When you have a superstar four-year-old and five-year-old from the same stable clashing, which one do you back?
Easy: the fitter one.
Which is why champion trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen opt for Border Control over Smolda in tonight’s $25,000 Summer Cup at Addington tonight.
The pair have remarkably similar records, both Derby winners who went on to win the Jewels later in their three-year-old season in record time.
They were also both purchased in Australia and have raced well there, confirming they have the blend of speed and toughness needed to make it big in a rapidly-changing pacing world.
But the huge different between them tonight is Border Control just last week paced the fastest official last 800m ever at Addington with a 53.9-second sectional, while Smolda hasn’t raced since last March because of injury.
“That will be the difference,” suggested Rasmussen.
“Smolda is a total class act and I was thrilled with his trial last week and usually I would say he is ready to win.
“But Border Control is fitter and that is a big deal, especially in the last 100m of a race like this.
“So while it is hard to split them I’d say Border Control has the advantage.”
The stablemates are using tonight’s race to prepare for a Sydney campaign, with Border Control aimed at the Chariots Of Fire and Smolda possibly heading to the Inter Dominions, depending on tonight’s first stepping stone.
They could be joined there by unbeaten filly Willow, who will bypass the Northern Oaks in favour of the NSW Oaks.
Also on the plane to Sydney will be Adore Me, who barring accidents will continue her complete domination of the mares ranks in tonight’s $100,000 Breeders Stakes.
With Bettor Cover Lover retired there isn’t a mare in the country who can challenge Adore Me and drawn four tonight should simply stroll to the front and win by around three lengths, with the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile on March 2 her next assignment.
Tonight’s richest race is the $175,000 Sales Series Fillies Final, which looks perfect for Ideal Belle.
She is already the national 1700m record holder and was second in a rapidly-run 2200m at Alexandra Park last Friday beating home some of our best male three-year-olds.
She has the gate speed to use barrier two and, as good as Venus Serena is, if Ideal Belle leads it will take something exceptional to beat her.
As hot as those three races are, the highlight of the night may come from the trotters, where Master Lavros, Royal Aspirations and Habibti face wide draws and some slick opponents over 1950m.
Master Lavros cost punters a fortune when he galloped after hanging last Friday while Habibti wasn’t herself doing the same at Cambridge on December 24.
So they will need to be screwed down and in the zone tonight as Royal Aspirations has blazing gate speed while there are plenty of others who will keep the pace on in what could be a crucial race in deciding whether Master Lavros and/or Habibti take up their invitations to the A$200,000 Glenferrie Challenge Trot in Sydney on March 2.
By Michael Guerin (Harness Racing New Zealand)