Racing: Rasmussen at the double

By Michael Guerin

Although she is just as happy training winners, horsewoman shows her driving skills.

Isaiah is all alone winning the Sales Series Pace at Alexandra Park yesterday.Picture / Natalie Slade
Isaiah is all alone winning the Sales Series Pace at Alexandra Park yesterday.Picture / Natalie Slade

The Queen of the Track is adamant she would be just as happy watching the huge-money races she was winning at Alexandra Park yesterday.

That is the honest view of Natalie Rasmussen, who partnered Willow and Isaiah to win $410,000 worth of races in 40 minutes yesterday, doubling as the co-trainer of the pair with her partner Mark Purdon.

The drives were polar opposites; Rasmussen patience personified with Willow in the $160,000 Sires' Stakes Championship, while she was brutally aggressive with Isaiah, blasting to the lead and never looking back in the $250,000 Sales Series Pace.

While the double is unparalleled for a female driver in the history of New Zealand harness racing, Rasmussen says she would be just as happy gearing up the winners back in the stable.

"As long as everything is done right back here [in the stables], I don't care who drives them," the 36-year-old said.

"Mark and Blair [Orange] are great drivers and it has just been a case of me being on these horses earlier in the season and sticking with them.

"But I am a perfectionist and the work around the stables with the horses means just as much to me."

It helps that Rasmussen has been in a position no female driver, or jockey for that matter, would have been in before, as the regular raceday partner of a true racing legend.

She trained and drove Blacks A Fake, arguably Australia's greatest-ever pacer and the winner of four Inter Dominion Finals and unlucky not to win another.

"After the highs of driving Blackie, you realise you will never get to quite that level again.

"So now I am matter-of-fact about driving. What gives me the buzz is winning a good race for the owners."

Willow looks certain to head to Rasmussen's native Australia later in the season after remaining unbeaten in four starts when divebombing a brave Raksdeal in a Sires' Stakes that saw most of the favourites off the bit a long way from home.

Willow is owned in Victoria so will probably head there for the classics later in the season as part of a smorgasbord of 3-year-old fillies' riches.

One of her owners, Jean Feiss, had an unusual reason for not seeing Willow's win - she was driving a team of Huskies in the snow somewhere in Scandinavia.

But the story of John Magness, a part owner of Isaiah, was just as unusual and even more fun.

The long-time harness racing sponsor was so busy at his well-known appliance store in Greenlane he couldn't get away to the races, so watched the Sales Series Pace at the television at work.

"When he won I couldn't believe it. I jumped in the car and still made it here for the presentation," said Magness, resplendent in shorts and sandals in the winners' circle.

Isaiah won the race at the start, getting the drop on hot favourite Locharburn, who was then forced to come from the one-one for a gutsy second, but the winner's relentless style left few excuses for his rivals.

It now leaves Purdon and Rasmussen needing to sit down with a large piece of paper in the next few weeks and plan where their army of stars goes.

While Willow can contest the Northern Oaks in March, she or one of her stablemates could easily head to the A$200,000 ($217,000) NSW Oaks a week later.

The same goes for Isaiah and Alleluia, or any of this strong crop of 3-year-old male pacers.

They could pop over to Victoria for the Derby at Melton on February 1 and then come home for the Victoria Derby, a double Ohoka Punter completed last season, or head to Menangle for the NSW Derby.

It is a nice problem to have and in Purdon's case, at least he knows he has a champion trainer and ace driver as a partner to send along for the trip.

Natalie's dream double

* Natalie Rasmussen drives Willow and Isaiah to a huge Alexandra Park double.
* She completed the richest double ever by a female driver in New Zealand.
* Tony Herlihy wins the National Trot with Irish Whisper.
* The day was full of red hot times and on-pace winners.

- NZ Herald

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