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The king has gone to a whole new level. Which is bad news for Lazarus's rivals in tonight's A$300,000 Fremantle Cup in Perth and any others who get in his way as he starts a 43-day, three-state campaign aimed at A$2.1 million worth of races. The champion New Zealand pacer is a $1.30 favourite to win tonight's 2536m mobile (held at 12.44am NZ time) against many of the horses he thrashed in last month's Inter Dominion final on the same track, with the main addition being his own stablemate Ultimate Machete. While some bookies have Ultimate Machete the second favourite and co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen makes the trip to Perth to drive him, Purdon says he won't be beating Lazarus.   "I think something would need to happen to Laz for him to get beaten, even as good as Ultimate Machete is going," says Purdon. "He is just loving it here and I think the hard racing he has had has improved him and he has gone to another level, a level the others aren't at. "He feels fantastic and he is used to sitting parked to win over here now, which he will probably have to do again. But I think all the hard racing he has had has toughened him up and made him even better." Just as important as that toughness is Lazarus's soundness, which Purdon says shouldn't be a probem in the five group one races he contests over the next six weeks, ending in the Miracle Mile. "He is very sound so all going well that won't be an issue and a lot of these top horses are facing similar programmes. "So the six weeks might be harder on them than it is on him." Ultimate Machete has been outstanding in Perth but with his lack of gate speed he faces being three wide for at least part of the race and that suggests a local like Chicago Bull could get closest to Lazarus, as he did in the Inter Final. Closer to home at Cambridge tonight, trainer Steve Telfer finds himself in the rarest of all racing situations, going into a tote race knowing he will win. Telfer trains all six starters in race two at Cambridge tonight, a feat occasionally matched in smaller non-tote races in New Zealand but almost unheard of in a proper race, especially one with some high class pacers. "We have a lot of horses in this grade and I am grateful to the club for holding the race but it is a weird feeling knowing you are going to win it no matter what." That has sent Telfer searching for five sets of his colours, with Valor Lustre racing in owner Ivan Court's colours. Perhaps the best of the Steve Six is American Brave, who has won three of just seven starts but comes with a warning tonight as he hasn't raced since the Sires' Stakes Final at Addington two months ago. "He trialled well last week and was going to have another this weekend but they aren't on so he is here instead. "Because of that lack of hard fitness I don't want him having a hard run early so he might look for cover and that can often be a tricky way to win at Cambridge," says Telfer. "While small fields can be hard to work out I'd say our best two chances are Triple Eight and Step Up." Telfer also has a huge chance with Ideal Roman in tomorrow's Parawai Cup as the northern grass track circuit returns. MIchael Guerin

Harness racing fans have watched megastar mare Winx in awe and longed for a pin-up horse of their own. Now they have one with Lazarus, who is rapidly becoming the Winx of harness racing. The crowds he drew and atmosphere he stirred during his winning Perth Inter Dominion raid late last year were fantastic. Trained in New Zealand by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, Lazarus stayed in WA after his Inter Dominion romp and now has Gloucester Park’s two biggest races firmly in his sights … then it’s over to Melbourne and Sydney. Next up is Friday night’s $350,000 Group 1 Fremantle Cup where Lazarus has gate five and has opened a commanding $1.30 TAB fixed odds favourite. Just to underline the Purdon/Rasmussen dominance, they also trained Lazarus’ main danger and the TAB second elect, Ultimate Machete (gate two). Lazarus might not boast a Winx-like winning streak, but his record is similarly impressive with 41 starts netting 34 wins, seven placing and his earnings have rocketed past $3.3 million. Visiting North American driving stars Marcus Miller and James McDonald heaped praise on Lazarus as they watched his Inter Dominion win trackside at Gloucester Park. They were adamant he was as good as any pacer in the world right now. After the Fremantle Cup comes the $400,000 Group 1 WA Pacing Cup where Lazarus will again dominant betting at Gloucester Park on January 19. “Then he’s off to Melbourne for the Hunter Cup (February 3) and then Sydney for a lead-up race and the Miracle Mile,” Purdon said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to train some amazing horses over the years, but Lazarus is the best of the lot. I’ve said for a year or so. He’s that bit special. Trainer-driver Mark Purdon says Lazarus is still getting better. “The way he won the (Inter Dominion) final and then beat them so easily when he resumed and needed the run at Gloucester Park last week was pretty amazing. “He seems to still be getting better.”   Although Lazarus is obviously the stable flagship, Purdon and Rasmussen have arguably the strongest stable the sport has seen in this part of the world. As well as Lazarus, they also have stars like Ultimate Machete, Vincent, Heaven Rocks and Titan Banner being set for races like the Hunter Cup, Chariots Of Fire and Miracle Mile over the next two months. If they continue in current form, Purdon and Rasmussen could have four or five of the eight runners in the $750,000 Miracle Mile on February 24. Reprinted with permission of News Corp Australia Network

