First Reinswoman to Win an Inter Dominion Championship
Winner of Three Successive Inter Dominion Championships
First Reinsperson to Win Four ID Championships with the same horse
Natalie Clair Rasmussen at thirty years of age in 2008 is the youngest person and the only female to be eligible for entry in the Inter Dominion Hall of Fame. Her third Grand Final win in 2008 confirmed her leading role in a growing Australian wide group of talented female drivers who may possibly become eligible themselves in the years to come.
She was formally inducted into the Hall of Fame in March 2009 by fellow awardee Brian Hancock who paid tribute to Natalie's accomplishments at a luncheon on the eve of the 2009 event. Her top level achievements have also been formally recognized with two inter dominion related honours – a Special Recognition Award (2006) and the "Brian Hancock" Distinguished Service Award (2009), both celebrating her personal success and her major contribution to harness racing.
Born in Townsville in Far North Queensland (FNQ) in 1977, Natalie is one of three sisters born to Victor and Cheryl Rasmussen – all three being excellent horsewomen having grown up in a successful working racing stable conducted by their father. Her sisters Kylie (KM b1974) and Vicki (VL b1978) have also been through the same tough learning curve with differing degrees of success, and each having contributed to the achievements of each other.
Victor Rasmussen, a carpenter by trade, and born in 1946 in Fitzroy, Victoria, became interested in harness horses at Cranbourne, before he moved over 3000 km to Townsville in 1974 taking several pacers with him. These provided a starting point for inclusion in the isolated harness racing communities at Townsville and Charters Towers.
1974 was a big year for Vic Rasmussen – not only did he make a trip of a lifetime but his pacers were successful at the local tracks and he married local girl Cheryl Street. With 335 winners at raceways in FNQ, his best season was 1978/79 when he drove 83 winners to finish 6th on the Australian List of Leading Drivers of Winners.
Strangely, for such a far flung isolated region, a competing driver Bill (W) Dixon was also building his name and reputation in the same area and in the same period as Rasmussen. Dixon recorded three successive century seasons, and was Australia's Leading Driver in 1977/78 with 153 ½ winning drives. The efforts of Rasmussen and Dixon are all the more meritorious when it is remembered they only had opportunities to race at weekends and on public holidays.
In typical Australian fashion, Bill Dixon's son Grant (GW), born in 1974, followed his father into racing and also became a driving legend 30 years later. In a similar timeframe, Grant and Natalie re–united in the far south eastern corner of Queensland to establish a training and personal relationship that linked the Rasmussen/Dixon families.
In November 1980 the Rasmussen family moved south to Rosewood, a small town 60 km west of Brisbane between Ipswich and Toowoomba on the northern fringe of the Darling Downs and fairly close to the Gold Coast. This was near some of the larger Queensland stud farms and the Rasmussens became well known to studmasters and their clients. Over time the Pointer family, Trevor Titcombe, and Keith Wall among many others became valued stable clients.
At this time the girls Kylie (6), Natalie (3) and Vicki (2) were attending school at Rosewood and as they grew older they were given tuition by their father in the tending and handling of the Rasmussen large but not fast stable of horses.
Travelling to weekly race meetings at Gold Coast, Rocklea, Toowoomba and also to regular Sunday afternoon gymkhanas and sports meetings at nearby Marburg Showgrounds the family became well known to other harness racing participants in south east Queensland.
In their 18 years at Rosewood Vic Rasmussen occasionally had a pacer good enough to race and win at Albion Park in the Metropolitan area and gradually he became recognised as a successful if battling trainer/driver.
1991/92 was a landmark season for the family when eldest daughter Kylie, in her first season as a licenced person, had 55 drives and managed 2 wins and 32 placings.
On 7/12/93 Natalie, following a similar learning curve to her sister, had her first win as a registered driver at the Gold Coast track on Alamo Boy - the first of 9 wins from 91 drives for the season. In the following seasons Natalie drove in 240 and 340 races respectively and represented Queensland in the 1996 Australasian Young Drivers Championship in Western Australia at Harvey, Pinjarra and Gloucester Park tracks.
