News

Hunter Cup to Lazarus


By Michael Guerin

 The difference between racing’s very good and its greatest was never more evident than in Lazarus’s A$500,000 Hunter Cup victory.
 The Kiwi pacing machine overcame slight race fitness concerns after his recent soundness scare to crush many of the best Australasia has to offer, becoming New Zealand’s richest ever pacer in the process.
But while the victory continues his surge up the leader board of the all-time harness heroes, just a few days earlier what he makes looks so easy was looking anything but.
Because on Wednesday his trainer-driver  Mark Purdon was worried after Lazarus smashed in track work by his own stablemate Heaven Rocks, who himself was a brave and luckless third on Saturday night.
 “I’ll admit on Wednesday I was worried,” said a beaming Purdon, who trains Lazarus with Natalie Rasmussen.
 “I shouldn’t have been. When it comes to race night Laz knows. He knows what it is about and knows to get serious.
 “He did all that work and they tell me broke the track record, he is just an incredible horse.”
 The difference is Heaven Rocks is a very good athlete, Lazarus is a champion racehorse.
Even the clock agreed, Lazarus clipping a full second off the track record mile rate, pacing a 1:54.1 rate for the 2760m mobile.
After being forced to miss the West Australia Cup two weeks ago because of his hoof concussion issues, Lazarus lived up to his name and Purdon admits it is one of the most satisfying wins of his Hall of Fame career.
 But Lazarus still had one jewel in harness racing’s crown to secure, the A$750,000 Miracle Mile at Menangle on February 24 to confirm his coronation.
 He will contest a prelude there on February 17 and Purdon has no concerns about the hoof soreness returning.
 “He will be fine. He recovered from that pretty quickly so I don’t have any concerns going to Sydney.”
 After passing Monkey King as our richest pacer he now has his sights on Blacks A Fake’s title as the highest earner in Australasian history.
 He is still over $1million shy of that target but the indications are he will race on next season rather than going to stud.
 With the Miracle Mile still to come this month and the Inter Dominions moving back to Victoria next year, meaning Lazarus won’t need to travel to Perth, he could take on  over $4million worth of races next season.
 If he can maintain his present stunning level, he could retire the richest and maybe even the best the Southern Hemisphere has produced.
 Still, Menangle and the Mile will present different challenges, it being the race where famously he was beaten fair and square for one of the few times in his career.
 The beaten drivers behind him produced some stunners on Saturday night and Greg Sugars couldn’t have driven brave runner-up Soho Tribeca any better but like most was left shaking his heads after chasing the wonder horse.
 “My horse went great and I was happy enough with my drive but really what can you do against that?” asked Sugars.
But trainer Michael Stanley issued a Miracle Mile warning.
 “We were thrilled with how our horse went and when you are beaten by a horse like that what can you do,” said Stanley.
 “But the Miracle Mile is our chance. If we can draw inside him (Lazarus) and get to the front I think he is beatable.”
  We will find out on February 24.