Mark surpassed father,Roy, as a successful Auckland Cup owner with his second win in the role on Friday night but the train of events eerily echoed  Roy’s greatest training triumph in the race-and one of the finest  of a  mighty career-  Comedy Lad’s victory away back in 1986.

“Yes, Dad was very proud of what he achieved with Comedy Lad that year. I was more confident of getting to the race than he was then because the circumstances were a bit different” Mark recalled

“I don’t remember all the details but I do know that it was only after Comedy Lad’s final trial just before the race that Roy and Barry thought they could get to the post and  be in with a good chance”

“In that respect we were similar. After the Tuesday workout last week I was confident Akuta could win even though he had missed those races. Self Assured had worked tops and was more seasoned,but Akuta’s work was as good”

“I sent him  heats twice during the week which I would not normally do because of the racing and work we had missed,so he was pretty fit going into the race.He had to have the right run though,which he got”

Roy Purdon took personal charge of Comedy Lad’s troubled buildup to the 1986 Cup when it seemed there was no hope he could win or even start.He  often mentioned it in later years as a special moment in his career.

It shaped up as a terrific field, not surprisingly because it was worth more than the New Zealand Cup at $250,000. Roydon Glen was the defending champion; Borana had won the NZ Cup; Quite Famous from Australia had worked sensationally two days before the race;Placid Victor was the champion four year old and Messenger winner; Our Mana was in career best form.

That  record stake was a result of generous sponsorship from Comedy Lad’s owner, Max Harvey, who had been trying to win the Cup all his racing life and had spent a small fortune buying the horse do do it -including $115,000 for Comedy Lad.The average price for a yearling in 1986 was $5,500.

No pressure then.

Roy and Barry looked on a hiding to nothing when Comedy Lad had three unplaced runs in December and was then forced aside with an injury to an off hind. 

That meant no lead up races for the Cup and a programme conducted by Roy using all his great experience consisting of swimming, galloping,therapy, and light work.He went into the 2700 event with only one really serious hitout-2 days before the Cup on February 8. He had last raced on December 27 6 weeks previously. Akuta was missing in action almost as long.

Roy recalled that while he was in a happier  frame of mind after Comedy Lad’s final trial, Aussie Jim O’Sullivan soon gave him reason to doubt his magic would work.

“I think Jim had been in town and he worked Quite Famous a bit later on. They reported that he had worked 3200 and come home in 55.7 so that put a little damper on things” Roy would say.

But it was all right on the night. Largely thanks to super cool Tony Herlihy who drove the race of his life to make Max Harvey’s long time dream come true.

As with Akuta and Mark, Tony was anxious to avoid doing too much work in the race.It was a dramatic contest as Roydon Glen sooled along in front from the start with Quite Famous trapped in the open.Then the Aussie hit a soft patch on the corner and galloped checking Borana who was mounting a run, while Our Mana was disqualified from 5th for checks caused as he was worked into the clear in the straight.

In the meantime Roydon Glen was off and gone-6 lengths clear of Comedy Lad,well into the straight.Tony had plotted  the short way home for Comedy Lad that required super human patience -and  a whole heap of suspense for the watchers. 

Tony H, the magician

Then,whoosh !,one moment Roydon Glen was in for an easy win and the next Comedy Lad’s famous scorching sprint was mowing him down-Max Harvey’s dream at last coming true.In the end it wasn’t even close.Ironically the country’s biggest punter,unfairly penalised by officialdom for his hobby some time later,did not have a cent on him to win.

The victory was especially sweet for Roy. He had been a guiding hand for Max Harvey over many years, running his eye over prospective purchases, giving expert advice whenever asked, trying as hard as he could to land that Auckland Cup.

“I owe all my success to Roy Purdon” Max said after the Cup “I have always taken his advice because he has an instinct for a good horse and I leave it to him”

Max Harvey-35 year wait

Roy made a success of many  of them.But the pressure to win an Auckland Cup was an unspoken pressure. Now that was gone.

Mark who often drove Comedy Lad later in his career including for his last 2 wins,and in the 1988 Cup his first drive in the race,has now won his 2nd Auckland Cup as an owner after Turn It Up’s win in 2018. His partner Ian Dobson has now won three, Christian Cullen being followed by his brave purchase at a high price in Gotta Go Cullen scoring in 2008.

Guess what ? That was almost wholly due to a super cool drive from midfield on the rail by none other than  Tony Herlihy who has no less than 7 Cup winners to his name.Mark has now driven 6 winners and  trained 11.

The last 7 have been in succession. Unheard of.

“They will both have I hope about 5 weeks off now” Mark said of the Cup heroes. We are looking to maybe have them back in the stable early in July to get ready for the spring “

And a round dozen cups in 2024? Well after 7 in a row, why not ?

And meanwhile Roy will be telling his mates somewhere up there that Mark has equalled another of his achievements -and saying it with pride.

MAIN PIC: Roy Purdon relaxes as Comedy Lad eases down after a sensational workout two days before the Auckland Cup of 1986. He had run his last 800 in 56-then Roy was told Quite Famous had later broken 56 for his last 800. Comedy Lad ended a 35 year quest for Max Harvey to win an Auckland Cup

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