The youngest Rasmussen daughter Vicki started in an enthusiastic but lower key role, driving in advancement trials. More recently, she has been recording increasing success as a trainer, with sister Kylie being one of her drivers.
In December 1996 Gold Coast Real Estate developer Keith Wall gave Vic Rasmussen the well performed pacer Son Of Pearl to train and race in Queensland.
By then, Son Of Pearl had already won 36 races and $185,917 in prizemoney and was racing in high class Cup and FFA company. The gelding was by a long way the best pacer ever in the Rasmussen stable to that time. Within a year the pacer had won 16 races for Vic Rasmussen including one metro event when driven by his daughter Natalie.
In March 1998 Son Of Pearl and the whole family travelled to Hobart for the Inter Dominion Championship where the gelding performed creditably in his heats but did not qualify for the Grand Final. That was taken by Our Sir Vancelot NZ, in the second of his eventual three consecutive Championship wins. No one then had any inkling that among the interested onlookers was a twenty one year old reinswoman, Natalie Rasmussen, who would 8 years later start to emulate Brian Hancock by winning the first of her four Inter Dominion Championship Series with Blacks A Fake in 2006 in Hobart.
Overall Son Of Pearl P.7,1.56.6 had 109 starts for his three trainers, scoring 50 wins and 34 placings for $392,265; Rasmussen's share was 50 starts, 19 wins and 17 placings for $204,348 in prizemoney, which lifted the repute of the Rasmussen stable to a new level.
In January, 1998, the Rasmussen family and stable moved to Caboolture, a fringe suburb to the north of Brisbane close to the Redcliffe Raceway and nearer to the metropolitan track at Albion Park.
By the end of the 2000 season Natalie had built up a sound record – with drives in 1668 races for 154 wins and 684 placings, gaining $486,113 in prizemoney. She had become an accomplished and experienced young driver, and not only in Queensland. She was training and driving in Victoria from June 1998 to August 1999 and again in February 2000 before returning to Queensland.
But then fate intervened. A serious accident in October 2000 kept her out of the stable and racing for nearly two years – from 14/10/00 to 27/6/02.
According to a newspaper report (Stephen Howell 27/1/08) Natalie said "when I couldn't move, I thought I must be in a bit of bother – one of the horses up the front of the field faltered badly, it was just a big chain reaction, I was at the tail end of it all - I just landed wrong.…the (sacroiliac) ligaments were torn off, chipped. It gives me hell now and again".
The accident now seems to have been a watershed in her life for during her enforced break, changes were afoot. The Dixon family, including Bill and Grant, from Townsville had consolidated their stables south of Brisbane in the Beenleigh area at Alberton. Also, three young pacers arrived at her father's stable from Ron Pointer, a partner in the Egmont Park Stud and a successful owner who raced horses trained and driven by his son Trevor at Albion Park and in the Brisbane metro area.
Ron Pointer was in the habit of breeding his mares back to Egmont Park Stud sires which included over time, Land Grant USA, Vanston Hanover USA, Fake Left USA and Perfect Art USA.
The three yearling geldings foaled in 2000 sent to the Rasmussen stable were Blacks A Fake (Fake Left USA-Colada Hanover), Marksplace (Perfect Art USA-Sunset Liquer), and Arts Way (Perfect Art USA–Bessaway). All three were placed in the care of Kylie Rasmussen and Darren Weeks for breaking in whilst Natalie was injured. Blacks A Fake's breaking in process did not reveal any precociousness.
On recovery in June 2002 Natalie found that Blacks A Fake and Marksplace, now in her charge, were perhaps the slowest of that year's new recruits; she went on record to say that it was only the following season as very late two year olds that the pair showed any glimpse of speed in trials. Then, as it turned out, Marksplace did not race until a three year old when he won 5 races and was placed 7 times.
For the balance of her shortened 2001/02 season Natalie competed in 33 races for 5 wins and 7 placings.
She followed up with a strong 2002/03 season, competing in 189 races for 22 wins, 56 placings and $99,781 prizemoney. This included 3 wins and 1 placing from 4 starts by Blacks A Fake in his first racing season; "Blacky" won at his first start by a head in an exceptional 1:58.7 when beating Arkareena driven by Grant Dixon.
