.
The pair remain together as a couple but has decided to take a year away from training horses and if and when they choose to return it will be on a much smaller scale than the huge operation they run at Rolleston on the outskirts of Christchurch.
Their state of the art property will remain open but be run by current stable foreman Hayden Cullen and his wife Amanda, with Purdon and Rasmussen happy to help out around the times of the major carnivals if needed.
But the days of the All Stars machine which has dominated harness racing on both sides of the Tasman and is clearly one of the best in the world, are over.
“It is time for a break,” Purdon told the Herald.
“Between us Nat and I have been training or working with horses almost 70 years combined,” says Purdon who is 56. Rasmussen is 43.
“We want to have a break, freshen up and take time to enjoy life next year.
“And during that break we will take time to consider what our future looks like.” Purdon says he will retain his race driving licence so he can still drive at major race meetings but Rasmussen is still considering whether she will.
“Hayden is a good young trainer and we have made a commitment to him that at least initially we will drive the horses at major carnivals if needed.
“We have told him we are happy to come help out leading in to these carnivals but the stables are going to be his with his wife Amanda’s and the business will be theirs, definitely not ours.
“All Stars Racing will be closed down from December 31 and if we even come back to training full time I would say it would be a on a lot smaller scale.
“But that is something we will think about during our year off.”
Purdon will take a team of elite horses to Australia for a small campaign in late summer to target major races there out of respect for their owners and the fact Cullen will be busy setting up his new business.
Purdon and Rasmussen dominated the New Zealand Cup carnival at Addington last week, winning the New Zealand Cup for the sixth time the last seven years as well as three other group one races.
Their domination is like nothing ever seen in New Zealand racing before with the stable having broken every record there is in the harness industry.
Purdon is bred to be a champion trainer, like his father Roy and brother Barry but since he went out on his own training in 1995 he has trained the winners of a staggering $58million in New Zealand alone while he has won most of Australia’s richest races multiple times.
Rasmussen joined him as life and training partner in 2013 and the All Stars operation went up a level, with the Australian trainer having a relentless work ethic and organisational skills as well as being a wonderful big race driver.
Their army of superstar pacers is too long to list but is headlined by Lazarus and in the last 12 months they have trained the winner of the New Zealand and Auckland Cups as well as the Inter Dominion Pacing and Trotting Finals. Winning normal group ones like Oaks and Derby races are so common they barely register.
Purdon and Rasmussen told their staff of their decision to step away from the industry full time this morning and were pleased many of their owners not only support their move but say they will support Cullen in his new business from the All Stars property.
But the change to the landscape of New Zealand harness racing will be enormous.
The stable dominate betting markets and race days and well as the yearling sales. For many of their rivals their leaving will create opportunity and even renewed optimism about their chances to win at the highest level.
And new faces winning the biggest race won’t do New Zealand harness racing any harm.
Will Purdon, and even Rasmussen, eventually return to fulltime training? Probably.
But will the juggernaut that is All Stars Racing ever re-start and conquer all in its path? Almost certainly not.
So today’s news is not just the end of an era, but the end of one of the greatest chapters in New Zealand racing history.