Smolda primed for Inter Dominion final

Natalie Rasmussen has high hopes for Smolda despite his long injury-enforced spell. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN
Natalie Rasmussen has high hopes for Smolda despite his long injury-enforced spell. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN


She's won four Inter Dominions herself and Natalie Rasmussen can see plenty of the key ingredients in Smolda, the "little baby" who shapes as the wildcard in tomorrow's $750,000 grand final.

Having trained and driven Blacks A Fake to four Inter Dominion successes between 2006-10, Rasmussen has played a key role in the preparation of Smolda, listed under the care of her partner Mark Purdon.

Smolda stormed to a close-up second behind Terror To Love in a farcically run New Zealand qualifier a fortnight ago and will have only his third run back from a near year-long spell in the unforgiving Inter Dominion.

"He didn't have any issues when he went out and we did it more as a precautionary thing," Rasmussen said. "We got a couple of little chips out of his joint. He was like a little baby, but we wanted to look after him and wanted him to be the best he can be.

"We really like him and he's a very good horse, but still a little green compared to some of these. He hasn't had the racing some of these have had, but on raw ability he's probably as good as any of them."

That's an ominous sign for Smolda's rivals, who will be hoping to force Purdon into a torrid run from a wide draw (barrier eight).

What won't be an issue for Purdon and Rasmussen is the five-year-old's near flawless record at Menangle. Smolda won both a heat and final in the NSW Derby two years ago before completing the Kiwi quinella behind Christen Me in the Chariots Of Fire last year.

"He's a big horse and he can get on a knee a little bit so a big track suits him," Rasmussen said. "It's going to be an awkward draw for Mark. He's going to have to come off the gate and see where they're all going and then make his move. It's not a race you want to be sitting last in."

The Kiwi is likely to have a couple of Australian supporters, too, as the equine ambassador for Children's Cancer Institute Australia. Smolda's part-owner Marcus Kirkwood and his wife Sharon lost their son Tom to a brain tumour in 2009 and have since raised more than $800,000 for the institute.

"Fellow owners Neil Pilcher and Phillip and Glenys Kennard embraced it and Mark and his partner Natalie Rasmussen willingly adopted the idea and proudly wear the colours; maybe it is some Anzac spirit," Kirkwood said.

"While the royal blue and silver grey colours are highly visible, slightly less obvious are the words around the cuffs of the sleeve: they read 'Our Mate Tom', so Tom will be there on Inter Dominion day."

Smolda and Ladyship Mile favourite Adore Me arrived in Australia on Thursday, with Rasmussen looking after and set to drive NSW Oaks hopeful My Willow along with NSW Derby contender Isaiah.

"She [My Willow] was in season last week so hopefully this week she's a whole lot better," Rasmussen said.

"Just on ability I do think Willow is as good as any of them so she'll be driven accordingly.

"[Isaiah] really badly needed the run. He's awful first-up, a bit better second-up and usually right to go at his third start."


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