Blacks A Fake's early race form surprised the Rasmussen stable for it was only when the gelding first went to the races in his last month as a two year old that his latent ability was shown and justified Natalie's faith in the speed he had shown occasionally in trials. Natalie later said that the gelding could not get it together early on.
Before Blacks A Fake commenced racing Ron Pointer had become seriously ill and began disposing of all his stock. The three geldings at the Rasmussen stable were syndicated within the Pointer and Rasmussen families and stable clients. Ron Pointer, Cheryl Rasmussen and Trevor Titcombe took third shares in Blacks A Fake, with Pointer's share later going to his wife Helen.
As a three year old in 2003/04 Blacks A Fake stepped up several notches to win 7 races from 8 starts for $71,300. This gave Natalie her best results since 1997/98, with $159,745 prizemoney, 28 wins and 47 placings from 175 drives. Her wins included 12 at Albion Park, plus the Qbred Triad Final and the Breeders Classic by Blacks A Fake.
This promising partnership lost momentum in 2004/05, with Blacks A Fake out injured for seventeen months, but Natalie still managed 32 wins and 67 placings.
Natalie took over his training, and it was becoming increasingly evident that Blacks A Fake was going to be the main player in her stable; much was expected of him as a five year old after a year's spell. The gelding did not disappoint the Rasmussens nor his large public following, with each win indicating a champion in the making.
Early season success in 2005/06 included eight consecutive wins by Blacks A Fake at Gold Coast, Redcliffe and three at Albion Park. Natalie decided to try her luck in Victoria again, this time with the very promising Blacks A Fake and Marksplace, arriving in Melbourne in early January 2006. The aim was to work Blacks A Fake down to Inter Dominion Championship standard for the Hobart series and to that end he had been nominated when a very slowly assessed pacer.
Initially, Marksplace won at Kilmore and Yarra Valley, while Blacks A Fake contested three standing start races for two seconds. However, following an ignominious 12th in the $50,000 Moonee Valley Gold Cup, it was realized that much more work would have to be done on "Blackie's" standing start manners, and for a time his races were restricted to mobile starts. Subsequently from the mobile he won at Moonee Valley and then the Terang Cup on 25th February, 2006.
With first Championship heats in Hobart his next start, Blacks A Fake showed the benefit of the cooler weather and the new larger track at Elwick by winning the first and third heats in 1:55.5 and 1:57.6 – to the delight of his followers and trainer/driver Natalie.
The Grand Final prizemoney of $1.5 million was sponsored by Betfair. According to published reports…."Grant Dixon was the real reason Blacks A Fake was nominated… he said we would be in Melbourne anyway, and if he got through to the final 36…he may pickup a cheque". Grant's presience was spot on as the connections received a cheque for $900,000 plus their share of two $60,000 heat wins. The Grand Final plan of Grant Dixon and Natalie not to contest the early lead but to attack when the field had settled down worked perfectly as Blacks A Fake and Natalie were in front after the first circuit and were never seriously challenged thereafter, winning in 1:58.3 over 2579 metres. It was a strong performance, and as fellow trainer John McCarthy said "Natalie…timed his preparation to perfection".
As a five–year-old, Blacks A Fake's seasonal winnings were $1,109,963, with Natalie his only driver. Her winnings were a personal best $1,239,146 from 52 wins and 62 placings in 272 drives. Natalie also set a record in winning the Inter Dominion Championship, being the first female to win the Australasian event in its 70 year history.
In the 2006/07 season it was always going to be whether Blacks A Fake could win a second Inter Dominion Championship. However, in the meantime there were other high prizemoney races in Sydney and Melbourne.
At Harold Park for the 2006 $500,000 Miracle Mile Blacks A Fake was beaten narrowly by another Queenslander Be Good Johnny in 1:54.3 but made amends a week later in the $110,000 Treuer Memorial before moving on to Moonee Valley to win the $325,000 Victoria Cup.
Then came the big test for the trainer/driver/pacer partnership – but "Blackie" could only manage a fifth placing in the first heat of the split Inter Dominion Championship at Moonee Valley. However, a third heat win led to the $500,000 Grand Final at Globe Derby Park in Adelaide and a second successive Championship. As Natalie said: "doing it again...this year was definitely more special".
