Inter Dominion champ Smolda had to break a 16-year-old track record to land the 2017 Ubet South Australian Pace (2645m) at Globe Derby Park on Saturday night.
The red-hot $1.20 favourite, Smolda recorded 1:56.8 to take 0.1 off the previous best recorded by the legendary Courage Under Fire in winning the 2001 Cup.
The Mark Purdon trained-and-driven eight-year-old had just one metre to spare in beating new kid on the block Jilliby Jagger ($7.80), trained and driven by Glen Craven with Whenmechief ($24.10), from the Darren Billinger stable, 21 metres away third.
The victory gave Purdon an amazing training record of four consecutive winners at Globe Derby Park stretched over 20 years.
He trained champion trotter Pride Of Petite to victory in the 1997 Inter Dominion final and also won a Pacers consolation with Brabham before returning to win the 2005 SA Cup with Young Rufus.
Smolda’s win was not without drama as the gelding narrowly avoided early interference which put local Adam Cartwright out of the race and hurt the chances of most of the field.
Glen Craven had taken Jilliby Jagger to the front from gate six with Whenmechief behind him but going into the back the leader eased and Whenmechief ran into his back and checked which in turn saw Hickstead (John Justice) cop the backwash and gallop drifting up the track.
Adam Cartwright galloped as a result and tailed out while Messini ($17.90) was also checked and galloped for a few strides.
Purdon explained how close he came to being checked.
“I was following Messini and all credit to Smolda because he moved around that horse before I was completely aware of what was happening,” Purdon said.
“With the interference, I was able to wind up settling parked but happy to sit back off the leader which was running along.
“It wasn’t where I thought I would be in the run but it worked out well as I was able rate Smolda how I wanted to give him every chance to win.”
Purdon said while Jilliby Jagger had given him a great race he felt confident of victory on the home turn.
“My horse is a great stayer and I knew he would keep coming and sensed the other horse was nearly at the end of his effort but credit to Jilliby Jagger he wouldn’t go down without a real fight.”
Smolda is owned by Glenys and Philip Kennard in partnership with Neil Pitcher and Marcus Kirkwood.
Mrs Kennard was delighted with the victory and both she and Purdon were amazed at the response Smolda received from the large South Australian crowd both pre and post-race.
“To be so warmly received was incredible,” Mrs Kennard said, “this was a very special win.”
Purdon, who with Natalie Rasmussen, trains a large team of star standardbreds in New Zealand, said he hoped to become a more regular visitor to Adelaide for Cup night.
“I had intended to bring a three-year-old across for the Derby but ran into travel issues something I will be alert for next year,” he said.
“Yes, I hope to be back again next year.”
Purdon won the hearts of South Australian fans remaining in his colours on returning to Smolda’s stall and having photos taken with the Cup winner for more than 30 minutes with anyone seeking a selfie snap.
For the runner-up Jilliby Jagger, trainer-driver Glen Craven was left to wonder what might have been.
“I set the horse for the race a few months ago, and everything went to plan but it had to be a year when Mark brings the Inter Dominion winner,” Craven said.
“I brought Jilliby Jagger across to win the Italian Cup in November and have a look at the track, then basically just kept ticking him over because I wanted to make sure he got a front row draw and it all came together.
“He ran superbly but on the night had to lower our colours to a champion – but he had to run a record to beat us.”
Images- Graham Fischer
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