Laz vs the Tiger
By Michael Guerin
In Melbourne.— There was one question on everybody’s lips after Tiger Tara destroyed his rivals in the A$500,000 Hunter Cup at Melton.
And it is the question we will never be able to answer.
Is this version, the enormously-improved version of Tiger Tara as good as his now-retired nemesis Lazarus?
Maybe they shouldn’t be the questions people ask after Tiger Tara had completed a Melton triple crown on Saturday night, having already won the Victoria Cup and Inter Dominion there this season.
Add to that his bravest of nose seconds to Thefixer in the New Zealand Cup at Addington in November and you have one of the great seasons in modern pacing history.
Maybe Tiger and his army of fans should be able to bath in that glory and the promise of a Miracle Mile now a month away.
But that is not the way the human brain, particularly the racing brain, usually works.
Because Tiger Tara has been so dominant over most of Australasia’s best pacers this season that you have to wonder is he just clearly better than he was in the last two seasons when Kiwi champ Lazarus would routinely thrash him.
Yes, Tiger Tara scored victories over Lazarus in lead-up races to more serious targets, but the stats are stacked unarguably in Lazarus’s favour before he was sold to the States last year and subsequently retired one of the fastest milers ever.
A brief stat check: Lazarus beat Tiger Tara in one New Zealand Cup by 10 lengths, by five in another.
And last season when Tiger Tara led in both the Inter Dominion and the Hunter Cup, Lazarus sat parked, covering up to 20m more and destroyed him.
So there can be no argument that Lazarus was a better horse than Tiger Tara.
But if Laz had stuck around and Tiger Tara has improved as much as his times suggest, would their rivalry still be as one-sided?
Driver Todd McCarthy, still buzzing from his record spin around Melton, stopped short of saying the tables would be turned in the race we will never see.
“I have no doubts Tiger has improved, he has just kept getting better,” says McCarthy.
“And Kevin has learned about the horse too and maybe trains him differently for the lead-up races now than he used to.
“So he is definitely better. But beating Lazarus regularly, I am not sure about that.
“But I wish Laz was still racing down here because it would be special to watch them go at it now.”
With times all but irrelevant as a class guide in harness racing these days, it is hard to fathom that Tiger Tara has improved enough to be considered in the same class at Lazarus had the lather held his form this season.
And there is a reality racing promoters never like to admit even though they whisper about it in secret: that this open class crop isn’t that good.
Shorn of an injured Chicago Bull and with New Zealand’s best pacer maybe Turn It Up, who isn’t ready for the Grand Circuit yet, maybe Tiger Tara is beating up good but not great open class rivals.
The possible exception to that is Thefixer, who was poor by his standards after a hard trip on Saturday night. But he did still beat Tiger Tara in the New Zealand Cup, albeit with a far easier trip.
So it might be unfair to pit 2019 Tiger Tara against 2017 and 2018 Lazarus.
But the gut, the eye and their overall strike rates suggest that as special as Tiger Tara is now, his deeds also serve to remind us how truly great Lazarus was.