By Michael Guerin
For all Lazarus’s champion qualities the asset which may gift him today’s $800,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup is the one in the mind of rival drivers — respect.
Because the aura the great pacer has built up over the last two years, but cemented in the last six weeks should ensure he gets the lead at some stage, of today’s iconic 3200m race and when Lazarus leads, Lazarus wins.
The five-year-old stallion sensation has never been beaten in front, in fact no horse has ever run past him in a race.
He has a relentless cruising speed which zaps his rival’s sprints, that stamina advantage seeing him put a 10-length gap on a similar field last year in race record time.
While he has dominated since, the times he has shown even the slightest vulnerability, have been when asked to come wide or sprint off another horse’s back.
That was how Smolda beat him in the Ballarat Cup, Lennytheshark in the Miracle Mile and he even had a speed wobble three wide on the bend, in an easy kill four-year-old race at Melton last February.
He has allayed those fears this season, with all three lead-up victories being when he has come from behind or sat parked in his last-start, Kaikoura Cup stunner.
But that last win, in unbelievable time, had the extra bonus of terrifying his rivals.
It proved to them Lazarus, after some average workouts to start his season when he was too fat, is now a trimmed-down racing machine similar or even better to last year.
So when trainer-driver Mark Purdon almost certainly goes asking for the lead today, it is impossible to think any of his rival drivers wouldn’t be happy to trail him and hope for a tow into a lucrative payday for second.
The horses drawn inside Lazarus wouldn’t entertain a challenge while Titan Banner tried that and lost at Kaikoura so would surely trail.
Aussie raider Tiger Tara’s trainer Kevin Pizutto has somewhat surprisingly suggested, he wouldn’t mind trailing the champ while Lazarus’s Auckland Cup winning stablemate Dream About Me has been cruelled by a second line draw.
Which leaves the riddle that is second favourite Heaven Rocks.
Their trainers Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen believe Heaven Rocks has a comparable motor to Lazarus, but his erratic form this campaign and a rollercoaster week of health make it increasingly hard for Purdon to consider trailing Heaven Rocks should he challenge mid race.
“Maybe a month ago that looked likely but the way Lazarus has raced since, I think it would be hard to trail anything now,” admits Purdon.
“Maybe if Heaven Rocks got there early enough we could trail but to be honest I think Lazarus could come off his back and beat him anyway.”
While that should cement punter’s confidence today at $1.30 fixed, many will struggle to see the point in a win bet so will be keen to find place or exotics value, Heaven Rocks is an obvious danger but his manners make him hardly an appealing place option, so Tiger Tara and Titan Banner may be better options, and Dream About Me can still place if they go hard and luck goes her way.
Jack’s Legend has improved with every public outing this season, and is a serious place prospect while No Doctor Needed has the draw and driver to sneak into the money or at least boost the First4.
And in case you are considering going shopping for value in the huge win prices around any of his rivals, remember this: Only six horses have ever beaten Lazarus home in a race and none of them are in New Zealand.
Don’t expect that number to change today.
Approved By Dean Baring www.harnessbred.com
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