The big guns come out to play
- 20 September 2017
By Michael Guerin
For many harness racing punters the open class season starts today.
Because while only a tiny crowd will be at the Rangiora trials they are more than likely going to see the New Zealand Cup winner.
Pacing has already had two open class races at Addington this season, both won by genuine Cup contenders in Have Faith In Me and Titan Banner. After all, the former is an Auckland Cup and Miracle Mile winner and the latter a placegetter in last season’s NZ Cup.
And Dream About Me was excellent in her return when third to that pair last Saturday and will head to the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru on Sunday.
Add to that the hugely-improved form of Better B Amazed in the north and her stablemate No Doctor Needed ticking over nicely and the elite level pacers have already had some highlights, with another Cup contender Jack’s Legend returning at the Pukekohe trials yesterday.
But everything changes when Lazarus and Heaven Rocks make their first public outings for the season at today’s trials.
If the usual Purdon-Rasmussen modus operandi is adopted the glamour boys won’t be asked for anything like their best and, depending on the weather and track conditions, a steady early tempo and a last 800m in 56 second will probably be enough of a kick-off point.
But the pair so completely dominate the market for the Cup on November 14 that every aspect of their trials and workouts and then eventual lead-up races will be scrutinized.
Case in point --- 11 days ago Heaven Rocks easily beat Lazarus in a private workout at home because he half bolted after striking his sulky with his hind legs.
Word soon got out and what could have been a meaningless margin saw Heaven Rocks shorten as much as a full dollar into $2.40 to win the NZ Cup with some Australian bookies.
After his incredible season last term and a 10-length Cup victory in race record time Lazarus deserves to be favourite to defend his title until Heaven Rocks can beat him fair and square in a race, maybe two.
But punters aren’t known for their patience and as a two-time Jewels winner and Easter Cup hero, Heaven Rocks already has an army of supporters, even though he has burned them on occasions.
Trainer Mark Purdon says there is little between the pair’s motors with Lazarus having had the manners advantage in the past but Heaven Rocks has grown up mentally in training this season.
Lazarus likes to run near the pace and usually relaxes when he does, whereas Heaven Rocks often last season near bolted in his races, which can make for some spectacular viewing.
If that continues today and on the road to the Cup he may look more advanced or, remarkably, even a superior horse to Lazarus, who will probably allow Purdon to be as conservative as he wants on him.
But the irony is Heaven Rocks’s best chance of winning the New Zealand Cup is being more sedate, tractable and trialing like a lamb, which would see the market swing the other way.
Today is only a trial, the first steps on a long road. But as it often the case with heavyweights, every blow is going to be heard.