By Garrick Knight
Natalie Rasmussen cemented her place in the annals of harness racing history with a record-equaling Inter Dominion triumph at Alexandra Park on Saturday night.
The expat Queenslander equaled the record for most driving wins when reining Ultimate Sniper to a typically courageous win in the $500,000 showpiece event.
It’s unlikely any horse will ever supersede her former champion pacer, and four-time Inter Dominion winner, Blacks A Fake, but Ultimate Sniper, who she co-trains in Christchurch with Mark Purdon, will hold a special place in her heart.
“It’s pretty up there,” she said post-race.
“I’ve been lucky enough to drive so many great horses but this is really quite special tonight because I matched Brian (Hancock)’s record.
“And for a four-year-old to do it the way he’s done it – he never had an easy run or anything but he made his own luck – I’m just absolutely rapt for the horse.”
The win cemented Ultimate Sniper’s position as the country’s premier pacer, even allowing for the absence of his illustrious stablemates Turn It Up, Spankem and Self Assured.
He was dominant throughout the series, going through the three heats last week without any luck whatsoever but still proving too good, and decisively so.
His Grand Final run was comparatively easy – sitting parked outside the leader A G’s White Socks for the past mile – and he had too much in reserve down the straight.
“I didn’t sort of bustle him too much early and I did all the work.
“He just relaxed so well and he’s so kind and lovely.
“Then, when I asked him, he just had that kick left. He was tired on the line but he never gave up.”
For Ultimate Sniper’s co-owner, Phil Kennard, the win was a continuation of a brilliant recent run across Australasia’s Grand Circuit.
Between all-conquering champion Lazarus, last season’s Horse of the Year, Spankem, and now Ultimate Sniper, he, wife Glenys and many of their close friends have been on the ride of a life time.
But this last win very nearly didn’t happen. For two reasons.
“The Thursday after the Trotting Cup last month, we were talking to Mark and Natalie about what we were going to do with him.
“It was really a toss of the coin about whether he contested this series.
“But Nat said I think we should give him his chance, and try and go easy on him in the heats.
“Obviously her idea of easy and a Kiwi’s idea aren’t the same thing!”
His New Zealand Cup campaign was aborted after a below-par effort in the Ashburton Flying Stakes on Labour Weekend, one Kennard calls an “aberration”.
But he came out “after a four-day freshener” and blew his opponent of the track on the undercard. It was enough to convince Rasmussen.
And for Kennard, there was a lot of hesitation about going to $85,000 to buy the colt at the 2017 Christchurch yearling sale, having bought and raced his illustrious but injury-plagued older brother, Ultimate Machete.
“There was lots of doubt. I’ve never really gone for the full brother of one we’ve raced before.
“But we kept going back to him. We liked him and knew he was a different type of horse to Machete.
“We were looking for a reason not to buy him, but Mark and Nat went over him and the decision was made when we got outbid on another horse earlier in the sale.
“Phil Creighton, who is in the horse, tried to talk us out of it, but eventually came back and said he was on board.”
Two flip of the coin decisions, both went their way. The pay off? A champion confirmed and history made.