By Michael Guerin
Champion horseman Mark Purdon only had one complaint after favourite Self Assured won New Zealand’s first ever slot race at Cambridge on Thursday night.
“He should have won by more,” laughed Purdon after the $900,000 The Race by Grins.
It was tongue in cheek but also a nod to the physical dominance of Self Assured as he overcame the widest barrier and having to sit parked for the last lap to win harness racing’s new glamour race.
Kept out of the early burn as first Alta Orlando, Spankem and ultimately South Coast Arden raced to the lead, Self Assured worked his way to parked at the bell and Purdon says at the 400m he thought he was home.
“He was bolting and I was sure I had the leaders covered and straightening up I thought we were going to win by four lengths,” said Purdon.
“But he almost shut off and waited for the other horses and at the line it was getting tight because Majestic Cruiser was still coming hard.
“With the time they ran maybe he had the right to be getting tired but he almost waited for them. That was just how well he was going at the top of the straight, he was that ready for it tonight.”
It was fitting that Purdon, our greatest ever harness trainer, these days in partnership with Hayden Cullen, should win the first running of our first slot race as he has been the trainer that has defined the industry for the last decade.
He also took special satisfaction from the win just weeks after his legendary father Roy passed away, knowing how Roy loved anything that was good for harness racing and this new race is definitely that.
The win cements Self Assured as not only New Zealand’s best pacer but a special modern day equine as he has also won the New Zealand and Auckland Cups, so has completed NZ pacing’s Triple Crown even before it was a real thing.
It is very real now.
It was also a triumphant return to her beloved New Zealand for Victorian-based owner Jean Feiss, who partnered with slot holder SENZ to secure Self Assured’s place in The Race.
Self Assured will now return to Alexandra Park next Friday for the Taylor Mile and the week after for the Messenger before next month Auckland Cup and Queensland in the winter, chances to cement greatness.
New South Wales pacer Majestic Cruiser will also target Alexandra Park in coming weeks after his magnificent second and his huge display will be massive for The Race heading forward and its appeal to Australian connections.
Spankem was a brave third when probably a run short of his best while South Coast Arden held on for fourth, the early burn just sapping his legs late.
But when the dust settled on a historic night for harness racing, a historic one for the entire New Zealand racing industry, the best horse with the greatest trainer had won.
And The Race is now here to stay.