Despite her busy interstate program with Blacks A Fake, Natalie's seasonal statistics were 410 drives for 68 wins and 134 placings, with $1,044,658; Blacks A Fake contributed $787,595 from 10 wins and 3 placings. During this season "Blackie" also put up his fastest time of 1:54.7 in the Sunshine Sprint at Albion Park on 21/7/07, and was voted Horse of the Year (Queensland).
Season 2007/08 was one for everyone to remember in Queensland. For Natalie and Grant Dixon it meant an enforced hiatus at their Tamborine complex in the far south east of Queensland when the Equine Influenza epidemic completely closed down their stable of fifty horses. They did not drive any of their horses for some three months to the end of November 2007 and Blacks A Fake was nearly the first to contact influenza.
Nevertheless, with the stable at a standstill it enabled the pair to get on with completing their new complex at Tamborine. After several years at Alberton Natalie and Grant had bought the old 62 acre farming and harness racing property of Brad Connolly who had himself carved a little bit of trotting history in his time.
Thanks to Bill Dixon's initiative, a large amount of surplus steel at Brisbane Airport was transformed into an impressive new stable said to be 100 metres by 40 metres, the largest horse complex outside any racecourse in Australia. The complex has an 80 by 15 metres swimming pool for their horses, a weighing machine, a 10 horse walking machine, 28 horse paddocks, and a splendid 900 metre all weather training track.
With the influenza epidemic fading, the stable resumed its progress with the goal to get Blacks A Fake fit enough to be ready for the 2008 Inter Dominion Championship, and a tilt at his third successive title to equal Our Sir Vancelot's record.
Blacks A Fake returned with a win at Albion Park on 24th November 2007 and on the same night a newcomer to Bill Dixon's stable, Good Lookin Girl, also had a start driven by Grant Dixon.
Good Lookin Girl had been a good juvenile performer, winning 16 races for Queensland trainer Luke McCarthy before being transferred to the complex during the influenza epidemic. Natalie took over the mare's driving with great success in 2008. Winning 9 races from 22 starts in Bill Dixon's care Good Lookin Girl won the $100,000 Ladyship Mile (Group 1) at the opening of the new Menangle Park complex on 29/6/08 in 1:53.7.
The Natalie/"Blackie" combination won two of three starts at Albion Park before transferring to Victoria to race in the 2008 Inter Dominion series at Moonee Valley. In the lead-up to that challenge Blacks A Fake won the $50,000 Moonee Valley Cup (Group 2) and the $400,000 AG Hunter Cup (Group 1) in 1:58.9 set off a 30m mark - a new world record time for 3000m.
In the reconstructed 2008 Inter Dominion series Blacks A Fake won a FFA and a semifinal before taking out the $750,000 Grand Final to equal Our Sir Vancelot's record of three successive wins. That win also qualified Natalie for the Hall of Fame. Both finished 2007/08 on a high note – "Blackie" took out not only the national Horse of the Year Award, but also the Queensland and Victorian titles, while Natalie recorded a personal best driving season of over 100 winners, including at least 8 feature race victories. In parallel, Grant Dixon won his first Albion Park and sixth State driving premiership
Driving success continued into 2008/09 with Natalie engaged for many of Bill Dixon's horses, and recording good results early on with several performers, including Prince Humperding , Beckoning NZ and I Am Sam, a six year old gelding from Perfect Art USA. He featured in two closely fought second placings to the American import Mr. Feelgood, and won Group 2/Group 3 races. Blacks A Fake resumed on the track in October 2008 and was unbeaten in his first four appearances, including the Queensland Pacing Championship (his first home-State Grand Circuit victory ) and the Trans Tasman. These landmark wins took his earnings past $3 million, the first Australasian Standardbred to do so.
Natalie's Inter Dominion campaign at the Gold Coast began well, with her trainer/driver skills combining to qualify both pacers Blacks A Fake and I Am Sam for the final, after strong performances in the heats. Blacks A Fake took pole position, and led the way in a speedy race, only to be edged out on the line by Mr Feelgood, denying the Rasmussen/"Blackie" duo a history making fourth consecutive title. However, subsequent successes, including a third win in the Brisbane Winter Cup (Group 1) were some compensation, with Natalie remarking "It's special to win in front of our home crowd".
