2008 Pacers Series
Melbourne, Vic

2008 Watpac Inter Dominion Pacing Championship Final  $750,000
Heats:  16 February  (Geelong)
Semi-Finals:, 23 February 2008 (Moonee Valley)
Final:  1 March 2008

Queensland’s Blacks A Fake raced into harness racing immortality on Saturday night winning the 2008 Watpac Inter Dominion Pacers Championship to be only the second horse in history to achieve three successive titles, creating euphoric scenes Moonee Valley has not seen in years. 

A crowd of almost 12,500 gave horse and trainer-driver Natalie Rasmussen in beating Divisive (Peter Rixon) and Smoken Up NZ (Lance Justice), a reception reserved only for the true champions of the sport, highlighting a night of atmosphere and theatre rarely seen in harness racing in modern times.  

The only previous pacer to win this race three times was Our Sir Vancelot NZ. This NSW pacer took 62 starts to win its first title. Blacks A Fake has won its three successive championships all within 53 starts – suggesting this lightly raced 7YO gelding will be darn hard to keep out when the Watpac 2009 series is held in its own backyard at Brisbane’s Albion Park. 

In the build-up to Saturday’s Final, it had seemed almost as though rival drivers were half expecting to see the pressure finally get to the blonde-haired trainer-driver who day or night is never far from the side of her champion.  

Sent out an even-money favourite, she stood up tall and showed nerves of steel, producing a gem of a drive.  However, in knowing she was steering a Rolls Royce probably would boost a driver’s confidence.  She said after the race how she had never had her horse in such peak form as he was for this challenge. 


The big talking point from a tactical view after the event was the usually aggressive Lance Justice (Smoken Up NZ) handing over the front to the favourite when Safari (Brian Gath) attempted to take over the ‘death’ inside the first lap. Blacks A Fake was quickly dashed to the lead. 

Rasmussen obviously had had enough of becoming involved with Gath when Safari had controversially beaten them in the recent Ballarat Cup. 

Justice admitted after the race how he’d made an on-the-spot error of judgement. “If you re-run the race over again, there is no way I would be handing up again to Blacks A Fake,” he said defiantly. 

It was Smoken Up NZ’s handling of the last bend under pressure at Moonee Valley that might well have cost Divisive a winning chance.  From the pole, Rixon had driven his pacer for luck, three back along the pegs.  On that last corner, they were dragged back by Smoken Up NZ at a time when the NSW gelding had to be off and running to have won. 

Divisive flashed home to finish just two metres from the winner in an eye-catching performance at a time when Blacks A Fake was less than two metres off setting a new track record for Moonee Valley over the distance of 2575m.  Divisive seems to be the one horse from the beaten brigade you can expect to be an even better horse in the 2009 Watpac Inter Dominion when it will then be a 6YO.

The winner showed it had all the characteristics of a great horse that can inspire interest and affection from far and wide. 

Bruce McAvaney, who first cut his teeth as a trotting caller in Adelaide long before becoming the famous sports caller he is today on television was there, quick to claim the race and the remarkable reception accorded after it, as being right up with the best sporting moments he had witnessed around the world. 

John Russell, who called Melbourne harness racing from 1960 until 1976 when moving to concentrate on calling the gallopers in Melbourne, made his first return in years to a harness meeting.  He said he was most impressed with the atmosphere of the whole night, a real credit to today’s harness racing. 

One should not even try comparing the night with the best Inter of them all, that 1985 night when more than 40,000 saw Preux Chevalier and Scotch Notch win the pacing and the trotting finals.  However, HRV can take credit for its promotion of the entire night’s racing.  

Chief Executive of HRV, John Anderson, predicted the total betting turnover of the three nights of the Watpac Series will top $7 million, with more than $3 million of this likely to have been on Saturday night. 

Safari (fourth) from its draw off the outside of the second line ran its usual big race. Brian Gath again drove aggressively in sweeping around the field soon after the start in the hope of going by the favourite, then leading the outside division with Smoken Up NZ the race leader.  But Natalie Rasmussen would have none of that, taking her horse straight to the front. 

Each time Gath attempted to go up on the outside and eye-ball Blacks A Fake, Rasmussen allowed the favourite more rein in an already fast run race, reversing the tactics which had seen Safari out-muscle the Queensland star in the Ballarat Cup. 

Two Victorian pacers to turn in the race of their lives were Sequoiahs Spirit NZ (Daryl Douglas) and Karlsruhe (David Aiken).  Though seemingly not in the class of the first four pacers to finish, both would not need to improve much next season to be good players on the Barastoc Pacers Grand Circuit. 

Report For Duty NZ (Anthony Butt), the lone New Zealand-owned and trained horse in the field, was never a chance buried back in the ruck but can be expected to improve with the experience of this Victorian campaign. 

Meanwhile, Miss Rasmussen, whose 31st birthday followed on the Monday after winning the Watpac Final for 2008, has dismissed any suggestion of taking her horse to race in North America.  She explained her immediate plans for the future would be concentrating on Brisbane next March, with a trip to the New Zealand Cup in November being a possible option along the way. 

She set here rivals a daunting task by reeling off the last mile in 1:55.3, with quarters of 29.09 seconds, followed by 29.78, 27.72 and 28.73.  The winning trainer-driver later explained how Blacks A Fake, when near his best, is always capable of churning out fast quarters like that in races!  

The dimension of the siring deeds of the incredible and deceased stallion Fake Left USA has stretched on.  His three representatives in the Watpac Final were Blacks A Fake (first), Safari (fourth) and Robin Hood (tenth).  

Natalie’s mother Cheryl Rasmussen races the horse in partnership with Trevor Titcomb and Helen Pointer. As with her previous visits to Melbourne, she and her horse stayed at Melton at the stables of local horseman Clinton Welsh.   


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