Lazarus a champion


Lazarus, winner of the last two New Zealand Cups by a combined margin of 15 and ¾ lengths, jets out of Christchurch on Thursday for Sydney, then heads to Perth on Sunday for another harness racing holy grail, the $A1.1 million Inter Dominion Pacing Championship.

The modern-day NZ champion will try to emulate former stablemate Smolda, who won last year’s Perth Inter Dominion Grand Final.

Lazarus had yesterday’s Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup virtually parceled up after the opening 200 metres of the 3200m contest.

Without being placed under any mid-race pleasure, Lazarus had the $800,000 feature gift-wrapped by the home turn, clearing out in a virtual repeat of his first win in the race 12 months ago, when he won by 10 lengths.

This time, the margin was 5 and 3/4 lengths and not quite as quick as his first cup win, posting 3:55 yesterday (1.9 second slower than his NZ and race record) but no less impressive.

The lead time off the front by Lazarus over the last mile in 1:54.7 was more than enough for his chasing rivals, quickening over his last 800m in 54.4s and his last 400m in 27.3s.

Rolleston co-trainer and driver Mark Purdon (recording his fourth driving win in the race) admitted he felt pretty good about the outcome after Lazarus made such a fast start from the six draw.

“The start was key with him getting away good,” Purdon said.

“I was worried about a few further out getting away better than him. I thought if I we could get away a little bit quicker it would make all the difference,” he said.

The $1.40 favourite became the shortest-priced New Zealand Cup winner and went to the line with a bit still in the tank for the upcoming Australian expedition.

The immaculately-presented son of champion sire Bettor’s Delight has a champion’s record, with this his 31st win from 36 starts for owners Glenys and Phil Kennard, Trevor Casey and Kevin Riseley, taking his earnings to $2,681,262.

“He’s the perfect horse and has a great temperament for a stallion,” Purdon said.

“He’s just a pleasure to train and a lovely horse.”

Purdon, and training partner Natalie Rasmussen, have five earmarked for the Perth trip but wouldn’t finalise how many will go until discussing yesterday’s runs with the respective drivers.

It was a family affair for the Purdon harness racing dynasty with Mark’s brother Barry (who had co-trained four previous NZ Cup winners with father Roy), training yesterday’s runner-up Jack’s Legend.

 “It was better than I could have hoped with him running second,” Barry Purdon said of Jack’s Legend, a four-year-old who was having only his 20th start.

“He’s not four until early January (born January 5) and I’ve never started a four-year-old in the cup before,” he said.

Zachary Butcher, driving Jack’s Legend, said he was also “very happy” with the effort.

“He was three wide down the back and running second to Lazarus is no mean feat,” Butcher said.

There was controversy among the chasers with 800m to run when former Kiwi Tiger Tara, who ran second to Lazarus 12 months ago and was returned to Christchurch for yesterday’s race by New South Wales co-owner and trainer Kevin Pizzuto, put in an untimely tangle.

Tiger Tara, who recovered well for third yesterday, was going well in the open outside the leader when he tried to jump some manure on the track, inconveniencing Titan Banner, who was enjoying a good one out and one back trail to that point.

“He’s never done that in his life,” Pizzuto said.

“But for that he would have run second and got a lot closer to Lazarus,” he said.

Maxim, from back on the markers, ran on for fourth, with outsider Buster Brady, from three back on the markers, a creditable fifth.

Second favourite Heaven Rocks began for a couple of strides, then tangled losing five lengths.

“I was trying to get someone to go ahead of me (from the back) but had to move up three wide myself starting the last lap,” said driver Natalie Rasmussen. 

“It was just too much but he’s alright. He can come back on Friday and have another go,” she said after Heaven Rocks, after being second at the 300m, tired to run 10th.

Two of the 14 horse field never gave their supporters a run.

Seel The Deal, usually a good beginner according to driver Ricky May, put in a backward step as the tapes were released, with Dream About Me, who drew the inside of the second row, cannoning into him, and losing her chance.