Day At The Track

Lazarus could raise the dead

06:44 AM 06 Jun 2018 NZST
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Lazarus could revive Kiwi interest in North American racing
Lazarus, seen here just prior to leaving New Zealand, will revive Kiwi interest in North American racing
Trish Dunell Photo

For the elite horse trainers race day might as well be renamed text day. For some the phone never stops, whether it is mates looking for a winner, owners wanting last minute updates, staff asking questions or even the pesky media.

It would be no different, probably worse, for Mark Purdon, whose phone sometimes sits ignored for hours so he can actually get some work done.

But one text on Saturday morning, as he was preparing for his six-win domination at the Harness Jewels at Cambridge, brought a wry smile to Purdon's face.

It was from North American trainer Jimmy Takter, the new trainer of Purdon's champion pacer Lazarus.

Takter is a harness racing legend. His horses have won more than US$120 million. He wanted to chat to Purdon.

"Jimmy texted saying he had got my number off somebody and he wanted me to know that Laz has arrived safe and sound and looked great," said Purdon.

"And then he asked me if we could talk sometimes because he had some questions about Laz.

"I was stoked to get the text and am looking forward to talking to him because he is obviously one of the leading trainers in the world and I am really hoping Laz will do a great job up there so I am happy to help," said Purdon yesterday.

"To be honest, if Laz was going really well and was set for a decent race or two in September, I'd love to go up there and watch him race and even ask Jimmy if I could spend some time at his stables.

"I think that would be a really good experience."

That Purdon still has that thirst for knowledge after a season in which he has won $4.4m in New Zealand alone, and it's is one of the best indicators as to why he is such a phenomenon.

Then again, Takter did win US$2.7m at just one Breeders Crown meeting in 2015 so he might know a new trick or two.

If Lazarus can race up to anything like his best Australasian form in North America, he could help the New Zealand punting public re-engage with harness racing in that part of the world, a relationship largely dormant for the last decade.

Decades ago the performances of Cardigan Bay and Young Quinn meant US harness racing was newsworthy here and when Lyell Creek raced regularly, and with some serious success, in the early 2000s punters and harness fans watched.

But the last time US harness racing captured the imagination even briefly was when Auckland Reactor headed there and bombed, turning people off very quickly.

US harness racing continues to be broadcast during slow times on Trackside but the pools are very small and even with a regular smattering of former Kiwi pacers it is little more than a minor fascination for a small sector of the industry.

But with Heaven Rocks and Bit Of A Legend impressive winners there over the weekend and Dexter Dunn set to start driving there soon, US harness racing could be in for a resurgence in interest, especially if Lazarus wins a major race.

Whether that translates to any significant boost in turnover remains to be seen.

Although Purdon could head Stateside for a Lazarus-inspired working holiday, he and training partner Natalie Rasmussen won't have anything like their usual Victorian winter team.

They have only four likely Breeders Crown starters, with Shez All Rock now staying with them rather than returning to former trainer Mark Pitt and she will be set for the August series providing she passes an extensive veterinary examination.

"I am a little worried she might have something bothering her and the same for Enhance Your Calm so they will both undergo scintigraphy in Matamata this week to make sure they are 100 per cent.

"If they are, they will press on to the Crown with Princess Tiffany and Cheerful (two-year-old trot) but the rest of the horses who raced at the Jewels are heading to the paddock."

Stateside

• Lazarus has joined leading US trainer Jimmy Takter.

• Soon Dexter Dunn will resume his North American driving career.

• Former Kiwi stars Heaven Rocks and Bit Of A Legend were feature race winners there over the weekend.

• All of them racing in the next few months could boost stagnant local interest in US harness racing.

By: Michael Guerin

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