By MICHAEL GUERIN
Punters should cash in when Mark Purdon goes looking for compensation at Alexandra Park tonight.
New Zealand's leading trainer was hoping to be in Sydney tonight with his best 4-year-old Cool Hand Luke chasing $A200,000 in the Chariots Of Fire.
But a bad decision by the field selection committee for that race has left him eyeing the $15,000 of tonight's BNZ Heart House Mobile.
Cool Hand Luke may not have got his deserved invitation to Harold Park but he showed at last Saturday's Alexandra Park workouts that he would have been hard to beat in the Chariots.
He wound off a winning workout with a 26.2 second last 400m, which even allowing for the track being very quick was one of the fastest sectionals paced at Alexandra Park in the past year.
That effort showed he has progressed well since his crushing win in the Elliot Futurity at Cambridge in January, a performance which suggested he now rivals Stars And Stripes for the title of New Zealand's best 4-year-old.
"I think he is really coming to it. He felt very good at the workouts last Saturday," said Purdon. "He has continued to improve this campaign after some good runs over the summer and he is going to develop into a good open class performer."
Cool Hand Luke comes up against some race-hardened rivals over 2200m mobile tonight and will have to come from the second line but his task should be made easier as he follows out fast beginner Upanoff.
If Upanoff punches off the gate early Cool Hand Luke could get a trail through and settle handy enough for Purdon to either press for the front in the middle stages or use his stamina to outstay his rivals.
Upanoff will undoubtedly be the horse to beat. He loves Alexandra Park and 2200m and only just missed grabbing victory in the star-studded Cambridge Classic last start.
He can either lead or trail and use the passing lane and could exploit any hole in the favourite's race fitness.
Tonight's race will act as a key lead-up to the Taylor Mile and Messenger Championships during the Rowe Cup carnival and earlier in the night another contender for those races dominates the third leg of the $100,000 Pick Six jackpot.
Gracious Knight may have appeared disappointing when finishing near last in the Cambridge Classic but he was never a chance when back in a sprint home.
While he is tough enough to work and win in this class he is far more potent when saved for one run at his rivals, which the likely solid pace tonight should make possible.
The other highlight will also be a key pointer to the Rowe Cup carnival, with the north's best 3-year-old trotters headed by All Action Son, Martina H and Stephen Craig taking on southern guns Castleton's Mission and Locofoco in the first leg of Pick Six.
Castleton's Mission beat the best southern 3-year-old in a fast time at Ashburton last start and warmed up for tonight with an easy win at the Pukekohe workouts last weekend.
By MICHAEL GUERIN