Rasmussen to drive Self Assured in Auckland Cup

By Michael Guerin

The sulky-go-round leading into Friday’s $400,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup has stopped with Natalie Rasmussen to now drive hot favourite Self Assured.

And that puts the great race’s most successful ever driver Tony Herlihy on Spankem, the horse Rasmussen herself drove to finish second the last time the Cup was run.

The Cup, Auckland harness racing’s biggest prize, will have its first May running this Friday as the final feature of a huge autumn after Harness Racing New Zealand radically altered the feature-race calendar.

The change from New Year’s Eve means no Cup was held last year so the last time the 3200m Group 1 was staged was New Year’s Eve in 2020, when Amazing Dream grabbed stablemate Spankem, driven by Rasmussen, on the line with Copy That third.

Rasmussen has been the regular driver of Spankem this season and won the Taylor Mile on him two starts ago but with partner Mark Purdon suspended and unable to drive the hot favourite on Friday, Rasmussen has made the tough but logical decision.

She has only won one Auckland Cup before, with Vincent in 2017 but has finished second not only on Spankem in 2020 but also the year before on Thefixer.

Rasmussen will find herself $1.40 to win it again on Friday with Self Assured showing no signs of his long campaign tiring him when he overcame a 20m handicap to win the Roy Purdon Memorial on Friday night, a victory that understandably meant so much to Mark Purdon, with the race named in honour of his late father.

“I meant a lot and especially to win it with a really good horse on Dad’s home track,” says Purdon.

Self Assured stepped away so quickly last Friday it eased any fears Purdon had about him returning to standing starts after a prolonged diet of mobile racing.

He will have to repeat those manners starting in a slightly more crowded environment this Friday, with only nine starters and three of them just behind the front line on the unruly, Self Assured could hardly have drawn better at barrier six, the outside of those horses standing up to the tapes.

Rasmussen’s choice means Herlihy will partner Spankem for the fourth time, having driven him three times as a three-year-old for three placings.

While that is hardly an enviable strike rate Herlihy’s Auckland Cup record is remarkable, having won the race eight times, dating back to Comedy Lad in 1986.

His other Auckland Cup winners are Luxury Liner (1987, 88), Christopher Vance (1991), Chokin (1993, 94), Sharp And Telford (1996) and Gotta Go Cullen (2008). Peter Wolfenden and Mark Purdon have both driven six Auckland Cup winners.

The Cup has attracted nine starters for Friday with the only expected entry not there being Hot And Treacherous.

The last-start Flying Mile winner at Cambridge has a pulled muscle which rules him out of the race and he will now head to the spelling paddock after a very progressive summer and autumn that has firmly established him as an open class force.

The $250,000 Rowe Cup, also later than usual this year as it is usually held in the first week of May, is also on Friday night and has drawn eight starters.

Betting will be dominated by Sundees Son who will be red hot to make it a treble in the race after winning it in 2019 and last year, with the Rowe not held in 2020 as racing was halted for over two months because of Covid.

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