A look at the Canterbury Classic

By Michael Guerin

Back New Zealand’s best pacer Lazarus at your own peril in his $50,000 comeback race at Addington tonight.

Because trainer-driver Mark Purdon is adamant stablemate Heaven Rocks is a better chance in the 2600m stand and his clear best hope in a race where he has four of the five starters.

Lazarus would usually deserve to be favourite in any race he lines up in -- after all, he won the NZ Cup by 10 lengths last season and easily beat Heaven Rocks the only time they met on race night in March.

But champion trainer Purdon warns punters Lazarus is only in tonight’s race because otherwise it would not have got off the ground.

“Initially I only nominated Heaven Rocks and Have Faith In Me and I was going to trial Lazarus and Dream About Me again,” explains Purdon.

“But when the race only got three entries I had to put the other two in otherwise it would have been scrapped.

“Laz being Laz he will go great and the race won’t hurt him but being a five-year-old stallion he has taken a little longer to come up, whereas Heaven Rocks in right in the zone.

“Heaven Rocks’s manners seem good too and while you can never be sure, we are going into the race expecting him to be too fit for Lazarus at this stage.

“Anything can happen in racing but I think it is important punters know this race wasn’t initially going to be on Laz’s programe and he might need a run or two before he is back to his best.”

Heaven Rocks opened the favourite for tonight’s next step on the path to the New Zealand Cup because he easily accounted for Lazarus in a Rangiora trial last week and looks far more advanced, being an athletic gelding.

His manners have let him down in the past but Purdon is adamant he has been a relaxed horse at home and with the small field providing him with a lot of room to move early tonight he is the stable’s top tip.

 While that may surprise plenty, so too will co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen’s choice of drives in the first southern Sires’ Stakes heat as she partners Chase Auckland rather than the horse who looked our most rawly-talented juvenile last term in The Devils Own.

 “Nat has been thrilled with Chase Auckland in his two runs and The Devils Own could need a race so we rate him our best chance tonight.”

Purdon suggests Prince Fearless, the one-time boom trotter returning from a disappointing Australian campaign, can upset in the $30,000 Canterbury Park Trotting Cup.

 He meets an interesting bunch with little between them in ability with the exception of Wilma’s Mate, who faces a 10m handicap in the capacity field.

 “He (Prince Fearless) has really improved in his work lately and could be a good chance.”