By Michael Guerin
Nobody could be in a better position to rate Self Assured’s main dangers in tonight’s $400,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup than Natalie Rasmussen.
Which has a touch of irony because when the outstanding driver jumps in the sulky behind the hot favourite tonight it will be the first time she has done so for a race.
Rasmussen, who used to co-train Self Assured, has never actually driven him in a race yet has won Group 1 races in the last year on three of his rivals, including second favourite Spankem.
She drove him to win the Taylor Mile just two starts ago, was the regular driver of Bettor Twist during her champion three-year-old season last term and even partnered South Coast Arden to win the NZ Free-For-All at Addington in November when trainer Brent Mangos was trapped north of the Auckland Covid border.
Yet for all that, she has next to zero association with Self Assured, even in training at home.
“I have driven him in a trial and a workout but I very rarely drive him at home,” says Rasmussen.
“He has always been Mark’s horse so he does almost all the fast work with him and then on easier days one of the staff, often his regular handler Jimmy, drives him so I don’t have a lot to do with him.”
Rasmussen knows enough about Self Assured from being around him every day and driving against him to rate his chances against some of his key rivals and she says he should win tonight.
“Nothing against any of the other horses because you have to be a good horse to end up in race like this but he looks the best horse here,” says Rasmussen.
“He has so many ways he can beat them. If we step well and he gets the front he will be too tough and classy for most of them and if we have to drive him with a sit I think he will be too fast.”
Of the rivals Rasmussen has driven she says Spankem, to be driven by Tony Herlihy, is the biggest danger but he has knocked off at the end of 3200m races before.
“I just don’t think he is quite as good over this trip but I can also see him being in the money for sure.
“Bettor Twist is a wonderful mare but has found it hard in this grade against the boys and is off to stud soon while South Coast Arden is a really good horse but he has had a tricky campaign.
“So I am on the horse to beat for sure.”
The start of the Cup could determine the finish because if Self Assured can stay in front of the three unruly horses, all of who are strong leaders, then he looks almost certain to get the lead and that could be race over.
But if he takes a misstep at the start and settles behind his unruly rivals the complexion of the race may change, because while he can still beat them with sheer speed that is a lot harder way to win.
Spankem is the clear second pick while A G’s White Socks and open class newcomer Cranbourne have been outstanding this autumn and can place.
Natalie Rasmussen’s major driving wins :
Inter Dominion Pacing Final (5)
NZ Free-For-All (4)
New Zealand Cup (1)
Auckland Cup (1)
Hunter Cup (1)
Victoria Cup (1)
Miracle Mile (1)
The races Rasmusen has won on Self Assured: 0.