When Natalie Rasmussen arrived in New Zealand to partner Mark  personally and professionally, it looked like the first challenge would be easier than the second

After all All Stars was already the dominating stable in New Zealand harness racing, winner of all the major races going, setting new stake earning records-you name it. And  Mark and his partners had already done it all or were developing horses that would do it all

In the 2012 season, Mark’s last with Grant Payne as training partner, the stable won 138 races, the best tally since 1994 and second best ever.

Champion pacers, champion trotters, champion juveniles, the list went on. Natalie’s arrival didn’t just add to that record-she helped to multiply it

In partnership with Mark she helped set records that will probably never be broken in this country.

For example,G1 races.

All Stars has won close to 270 G1 races, itself mindboggling. Even more stunning is that close to 170 of those have come from the Natalie/ Mark partnership of just seven and a half seasons!

In 2013-14 the first season of the official partnership, the stable set a new personal record of 16 Gr 1 wins (two in Australia) . That rose to 25 G1’s the following season and then the blockbuster 2015-16 term the most successful ever in Australasian harness racing.

The highlights included:

*30 Group One races -12 of them in Australia

*Every two year old  Group race in New Zealland and 20 two year old races in all.

*A clean sweep of three year old racing including both Sires Stakes Finals, Woodlands and New Zealand Derby, Pascoe and New Zealand Oaks as well as the New South Wales Derby plus the Victorian and New South Wales Oaks and the Breeders Crown finals- 3yo filly and male !

*5 Harness Jewels features

*Miracle Mile, Ballarat Cup, Hunter Cup and three Breeders Challenge finals in Australia.

*Over $5m in stakes won -an unheard of sum then

*The combined total of wins in Australia and New Zealand was over 150. There were 18 INDIVIDUAL Group 1 winners.

And yet it was one season among many similar.

Perhaps the most amazing of all is the premier race the New Zealand Cup which has been won in every year except one by the partnership since 2014.

And the exception, Arden Rooney, was developed at All Stars before transferring to Australia.

It is worth noting too that during most of these years the numbers of horses trained actually reduced, at times by substantial numbers.

So what was the base of this extraordinary explosion of achievement even compared to earlier eras.?

Natalie feels that a major factor was that while they have their own  talents it was the meshing of their  strengths that was a key.

“Basically I saw my job as to free up Mark as much as possible to do what he does best- work with the horses. He’s a genius.

I had skills and experience in other areas, especially the business side of things and working with owners and that took a load off Mark. Running a stable and also running a business is much harder than many people realise and very tough, if not impossible , for an individual to do both.

 I had invested in the property and we had some tough times to get through and one of us dealing with  the business side of things was probably the only way to make it work.”

Natalie also had time to work closely with staff, a challenge for Mark in spite of his own popularity with those under him, trying to work so many horses as well as attend to their needs and run the property. She helped build up a happy efficient team of committed horse people through strong but understanding leadership.That is always crucial in a big stable.

But while Natalie tends to play down her own horsemanship skills that added so much to the stable, Mark is not having that.

“Natalie is a great horsewoman as we know and after she came over we revised our training regime incorporating her ideas.

One example was cantering horses instead of hoppled work. I had not done a lot of that but she showed me how effective it could be with some horses who really enjoyed it and thrived as a result.

She also liked to have the horses free of unnecessary gear if possible (overchecks for example) and she was very good one on one with horses who needed extra attention, It made a big difference. And,of course, she is world class as a driver.

In some ways her greatest skill for me is her ability to tell you after a workout or a race exactly what the horse had and hadn’t done and what it needed to do to show its best. She has a rare skill in assessing horses in that way, Not many people have that ability at this level”

The All Stars era is not over though whether it will resume at the same level from a numbers point of view is yet to be decided.

But even if it never returns it has achieved records so stunning that it may be years before they are fully appreciated.

Which is what can happen when two equine genius’s meet

Dave McCarthy


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