Other highlights during the season came with Abbey Tiara, Making Magic and Hilton Fly High, though a fetlock injury sent I Am Sam out for a six month break. Overall, her season's Australia-wide results included more than 30 Group or Listed type races, a record $1.7m in prizemoney, and 144 wins – breaking her previous season's fine finish. Another personal best was gained with the first female Queensland Metropolitan Premier Driver award with 58 wins, and she was recognized as State Achiever of the Year. Also notable were husband Grant Dixon's State Drivers' Premiership and Bill Dixon's Leading Trainer awards (state and national) – and Natalie believed "our team will have another big year".
Her prediction for 2009/10 held firm – with both Grant and Bill Dixon repeating their top State driver and trainer achievements, while Natalie won an historic fourth Inter Dominion Pacing Championship with Blacks A Fake. The duo's preparation for the challenge was unchanged – with Natalie skillfully timing "Blackie's" breaks between campaigns. However, patchy results following a Queensland Pacing Championship win tested their resolve, until positive racing early in 2010 confirmed their intentions to participate in the Sydney based Inter Dominion contest.
Opening night was a triumph for Natalie – scoring a running double with both Blacks A Fake and Atomic Ark winning their heats in emphatic fashion, the latter causing a boilover in defeating the defending champion Mr Feelgood. Both progressed to the $1m final, run over 2300m on the new spacious 1400m track at Menangle, with star New Zealand horse Monkey King starting favourite. From a barrier three start, Rasmussen sat three back until a scorching 850m run home, racing three wide, gave Blacks A Fake an amazing win over Monkey King in an individual best and world record time of 1:53.8. Timing, driving skills and instincts combined with tactical judgement and a super pacing performance to create an historical result for horse and trainer/driver.
Rasmussen also won a Group 1 with Maywyn Jasper (3YO C & G Final) in an Australian record 1:52.7, and came second with Western Cam in the ID Pacing Consolation (Group 2) that same night to capture some $562,000 in prizemoney. Not surprisingly, Blacks A Fake was crowned Queensland and National Horse of the Year (2009/2010).
Trainer/driver activities continued for Natalie during 2010/11, with the 80 horses she worked with Grant. Good results came with several, including Abbey Tiara, Mister Commitment, and Marshall Law, while "Blackie" also continued to perform, managing a mystery cardiac arrhythmia episode prior to a consecutive third Gold Coast Cup win, and a cracking second to Smoken Up in the Miracle Mile. However, an electrolyte imbalance followed by a virus in early 2011 interrupted the gelding's preparations for a possible defence of his Inter Dominion title in Christchurch, NZ, and Rasmussen faced a difficult decision whether to take him on his first trip outside Australia. An untimely severe earthquake causing the Championship's transfer to Auckland added further factors to be considered.
Backing her judgement that "he's going well enough to be really competitive", the trainer/driver opted to "give him every possible chance to have his last crack at an Inter Dominion", and they arrived a week ahead of the first heats. With Rasmussen's driving skills guiding him on his first right-handed race track, Blacks A Fake put in improving performances to record 4th and then 2nd placings to qualify for the final. In that contest, Rasmussen combined his great gate speed and barrier two position to take and hold the lead until headed at the half-way mark by the eventual winner, Smoken Up. "Blackie" claimed third place, and set a new record for Finals appearances (6), surpassing the great Caduceus (5). Click here for interview with Natalie prior to the 2011 Inter Dominion. Blacks A Fake was subsequently promoted to second place, following Smoken Up's disqualification.
While her famous favourite horse rested, Natalie was scoring with other contenders, such as Rosa Mach - Australian Pacing Gold 2YO (Group1) final, and Marshall Law – 3YO QBred Colts & Geldings Final. "Blackie" returned mid-year with several wins including the Sunshine Sprint in the lead-up to the Winter Cup at Albion Park (July). He started favourite, but finished a gallant second to Georgetown, in what unexpectedly became his final race in an amazing career. A lap of honour with Rasmussen and a standing ovation from the large crowd farewelled the popular champion whose retirement also brought changes for his trainer/driver.
