Is being the best enough?

By Michael Guerin

Being the best may not be good enough in tonight’s Miracle Mile.

Because Kiwi pacing hero Lazarus is the best pacer in the race, the best in Australasia and probably the best pacer in the world.

But at 11.32pm tonight at Menangle with A$750,000 on the line Lazarus faces the most daunting task of his career, maybe the most difficult faced by any horse since Menangle opened nearly a decade ago.

No horse has placed in a Miracle Mile from barrier eight. Its like being asked to win the Olympic 800m medal staring 10m behind the pack.

Lazarus faces covering more ground than all of his rivals --- all group one winners -- in a race where they could threaten the Australasian record of 1:47.5

To win, his real time, taking into account actual ground covered, could need to be close to 1:46, the world record.

It his wrecking ball best of the last two New Zealand Cups days or his Inter Dominion win in December, Lazarus could do that. Maybe.

 But nobody, got even genius trainer Mark Purdon who has spent almost every waking minute with Lazarus this week, knows if the great one is feeling that great.

 Purdon was stunned by how a supposedly minor virus last week left Lazarus a shadow of himself, well beaten in a 1:51 mile last Saturday.

 If that version of Lazarus takes up his spot at barrier eight behind the mobile tonight he will have no chance.

 Purdon doesn’t expect that. He is adamant Lazarus is over the virus and better than last week.

 “His blood reports, which are the most important thing, suggest he is over it,” says Purdon.

“He white blood cell count is back to normal so I have been working him this week like nothing has gone wrong.”

 Purdon was happy with that final fast work on Thursday morning, although not cat-that-got-the-cream happy.

 “In a couple of his big wins in the past, like the first New Zealand Cup and the Inter final, I got off him after his last piece of fast work and thought he felt bullet proof.

 “I can’t say he feels like that now. It is hard to tell with him because he is not the greatest trackworker, not one of those aggressive stallions who gets all puffed up and rips into it.

 “But his work has been as good as I’d expect and I guess we just have to go out there and see what happens.

 “I know punters may want more detail than that but I won’t know any more before the race unless something changes.

 “He seems bright and happy. But you have to wonder whether the hard race last week when he wasn’t right has dulled him and also whether, because he hasn’t been at his peak, he is ready for a 1:48 mile.

“And in this field, even that may not be good enough.”

Horses like Soho Tribeca and Tiger Tara are tough enough to beat Lazarus Lite. And My Field Marshal, Anything For Love and Jilliby Kung Fu have the raw speed to strike at any Achilles heal exposed late in the home straight.

But most New Zealand punters won’t want to back them. It would be like betting against the All Blacks, even if you knew they were vulnerable.

 Because that is the word to describe Lazarus tonight. He is vulnerable.

 There is also another word to describe Lazarus. Champion.

If you want to back New Zealand’s best racehorse tonight you need to decide whether he is more vulnerable or more champion.

 What does Purdon think?

 “I think he is ready to go a big race, and I am confident he will be in three.

 “But... I’d really prefer if the race was another week away.”