Lazarus makes an impression
When Lazarus stepped foot upon American soil at the start of June this year it officially began the next leg of the great pacer’s remarkable journey.
It was also the beginning of a growing hype from the North American and international harness racing media.
Since arriving at Jimmy Takter’s East Windsor Farm in New Jersey, the enquiries have been constant.
The reputation and expectation that preceded his arrival would put pressure on any trainer. But his new trainer seems extremely calm about it all.
With 45 starts, 35 wins, 9 placings (he was only once out of the top three) and $3.8million in earnings, Lazarus has already won two editions of his home country’s most prestigious race, the New Zealand Cup, and a staggering 15 Group One races in Australasia.
But his ultimate challenge still lies ahead of him.
Lazarus has been purchased by Taylor Made Stallions, who up until last year have been thoroughbred stallion owners, and are based in Kentucky.
One of four brothers who own Taylor Made Stallions, Duncan Taylor grew up in the Standardbred game and decided that branching back out into the harness racing world would be a sentimental move and also a lucrative opportunity for their company.
His new trainer, US Hall of Fame inductee Jimmy Takter, is a Swedish native that has tasted success at the very highest level in Europe and North America.
Takter trained Elitlopp winner Moni Maker and also the world’s fastest pacer, Always B Miki, and he now has his sights set on translating Lazarus into an international star.
“My main goal with Lazarus is the Breeders Crown in October,” says Takter. “He has been working very well here, last week he paced a mile at home in 1.56 and did it very handily.”
“I intend to go a bit quicker with him this week but I am very pleased with him. You can tell he’s a legend.”
The horse has recovered from his trip and has adapted well coming from winter to spring reported Takter.
“He’s been tremendous so far. There is a lot of stress that is put on a horse coming to this hemisphere. Different food, different environment, but my farm is very quiet and relaxing.”
“He arrived looking great but with a little winter coat. His body was a bit confused so it took a little bit for him to adapt. In the last two weeks I would say he has really blossomed and he is starting to look really good now.”
For Takter the weight of expectation from the international racing community is nothing new, and he thrives on the challenge.
“It’s not intimidating for me. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I took on Moni Maker years ago and that was the best decision I ever made,” laughed Takter. “I like the idea of taking on great horses. That’s what we work for right?”
“A lot of people are asking about the horse at the moment, hopefully we are able to live up to the expectation.”
Since joining the team Lazarus has made a unique impression on Takter. Who fondly refers to the horse’s characteristics during his work.
“He’s got personality, he’s very cool. We train him on the straight track with a team of eight horses and he is very vocal,” he said. “He screams the whole way. He’s a funny horse.”
The biggest challenge in adapting to the racing style in North America Takter feels is gate speed.
“I know his racing style at home is varied and over different distances, but up here you have to have gate speed. That will be the biggest thing he will need to have to make it here but it feels like he has it. I don’t think it will be a problem.”
Takter knows you can’t compare Champions from different hemispheres against each other.
“I have been asked if Lazarus compares to Miki (Always B Miki) and I don’t think you can really put them up against each other. They are such unique horses.”
“And that is not to put Lazarus down of course. It’s just hard to compare at this stage.”
“Lazarus is more laid back and more humble. And Miki was more stallion-like. But I was so proud to be associated with that horse and the world record.”
The next task will be to find a suitable catch driver for the Down Under wonder.
“We don’t know who will drive him yet,” admitted Takter. “Yannick Gingras does a lot of driving for me and I think the horse would fit Yannick’s style.”
“I’m not one hundred percent sure but the owners are great people and basically leave it up to me to make the best decision for the horse which I appreciate.”
So what would Takter deem as a success in North America for Lazarus?
“Pocono Downs is not a track where you can go under 1.46. But if he does win the Breeders Crown this horse will go down as one of the greatest of all time, not only in the Southern Hemisphere but in the Northern Hemisphere as well.”
But to even get to the Crown the horse will need to trial and show he’s ready for it.
Lazarus will attempt to qualify at the Meadowlands in four weeks’ time, coinciding with the close of the Meadowland racing season and their Hambletonian Day meet.
“I hope we can accomplish success at the highest level,” said Takter. “I am very happy to have this horse.”
“We all know how difficult it is for horses to travel and keep at their peak form.”