Tactics key to Self Assured's Messenger victory

By Michael Guerin

Natalie Rasmussen’s pre-race plan for the NZ Messenger went out the window in a matter of seconds at Alexandra Park on Friday night and she loved every minute of it.

Rasmussen was initially disappointed when Self Assured drew outside Copy That, expecting the favourite to lead.

She was right about that but what few expected was how hard Copy That had to burn to get past Kango early. It wasn’t severe by any means but it was enough.

As Blair Orange tried to come up for air after just 800m on the favourite, Rasmussen made her move and in another rare moment Orange chose to hand up when in front on Copy That.

“Just when they had to go that hard early I thought Blair would struggle to fight off another attack if it came early enough, so I made up my mind and just went,” says the champion Group 1 driver.

It proved to be the winning of the race as Self Assured wrested that lead and was able to get away with farcical middle sectionals before John Dunn, on Smiffys Terror, decided to make his own split-second from last to put at least some pressure on Self Assured at the 600m.

But that challenge was short-lived as Self Assured powered over the last 800m in 53.9 seconds, meaning Copy That and the very brave Better Eclipse simply couldn’t catch him.

Copy That was good without being brilliant in second and in reality, his early burn and gutbuster in the first 400m of last week’s Taylor Mile may have played into his defeat, and Orange’s tactics, as much as anything that happened last night.

“I had gone just hard enough and had been driving him hard lately so when Natalie came I had to make a choice,” said Orange.

“I realised she wasn’t just going to sit there and I don’t want to drive him hard every week.

“I thought he did a good job with the fast last 400m to make the ground he did so he has gone well.”

Better Eclipse will leave New Zealand with his connections feeling “what if” as he has had no luck in all three starts but the trip could be the making of him.

Friday night’s other Group 1 saw Muscle Mountain lead throughout the Peter Breckon Memorial National Trot and win as expected, albeit chased hard late by trailing outside Resolve.

“He shut off a little bit near the line but that is just him,” said co-trainer Greg Hope.

“I am sure once he saw the other horse coming he would have gone again.”

Hope says with Muscle Mountain getting fired up in the middle stages he is now considering letting him miss the Anzac Cup a week before the Rowe Cup on May 26.

“I don’t think he needs a 2200m stand off 20m the week before the Rowe Cup so while I haven’t spoken to Ian (Dobson, owner) about it yet I think we might go straight into the Rowe Cup.”

Friday’s other feature saw co-trainer Dylan Ferguson record the biggest win of his training career when Lovemeto led throughout in the NZSB Harness Million Trot.

Ferguson and senior training partner Graeme Rogerson set the three-year-old for the $75,000 trot and their plan came off brilliantly, giving Rogerson a remarkable three-year-old double of the NZ Derby for thoroughbreds and one of our biggest three-year-old trotting races inside two months.

“Graeme has been such a big supporter of mine and I couldn’t be in this position without his support obviously,” said Ferguson.

“But I am lucky to have great staff and my family behind me so it is a big team effort.”

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