Huge interest in the return of Sundees Son and Self Assured

By Michael Guerin

The opening markets may have suggested New Zealand’s two best harness horses were equal chances of winning their respective comeback races at Addington on Friday night but that is not how their drivers see it.

Champion trotter Sundees Son and superstar pacer Self Assured both return in 2600m standing starts at Addington as the intensity of the harness racing season goes up a notch six weeks out from NZ Cup week.

They aren’t the only big names returning as Spankem and South Coast Arden also start new campaigns while already up and racing so therefore hard to beat are other stars like Akuta (three-year-old pace), Muscle Mountain and B D Joe.

Both Sundees Son and Self Assured at multiple group 1 winners at the absolute highest level and TAB bookies opened them each as $2 favourite to win the major trot and pacing races.

But their connections have very different views on their chances.

Sundees Son starts off a 30m backmark in the trot and while his arch rival Muscle Mountain shares that mark with him driver John Dunn says Sundees Son is vulnerable.

“He has only had the one trial and while he is ready to race and well within himself he can’t be at his peak,” says Dunn.

“He will go well but they could trot 3:17-3:18 off the front and that would mean we have to trot 3:14 to win and that is very hard fresh up.

“And then you have Muscle Mountain, who has to be fitter than our horse because he has had a race already.

“If they all step safely I think he is a better chance than us.”

Muscle Mountain’s driver Ben Hope says the giant trotter “worked the best he ever has” last weekend and he has been heavily backed into odds-on favouritism, seeing Sundees Son drift out to $2.30 and likely to start longer.

It is doubtful there will be much drifting for Self Assured when the last-start Auckland Cup winner returns in the Canterbury Classic, the steepest step yet on the path to the IRT New Zealand Cup.

He has impressed in two recent trials and he generally performs to a high standard when fresh and his standing start manners are greatly improved.

But it is the fact the race is a free-for-all and Self Assured starts from barrier two on the front line that makes co-trainer and driver Mark Purdon most confident.

“He has been really good in his trials when he has been starting off a handicaps whereas this week he is back on the front line with horses he gave 40m starts to last week,” says Purdon.

“He will of course improve with the run but I think he can win.”

B D Joe has a fitness edge on Self Assured and the other returnees and he is a high class pacer who will take beating but if the pair are close to each other in the running then Self Assured would be expected to over power the northerner.

Spankem is always a threat while South Coast Arden, who was sensational this time last year, is expected to improve with tonight’s race.

Earlier in the night Akuta should be do tough for his rivals in the Lazarus Stakes, dropping back to three-year-old company after winning the open class Hannon Memorial last start.

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