Self Assured primed for huge run in The Race
By Michael Guerin
Champion trainer Mark Purdon thinks he has solved the problem that has robbed Self Assured of champion status in time for tonight’s $900,000 The Race at Cambridge.
The best pacer in the new slot race has got the worst draw but the greatest trainer, making for some interesting mental calculations for punters wanting to back him.
Harness racing is being dominated like never before by horses racing on the marker pegs, with the speeds the elite horses run and their increased fitness levels meaning those back or wide struggle to keep up with, let alone run past, the leaders.
That could be exaggerated at Cambridge tonight as the 1000m track tends to favour leaders and the 2200m will whizz by for nine fit pacers at this level. All of which could be enough to dent punter confidence in Self Assured, who looks certain to pull back to close to last early as the Trans Tasman fireworks play out.
That raises the very real possibility Self Assured could have to work forward in the middle stages to sit parked, never easy for any horse at this level but something which has proven to be his Achilles heel.
Self Assured has already won an Auckland and New Zealand Cup but in the 16 starts since that career-defining victory he has won nine times and been beaten seven, stats which don’t earn you champion status.
Those defeats have all come when he was off the speed or parked, the latest two when he loomed up from parked to run past South Coast Arden but exhaled close to the line and gave victory away.
South Coast Arden could well be in front tonight and that same scenario could unfold but Purdon has revealed why he thinks Self Assured threw those races away and how he has solved it.
“I think he has had a very slight respiratory problem on and off for the last year and that is why he hasn’t found the line a couple of times,” says Purdon.
“He has still gone huge races but that problem has affected him and it has often been caused by dust, which isn’t an issue this week.
“It is not a bleeding issue, just a breathing one, and we have worked on it and are able to treat him for it now but we have to stop five days out from a race and I think we are on top of it.”
On top of it enough that is Self Assured has to do the most work tonight he can still win?
“I think so. I think he is in a really, really good place and I don’t think I have had him better,” says Purdon.
“He is as good, if not better, than when he won the Cup 18 months ago.”
With Purdon reiterating stablemate Spankem won’t be looking for the early lead any one of Alta Orlando, whose connections have declared they want him to stay in front, South Coast Arden or Mach Dan could end up leading.
But here is where the other difference between Self Assured’s defeats of the last year and tonight’s race may play out.
In his seven defeats since he won the Cup, Self Assured has five times had to bow to a rival who got an easy lead or passing lane trail. With the mix of Aussie bravado and so much gate speed, there looks certain to be pressure for the first 600m tonight and that should leave the eventual leader more vulnerable.
From there Self Assured will have options most of his rivals don’t: swooping as he did to win at Alexandra Park last start of sitting parked from the bell and, with his respiratory issue under control, stamping his authority on The Race.
It won’t be easy, especially if South Coast Arden is in front, from where he has recorded six of his seven wins in the last year.
But Purdon’s horses are even more scary when he has been one-on-one with them, honing and tweaking, and Self Assured has been feeling that love. Which means whatever unfolds in the first ever running of The Race, he is the horse to beat.
Who wins The Race?
1: Self Assured
2: South Coast Arden
3: Alta Orlando.