By Michael Guerin
New Zealand’s most exciting young pacer will make a surprise return to Alexandra Park this week but there will be almost nobody there to see him.
Because even with the entire country at Covid alert Level 2 from yesterday racing at the north’s two huge meetings this week will go ahead without crowds or owners.
Both Alexandra Park and Te Rapa have confirmed their meetings will be held behind closed doors even though they will host some of New Zealand’s elite horses.
Alexandra Park not only sees the surprise return of Krug as well as open class star Copy That but Saturday’s meeting at Te Rapa contains the first serious race of the thoroughbred season, the group two Valachi Downs Foxbridge Plate headlined by Avantage and Julius.
Alexandra Park had the option to allow owners in separate areas but with Auckland effectively at Level 2.5 they decided it was better to get safely through this week with hopefully a return to the far less restricted Level 1 not too far away.
While nobody wants to see New Zealand yo-yoing up and down the alert levels that scenario is a financial nightmare for the racing industry because while racing can continue at Level 3, the sport can attract massive crowds right around the country over summer.
While any Covid-19 outbreak has far more important and serious ramifications than the racing industry’s concerns, a cluster and subsequent enforcement of Level 2 or 3 would be financially disastrous for carnivals like Cup week in Christchurch or the Christmas-New Year period in Auckland.
The good news is harness racing fans will have some genuine class to watch this week, albeit via the television.
Copy That will be red hot to continue of his winning path to the New Zealand Cup after drawing barrier one in the 2200m free-for-all at Alexandra Park on Thursday but it is the participation of Krug at the meeting that is the most surprising.
He is in the north for the $140,000 Garrard's Sires’ Stakes Final in two weeks to be followed by the A$200,000 NZB Standardbred Harness Million a week later and having brilliantly won the Sires’ Stakes heat at Addington 11 days ago he didn’t need to contest Thursday’s heat.
But co-trainer Nathan Purdon has taken the opportunity to re-acquaint him with Alexandra Park even though by being a heat winner he has to start the outside of the second line.
“I think this race works in well for him heading into the final in a couple of weeks,” says Purdon, the son of champion trainer Mark Purdon.
Krug defied a huge betting drift to smash Its All About Faith in their Sires’ Stakes heat at Addington two weeks ago and Purdon admits he wasn’t confident he could win that race.
“He had had a cold and we had eased up on his work so he definitely wasn’t at his peak,” says Purdon.
“So I was surprised he could beat Its All About Faith last start but you will see a better horse this week.
“With the month he has ahead of him ideally we would like to drive him with a sit but we realise because he is usually the favourite that isn’t so easily done.”