Rasmussen a near cert to drive South Coast Arden in NZ Cup
By Michael Guerin
Champion big race driver Natalie Rasmussen looks set to partner giant market mover South Coast Arden in next month’s IRT New Zealand Cup.
But while the trainers of several other Auckland harness racing stars are going to be forced to engage new drivers and caretaker trainer for their horses over the crucial next month, South Coast Arden’s trainer Brent Mangos is happy to stay on the sidelines.
Rasmussen partnered South Coast Arden to his come from last win in the $50,000 Canterbury Classic at Addington last Friday, in which he downed Pembrook Playboy and New Zealand Cup defending champion and favourite Self Assured.
That continued on from last season when Rasmussen partnered South Coast Arden to a massive win at the Harness Jewels but Mangos had considered returning to driving his stable star himself this season.
That option was taken away from him for last week’s race as he, like all other trainers in the Auckland region, can’t travel south of the border with their horses so South Coast Arden has been caretaker trained by Rasmussen at the property of her partner Mark Purdon and Hayden Cullen.
But with Aucklanders unlikely to be flying south any time soon Mangos says he is happy for Rasmussen to remain in South Coast Arden’s sulky for his next start and almost certainly for the Cup at Addington on November 9.
“Natalie has been doing a wonderful job with him down there and she will be driving him in his next race on the 15th,” says Mangos.
“And I still don’t know when I will be able to get down there to see him so will remain training him over the phone.
“But I don’t feel any great need to drive him in the lead-up or in the Cup.
“I obviously haven’t been driving much because of the situation up here so if it gets to Cup day and I am training and Natalie driving I am comfortable with that.”
Unless Rasmussen gets suspended it then looks certain the world’s most successful ever big-race harness racing driver will be on South Coast Arden come Cup day.
So impressive was the big horse on Friday he is now rated the $3.20 second favourite for the Cup and with Self Assured at $2.80 and if South Coast Arden beats him again next week he could be the outright favourite for the great race.
“He will go again on the 15th and then we have two options, Ashburton for the Flying Stakes or the Kaikoura Cup if it is held at Addington a week later,” says Mangos.
The famed Kaikoura meeting is in jeopardy because of Covid restrictions that would make it near pointless to hold it at Kaikoura if crowds can’t attend so a decision is expected in the next week on whether it is staged there or Addington.
If it is the latter then Mangos’s preference is for South Coast Arden to start in the Kaikoura Cup rather than at Ashburton.
Another Jewels-winning northern star heading to Addington for the October 15 meeting is Bolt For Brilliance and the outstanding trotter will also need a new driver with trainer Tony Herlihy unable to travel.
“I will send him south next weekend at this stage and he can stay with Jimmy Curtin who will also more than likely drive him on the 15th,” says Herlihy.
“I would be happy for him to go to the Flying Mile at Ashburton 10 days after that if all is going well and obviously I’d like to get down there myself at some stage but I am lucky that Jimmy knows the horse really well.”
The path to the Cup for northern open class pacers who have remained home starts with the $25,000 Spring Cup at Alexandra Park on Friday, with Copy That sure to be warm favourite after drawing almost ideally near the outside of the front line in the 2200m standing start.
The field has drawn a healthy 10 starters which suggests the northern horses should get two open class races this month, especially as the extended travel restrictions out of Auckland mean any horses sent south in the next few weeks are likely to have to go without their trainers.