A turbulent week for Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen has come to a tolerable end.
Australasia’s most successful training partnership had its Harness Jewels preparations thrown into disarray this week with fears nine of its runners may have been exposed to drug contamination during a float trip from Auckland to Cambridge.
The horses, that included some of the hottest favourites for Saturday’s Jewels meeting at Cambridge, were drug tested and needed a clear result to start in the biggest meeting of the year.
Racing Integrity Unit (RIU) general manager Mike Godber confirmed the results, that returned from the lab on Friday evening, were free of any prohibited substances.
The nine runners, plus a tenth horse trained by fellow Canterbury training partnership Terry and Glenys Chmiel-trained, have been cleared to race.
The horses affected included Princess Tiffany, Winterfell, Sicario, Kayla Marie, Funatthebeach, Stress Factor, Cheerful, War Dan Delight, Bubbled Up and the Chmiel-trained Dibaba.
Princess Tiffany ($1.95), Enhance Your Calm ($1.45), Winterfell ($1.35) and Sicario ($3) are all favourites to win their races.
Betting on six of the nine Group I races was suspended on Wednesday evening pending the results of the tests but were reopened soon after the clear tests were made public.
It is believed the driver of the truck transporting the horses became concerned about activities of two workers travelling with the horses and reported their possible drug smoking.
Rasmussen contacted RIU head harness steward Nick Ydgren on Wednesday with her concerns.
Two staff members of Purdon and Rasmussen’s All Stars stable were asked to undergo drug testing according to the NZ Herald – with one refusing and the other returning a positive test to at least two recreational drugs.
Stuff understands both staff members have since had their employment terminated.
“The RIU is very pleased with the result. The integrity system worked as it should,” Godber said.
“The trainers were proactive in advising the RIU of the potential contamination. The process then put in place by the RIU, working in conjunction with the New Zealand Racing Board, Harness Racing NZ and the Racing Laboratory was transparent, ensuring the public were fully informed and could have confidence in the integrity system.”
If any of the runners did return positive swabs they would have been unable to compete. For most of the horses, the Harness Jewels will be their major target of the season.
The Harness Jewels is a marquee day for the sport with all nine age-group races contested at Group I level.
The Rolleston based training partnership of Purdon and Rasmussen will start 20 runners at the Harness Jewels.
The stable has dominated the Harness Jewels since 2014.
At the 2017 edition in Ashburton, the Purdon-Rasmussen partnership won four of the seven races it contested.
Since the partnership was formed in 2014, it has won 17 of 36 total Jewels races without contesting all of them.
Purdon, either on his own account or in partnership with Grant Payne or Rasmussen, has won 34 races as a trainer since the concept first begun in 2007.
Purdon has driven 21 Jewels winners.
Records that no other trainer or driver would dare to dream of let alone match.
Meanwhile, Australian invite Shez All Rock looks set to finally break the drought of the trans-Tasman Jewels runners.
Since the inception of the Jewels in 2007, just 12 Australian runners have ventured across the ditch with the best results being three second placings.
At Ashburton last year, One Muscle Hill, trained by ex-pat Kiwi Nicole Molander, was second to Paramount King in the two-year-old Ruby and Mr Mojito, who was trained and driven by Kerryn Manning, the first female driver to win the New Zealand Trotting Cup, ran second behind Heaven Rocks in the four-year-old Emerald.
Divisive also ran second behind Monkey King in the four-year-old Emerald way back at the first running of the Jewels in 2007.
Shez All Rock, who is the care of Purdon and Rasmussen, won the Group I New Zealand Oaks in her first start in this country last month and will start the favourite in the three-year-old Diamond (race three).
The Australian contingent has an upset chance in the opening race with Platinum Revolution starting from barrier one in the two-year-old Diamond.
Dance Craze, in the four-year-old Ruby (race five), Petes Big Jim, in the two-year-old Emerald (race six) and Wobelee, in the three-year-old Ruby (race eight) make up the remainder of team Australia.