Handicaps to suit Self Assured
By Jonny Turner
The spotlight will shift from New Zealand Cup favourite Spankem to arguably New Zealand’s most exciting pacer when Self Assured returns to racing at Addington on Friday night.
The unbeaten sensational will have his first spring start for trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen following a stunning Australian winter campaign where he announced himself as the next big name in Australasian harness racing.
Stunning bursts of speed and downing hardened open class opposition, while having less than half a dozen starts to his name, should leave punters with no doubts about Self Assured’s class heading in to his resumption against in a 2600m handicap.
The only lingering doubts his backers, who have taken the horse’s $2 odds, should fall in to two categories.
The first and most crucial factor Self Assured must overcome is giving away a race fitness advantage to a classy line up of rivals.
The Bettor’s Delight star has had just one trial to be prepared for his resumption.
“Ideally, it would have been nice to have another trial,” Purdon said.
“He is probably 85-90% right going in to this race.”
“But with the way the handicaps have fallen it is an advantage to him.”
Secondly, the 4-year-old must negotiate his first standing start.
Given the tractability Self Assured showed to powerfully extract himself from some tight quarters in his Australian campaign, it would appear the horse has the race sense to negotiate his front mark.
“He did have a standing start at the trials and Nat got him away safely there, but it will be different on Friday night,” Purdon said.
“If he can just take those first few steps away in a pace he will be right.”
Self Assured’s return has created a curious scenario where the powerful All Stars stable will step out arguably their most extraordinary horse not only without Purdon or Rasmussen in the sulky, but with them driving rival horses.
Purdon will continue to oversee New Zealand Cup favourite’s preparation by driving Spankem (30m).
Rasmussen will pair with spring head-scratcher, Ultimate Sniper (10m), who will be looking to bounce back from an ordinary last start performance.
Stable reinsman Tim Williams will continue his association with Another Masterpiece (front), leaving Blair Orange to step in to the sulky behind Self Assured.
Like his star stablemate, Spankem is also facing a new scenario in Friday night’s 2600m event.
The 5yr-old has dominated his New Zealand Cup bound rivals by beginning quickly and settling handy to the pace to win the Hannon Memorial and Canterbury Classic in his last two starts.
The Miracle Mile winner is almost certain to settle much further off the speed when starting from the 30m handicap on Friday.
“It is only a small field, but he is not going to be far off them when the horses settle in two lines,” Purdon said.
“Starting off that handicap won’t do him any harm because he is still on the way up and it will obviously be a harder race than he has had in the last couple of starts."
The powerful All Stars quartet of runners in the race take on just three outside opponents.
Robert Dunn’s New Zealand Cup hopefuls Classie Brigade (20m) and Henry Hubert (10m) will line up in the event alongside outsider Nandolo (front).
The All Stars have an even bigger team contesting Friday night’s Sires Stakes Series heat at Addington.
Last season’s leading male 2yr-old pacer One Change heads a five strong attack Purdon and Rasmussen have on the race.
One Change looked ready to resume in a strong workout win at Rangiora recently.
The 3yr-old upped his game after producing two quiet trial runs to beat race rival and stablemate Italian Lad by three-quarters of a length.
“We're very happy with him, he's needed those trials to get himself to fitness and his last workout was very good,” Purdon said.
“So, I’m picking him to go well.”
Italian Lad will have his second race start on Friday night after turning heads with a brilliant track record breaking debut at Oamaru last month.
The 3yr-old was scratched from an earlier heat of the Sires Stakes Series due to a minor complaint, but looked over that when chasing One Change home at the workouts.
The All Stars stable also start Flying Even Bettor, Pur Dan and Virgil in the 1980m event.
Purdon and Rasmussen start a total of 16 horses at the Addington meeting including their star trotter Oscar Bonavena.
The 4yr-old looks set to reaffirm his Dominion favouritism in a 1980m free-for-all.