Cullen stars as Self Assured takes Easter Cup
By Jonny Turner
Self Assured gave punters the smoothest of rides when confirming his status as New Zealand’s best pacer when speeding to victory in the Easter Cup at Addington on Saturday night.
In a repeat of this season’s New Zealand Cup finish the five-year-old filled the quinella with Spankem to set up a Hayden Cullen trained trifecta in the Group 1 3200m feature.
The comfortable watch for Self Assured’s backers came after he found the lead for driver Mark Purdon in the middle stages and then outsprinted his rivals with fast closing sectionals.
Incredibly, pulling off the second of two trifectas, completed by Amazing Dream’s third placing, may not have been Cullen’s biggest feat on Saturday.
Because having Self Assured primed to win his Group One staying test with just one 1980m race in the last eight weeks rates right up with them.
“It was probably the perfect race for him the way it panned out,” Cullen said.
“They didn’t go that hard which was probably ideal for him with the way he came into it.”
“When he made the front he was always going to be very hard to catch.”
The only problem Cullen is facing with the Jean Feiss owned Self Assured is what to do beyond next week.
Both the five-year-old and Amazing Dream are scheduled to return to Addington for the Group 2 Superstars Championship.
But beyond that the horse harness racing fans want to see the most may not be going anywhere.
“He will come back to Addington next week for the Superstars but after that there is not really a lot for him,” Cullen said.
“There is the Rangiora Classic later on but not much else, so I am not sure what we will do with him after that.”
“At this stage, Jean is keen to keep him in New Zealand, though that could change.”
“If there are not any more races programmed then the Maurice Holmes Vase (August-September) would just about be the next race we would be targeting.”
Spankem is in a similar position, but Amazing Dream has a clearly defined path with the Taylor Mile, New Zealand Messenger Championship and Harness Jewels on her schedule.
Cullen and Feiss enjoyed more success at Addington when True Fantasy booked her ticket to the Group One Sires Stakes Fillies Championship Final at Alexandra Park when heading a Cullen trifecta in a heat of the series on Saturday night.
“She was very good in her first start, A Bettor You just had the wood on her with her race experience, but she really sharpened up off that run,” Cullen said.
“And she should sharpen up a bit more after tonight as well.”
Cullen completed a spectacular night when Shan Noble and Luke John ran the quinella in a minor event.
Most importantly, the pair put in excellent trials ahead of next week’s New Zealand Derby.
“Shan Noble has done nothing wrong, he didn’t have a hard run and it was probably ideal leading into next week.”
“Luke John just kept finding the line, Tony (Herlihy) drove him last week and said a bit more distance would be right up his alley.”
“He will stay all day.”
Before Cullen took over the former All Stars Stable property it was announced that Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen would be on hand to help the trainer prepare his team for premier meetings.
That was the case ahead of Saturday night’s card and Cullen was quick to praise the champion trainers for helping him enjoy a brilliant night.
“I have to give a lot of thanks to Mark and Natalie, they have been a great help leading into this meeting.”
“It’s pretty incredible that you can call on people of their experience.”
“And they drove the horses brilliantly, as well.”
Cullen also produced the second and third placegetters, Ellaria Sand and Wy Fi, behind emerging star Highgrove in the New Zealand Two-Year-Old Trotting Championship.