Purdons quinella Auckland Cup as Akuta upsets Self Assured

By Michael Guerin

Rarely do big races that go so wrong end as right as the Auckland Cup did for the All Stars at Alexandra Park on Friday night.

Our greatest stable, under its latest version of father and son trainers Mark and Nathan Purdon, quinellaed the iconic race with Akuta and Self Assured, the pair holding out the surprise late charge of Smiffys Terror, with Copy That a fighting fourth.

Akuta was in danger of even missing the Cup when he was forced out of the final lead-up, the Roy Purdon Memorial, just seven days before with a hoof abscess.

While he recovered quickly few of our great Cup winners ever turn that level of setback around a week out from the big race, especially challenging for Akuta since hadn’t raced for a month before that and had also missed the Messenger.

So still only a four-year-old he beat our best pacers over 3200m in 4:0.5 without a lead-up race five weeks.

“He is just a wonderful horse, he has been a very good horse all along,” said Mark Purdon, who was driving his seventh Auckland Cup winner.

There was jocular disappointment when Purdon discovered contrary to what he had been told on course, he hadn’t actually caught up to brother-in-law Tony Herlihy, who has driven eight Auckland Cup winners.

“They said I had equalled Tony?,” asked Purdon.

“But I haven’t? Oh, ok.”

Purdon does have 11 Cup wins as a trainer now with no end in sight though as we may yet to have seen the best from Akuta, who now joins Christian Cullen, Mainland Banner and Gotta Go Cullen as winners of one of our two biggest Cups for owner Ian Dobson.

Akuta is only half way through his four-year-old season and if he isn’t the best pacer in the country now his age would suggest he will eventually take over from Copy That and Self Assured.

The latter was the second half of the stable quinella and as good as the winner was to overcome his interrupted preparation, Self Assured's performance was one of the best, if not the best, of his career.

He was crossed early and only just lost a race to get off the markers to Kango, who then pressed on to lead.

Natalie Rasmussen driving Self Assured sent him forward for a lead dig and another brief one and when she lost both she eased him back to four back the markers.

He later found the one-one and loomed up to win at the top of the straight before Akuta, who followed him from the bell peeled off his back to beat him.

Very, very few horses ever lose a serious lead dig, get dragged back and then are still a factor at the end of Auckland Cups so Self Assured’s effort was that of a true racing warrior, capping an autumn in which he has suffered more defeats that victories but never raced better.

He and Akuta will head to the paddock while Copy That could head to Queensland as we all catch our breath and try and work out just who is the best pacer in the country and look forward to a special New Zealand Cup in November.

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