News

NZ Cup favourites go head to head

NZ HARNESS NEWS

NZ Cup co-favourites Lazarus and stablemate Heaven Rocks clash in the $50,000 Canterbury Classic at Addington on Friday night, with co-trainer Mark Purdon giving Heaven Rocks the edge fresh-up after two strong trials.

Purdon said Heaven Rocks is “two or three lengths’’ more advanced than big stallion Lazarus, who is the king of Kiwi harness racing after winning the NZ Cup brilliantly last year.

Co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen said there is nothing between them on raw ability, if her drive Heaven Rocks is on his best behaviour, but also underlined that he is more forward.

The five-year-old pair have only raced each other once before, with Lazarus moving out from the trail and proving a shade too strong in a fast 1:52.8 rate (1950m) in last season’s Superstars 4 & 5YO Championship at Addington.

While the gap may be closing, the small five-horse field could play into the court of Lazarus, particularly if Heaven Rocks is slow away.

With only three early entries for the 2600m standing start feature, top trainers Purdon and Rasmussen were obliged to accept with Lazarus, and Auckland Cup-winning mare Dream About Me, along with initial nominees, Heaven Rocks and Have Faith In Me, to ensure the cup lead-up went ahead.

Purdon said it wasn’t an ideal situation, but they had no option.

Given the impeccable record of Lazarus, he would have ideally preferred another week before starting him, but Lazarus may still find that extra champion quality under race conditions.

Although Heaven Rocks, who won last week's Rangiora trial emphatically (2600m stand in 3:15, last 800m in 55sec), there was plenty to like about defending Canterbury Classic champ Lazarus, who ran third and the stronger final 2000m of the two.

Heaven Rocks is mentally more mature this term under the guidance of extra one-on-one tuition with Rasmussen. He has stepped away perfectly in his lead-up workout and trial.

Outside of the two favourites, it’s shaping as an All Stars first four.

Dream About Me, another with a high strike rate record, being beaten just four times in 23 starts, hasn’t missed any work, despite missing the Hannon Memorial with an untimely stone bruise two weeks ago.

Have Faith In Me, despite not carrying on with his sensational four-year-old form last term, still remains the fastest pacer on Australasian soil with his 1:47.5 (1609m) Miracle Mile win in February 2016.

He will be reunited with Tim Williams, who partnered him to win the 2015 Auckland Cup from a stand start and, despite galloping away in last week’s trial, also ran a top trial afterwards.

The field is completed by the Greg and Nina Hope-trained Seel The Deal, who resumed with an improver’s third to Titan Banner in the Hannon Memorial at Oamaru on September 24, but could be tested to match the top quartet.