Natalie finished the 2011 season in the State's top five driver group, and announced plans to transfer to New Zealand to join Mark Purdon in a new venture. This would bring challenges, but she has an adventurous spirit, as demonstrated previously by her taking out a thoroughbred trainer's licence, and having early success with a win by Abu Dhabi Gold.
A comparatively modest year followed, with just 44 starts in New Zealand, but her top driving skills still paid dividends. As lead driver for emerging star pacer O Baby, Natalie captured three Group 1 wins in just three months, on three different tracks (Addington, Cambridge and Albion Park). A successful "raid return" to Queensland in mid 2012 partnering Best Deal Yet brought three straight victories and $111,000 in prize money. She also had an early win in her first experience on the big grass track at Methven (Vi Et Animo).
A similar lower profile in 2012/13 was reflected in her 11 wins, 21 placings and $307,547 from 69 drives (including 3 in Australia) - highlights were partnering Sushi Sushi to win both the Kaikoura Cup and some $95,000 in three months. Her NZ driver ranking did improve, and a formal training partnership with Mark Purdon was announced.
Momentum increased the following season, leading to an NZ record over 50% winning strike rate in the sulky, including multiple Group races such as Caduceus Club Classic (Linda Lovelace (G1), and Sires Stakes Championship (Willow (G1). On New Year's Eve, Natalie's two victories for $410,000 in 40 minutes at Alexandra Park created history for a female driver in NZ harness racing. Another of her favourites (Wanna Play) won the 2YO Trotting Filly award, and the training partnership was ranked first with 157 winners and $3million prizemoney.
Success as both driver and trainer continued through the next three seasons. With an impressive tally of 25 Group 1 wins across NZ (15) and Australia (10), racing on 5 different tracks, Natalie consolidated her top driver reputation, and improved her winning strike rate to set a new NZ benchmark of 67% (2016/17). Strong performances by pacers such as Fight For Glory and Spanish Armada were notable, and the training partnership maintained its premier position.
Natalie's strong professional approach is likely to bring more success. Her personal fitness training regime (8 kilometre run / 6 days a week) plus tailored track work for her horses, pays dividends, as is evident from her outstanding partnership with "Blackie". She applied her skills to take him to ID victories in four different cities (Hobart, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney), and drove him in all but 3 of his career 105 starts, achieving 72 wins and 24 placings, with $4,575,438 prizemoney – virtually half of her total winnings in eighteen years of driving in Australia (1993-2011). Her contribution to the industry was recognized with the 2011 Pearl Kelly award, and it is anticipated that Natalie will continue to enhance her already considerable achievements, as both driver and trainer.
|INTER DOMINION DRIVER WINS RECORD FOR |
** Equine Influenza Epidemic Year
# Includes overseas performances
|GRAND CIRCUIT OR GROUP ONE RACES
DRIVEN AND/OR TRAINED BY NATALIE RASMUSSEN
|INTER DOMINION CHAMPIONSHIP GRAND FINAL
||Blacks A Fake (2006, 2007, 2008, 2010)
DOMINION PACING CHAMPIONSHP HEATS
||Blacks A Fake (2010 – Newcastle)
Blacks A Fake (2010 - Harold Park)
Atomic Ark (2010 – Harold Park)
I Am Sam (2009 – Gold Coast)
Blacks A Fake (2009 – Gold Coast)
Blacks A Fake (2007 – Globe Derby)
Blacks A Fake (2006 - Hobart) (2)
DOMINION PACING CHAMPIONSHIP SEMI-FINAL
||Blacks A Fake (2008 - Moonee Valley)
For Natalie Rasmussen’s Major Group Race Wins – click here
||2010 Pacing Final
Race Footage courtesy Harness Racing New South Wales
||2008 Pacing Final
Race Footage courtesy Harness
Racing Victoria and Provideo
||2007 Pacing Final
Race Footage copyright © John
||2006 Pacing Final
courtesy EVD Pty Ltd