Day At The Track

Lazarus stepping up to fly harness racing's flag

09:59 PM 13 Nov 2017 NZDT
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Lazarus, harness racing
Mark Purdon is enjoying the privilege of having a champion like Lazarus in his stable.
Iain McGregor Photo

Lazarus may kill New Zealand's most iconic race as a betting contest but his value to harness racing can not be underestimated. 

The defending champion is a $1.25 favourite to make it back-to-back victories when he contests Tuesday's $800,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington.

His price will turn many casual punters off but the bigger picture is the pulling power of a champion is of immeasurable value to the sport.

The majority of the 20,000 plus crowd at Addington might only be there for the party but there is no denying champion horses bring crowds to race tracks and people who would not usually watch or care will be drawn in to see a champion.

 

Mark Purdon is confident Lazarus is in the same condition as he was for the 2016 Cup.
STU McCORMICK

Mark Purdon is confident Lazarus is in the same condition as he was for the 2016 Cup.

 
A look over the Tasman at the Winx effect will confirm that.

The wonder mare, who has won 22 consecutive races, single-handedly sold out Moonee Valley last month. Tickets to see Winx win her third Cox Plate were the hottest sporting ticket in Melbourne. Her reach and exposure extend far further than the racing fraternity.

Lazarus, trained at Rolleston by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, is yet to reach Winx levels but if he is back running for a third Cup victory next season it will be a different story.

"This is what harness racing needs, whether it's me and Nat (Rasmussen) that have got him or someone else, a horse like this is what racing needs," Purdon said.

Lazarus won the 2016 New Zealand Trotting Cup by 10 lengths.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF

Lazarus won the 2016 New Zealand Trotting Cup by 10 lengths.

Champion pacer Terror To Love was the king of Addington during his three consecutive Cup wins between 2011-13 but not even "the Terror" had the pulling power of Lazarus at the same stage of their careers.

By Bettor's Delight, the champion sire of harness racing in New Zealand, Lazarus has been a star from the day of his victory on debut. 

Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen will start four runners in the New Zealand Trotting Cup.
GETTY IMAGES

Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen will start four runners in the New Zealand Trotting Cup.

 

In 35 starts, Lazarus has been victorious 30 times with two seconds and three thirds. He has never failed to return punters a place dividend.

The champion two and three-year-old of his crop, by four he was arguably the best pacer in Australasia.

In a hugely successful career that saw him bring up 2000 training wins on New Zealand soil last month, Purdon is no stranger to having a good horse on his books.

Auckland Reactor, Smolda, Il Vicolo, I Can Doosit, Adore Me, Follow The Stars, Pride Of Petite, the list is only limited to how good your memory is, but arguably none of them has captivated the sporting public like Lazarus.

His ownership team of Kevin Riseley, Trevor Casey, Phil and Glenys Kennard pay the bills and collect the cheques but Lazarus is fast becoming the people's horse.

And even Purdon, who has never chased the limelight himself, is relishing the horse's profile.

"I like it and I'm fully aware of it too," he said. "It's a privilege to have a horse like him."

"You do get that buzz because you know most people are there to see him." 

But with that comes pressure. "You don't want to let them down," he said.

Much like Winx, Lazarus does things off the track that show incredible composure and intelligence. 

Around the stables, his relaxed demeanour is more tired old gelding than five-year-old stallion.

"He's a very unique for a stallion," Purdon said.

Unlike many stallions, there is no drama around other horses, no throwing his front feet around to show who is boss, Lazarus knows he is the best and does need to show off.

"When he goes to the track he knows what he's there for. He's very, very professional." he takes nothing out of himself."

All traits that show he is likely to become a champion sire when his days of being a champion on the track are done.

But there was nothing special that made him stand out from the pack when he first arrived at Purdon and Rasmussen's All Stars stables.

"He joined our team as just one of the team, there was certainly nothing that set him a part in the late yearling to the early two-year-old stage," Purdon said.

"He certainly had a great head and eye on him and that's one of the first things I do look at.

"He ticked all the boxes in other areas like confirmation, scope and things like that.

But three years later, Purdon concedes there is something special about Lazarus both on and off the track.

And he believes Lazarus is ready to fire on Tuesday.

"I'd like to think he's as good going into tomorrow as he was last year."

So could he run even better than his record-breaking time of last season?

"We probably won't know that until tomorrow," Purdon quipped.

New Zealand's richest and most prestigious harness race as seen many contenders throw in the towel when they make a mistake from the standing start but Lazarus is about as reliable as the sun coming up in the morning.

"I think punters understand how genuine he is. There's no holding your breath until they've gone 200m or anything like that," Purdon said.

From barrier six, Purdon should find the lead easily enough and he holds no fear of trying to win the 3200m race from in front.

Meanwhile, second favourite and stablemate of Lazarus, Heaven Rocks, is ready to go in the Cup following a health scare over the weekend.

Purdon and Rasmussen held fears he may have been coming down with a virus following a below-par workout at Addington on Friday but the camp is happy he is now 100 per cent fit.

"His work on Sunday was back to his old self, Nat was thrilled with him," Purdon said.

The Purdon-Rasmussen team have four runners in the race with Dream About Me ($17) and Piccadilly Princess ($81) making up their quartet.

BY MAT KERMEEN

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