By Michael Guerin, NZ Herald
Natalie Rasmussen was back doing what she does best at Cambridge on Thursday night, and the punters who stuck with Self Assured loved every second of it.
Rasmussen, who had not driven in a race this season until Thursday, produced a gem of a drive to get Self Assured home in the $45,000 Flying Mile even after he started from the outside of the front line.
The race was the final lead-up to the $1 million The Race next Friday and the defending champion did exactly what he did in the slot race last season, kept his powder dry early before sweeping into the race at perfect time and sling-shotting Copy That.
The latter was big and bold in second while Akuta, who worked harder mid-race, closed again for third with Old Town Road, who burned early, fourth.
The top four were so similar in merit of performance the TAB bookies instantly opened them all $4 for The Race before Monday night’s barrier draw.
It showed all four are peaking at the right time and there were reasons to forgive several others after the first 800m of the mile flew by in just over 55 seconds, leaving the leaders vulnerable with the last 800m in 56.8 for a 1:52 mile.
Rasmussen loved being behind a world class pacer in Self Assured, especially for one of her favourite owners Jean Feiss.
An all-time great of Australasian driving, Rasmussen has chosen to enjoy life away from harness racing as well, and after so long at the top who can blame her?
“While I still enjoy driving I also enjoy other things in life too and I am happy to watch as other people drive the horses,” says Rasmussen.
“But Jean wanted me on him and I was happy to be on.
“So to come back and drive a really good horse and have him go like that was very satisfying.
“And I think he will go even better in the big race next week because he didn’t really have a proper hitout in his first run back a few weeks ago.”
Copy That looks ready, with a front line draw a huge advantage to him if he can secure it on Monday night, while trainer Mark Purdon was happy with Akuta and suggests he will be a better horse next Friday too.
Old Town Road showed his usual torrent of speed after sweating up profusely before the race and is a huge factor next week, with No Matter Wat (who will draw barrier one) and the Aussies in Better Eclipse and Triple Eight to join the party.
So we have an even race, with some of Australasia’s best drivers and most of the stars looking ready to peak.
Earlier in the night Merlin turned the Sires’ Stakes heat into a jog when he led, trailed then led again to beat stablemate Sooner The Better, while Con Grazia Love was back in winning form in the Charlie Hunter Trot, appropriate because of her trainer Sean McCaffrey’s long association with Hunter.