In need of the hitout and forced to sit parked in blistering times, Lazarus simply switched into another gear down the back straight and thrashed his harness racing rivals … seemingly without being extended.  Trainer-driver Mark Purdon could hardly hide his delight after the win.  “He did that so easily. He was bolting down the back straight and could’ve gone straight past them at any time,” he said.  “He felt really sharp and he’s loving this track now. He’s getting around it so well.”  It was a contrast to the slighly wary Purdon pre-race who stressed Lazarus “could be vulnerable” having not raced for a month.  Lazarus powered clear to win under his own steam by 12.3m in a 1min55.9sec mile rate for the long 2536m trip, which was just 1.2sec outside the track record he set himself winning his third-round Inter Dominion heat on December 1.  It tightened his already vice-like grip on favouriism for next Friday’s Fremantle Cup and the WA Pacing Cup on January 19.  Interestingly, some argued the stop-start tempo of the Inter Dominion final presented the race to Lazarus.  But last night proved he is just as effective when the race is truly run after highly-talented local Vultan Tin – who ran fourth in that Inter Dominion final – led and carved out some slick splits to make Lazarus chase and work hard outside him.  Sure WA’s two best pacers Chicago Bull and Soho Tribeca weren’t in last night’s race, but Lazarus could not have been more impressive.  It wasn’t as comfortable for Purdon a race earlier when his gun four-year-old Ultimate Machete had to lift off the canvas after a hard run to make a winning return to racing.  Ultimate Machete was three-wide for close to the first lap, then parked and looked beaten on the home turn when the leader, Johnny Disco, kicked away with a big lead.  Purdon dropped back to the marker pegs on the final bend then pulled Ultimate Machete out for one last challenge at the 150m and the son of Bettors Delight lifted big time to win by 1.3m in a 1min56.3sec mile rate for 2130m.  Purdon confirmed Ultimate Machete would take on Lazarus and others in the Fremantle and WA Pacing Cups.  “It will be his biggest test and I wouldn’t say he could beat Lazarus, but he is a very, very good horse and I’m sure he’ll run well in both races,” he said. Adam Hamilton

Heaven Rocks may have finally met his match at Cambridge tonight. Because the goof with the mega motor is being paired up with Brent Mangos is what looks an inspired catch driving choice for the $60,000 Cambridge Flying Mile. Heaven Rocks will be the warm favourite for the sprint even though a dash around Cambridge hardly seems ideal for the long-striding pacer and his erratic ways. He won a Jewels over a mile there 19 months ago but that was a three-year-old and he seems even more eccentric now, not to mention he has two genuine speedsters drawn inside him in Star Galleria and Jack’s Legend. But enter Mangos, the Mr No Nonsense of the northern driving ranks and the master of the balance-em-up-and-launch-em school of driving. Mangos has been called in as the All Stars usual drivers head home or in the case of Mark Purdon to Perth tonight to drive Lazarus. So Mangos has been entrusted with getting Heaven Rocks away, around the first bend and then deciding when to push the button. He looks the ideal driver for the job but while he sits behind the most talented horse in the race it may not be a simple stroll around Cambridge for the mad mammoth.  Star Galleria was a brave fourth, just behind Heaven Rocks in the Auckland Cup last Sunday and Jack’s Legend sixth after missing away. Both are wicked sprinters with natural gate speed so should have a huge tactical advantage over Heaven Rocks. If you can back the pair at an average of $5, giving you basically a $2.50 bracket to beat Heaven Rocks, it wouldn’t be the worst bet. Heaven Rocks isn’t the only big name catch drive for Mangos tonight as he has also picked up the reins behind Kyvalley Blur in the Flying Stakes Trot after the Victorian trotter’s three huge runs during this New Zealand campaign. He has been beaten twice in as many meetings by a race rival tonight Temporale so far this summer but both runs have been excellent and if he could stay in front of the favourite he can severely test him, so against Mangos’s aggression could be an asset. Trainer-driver Tony Herlihy is using tonight’s race as a trial to confirm Temporale’s trip to Victoria later this month and says the left-handed track won’t be an issue even though only four of his 21 starts have been anti-clockwise for one win. “He does a lot of work left-handed and I don’t think it will be an issue,” says Herlihy. “But it could be a tricky little race with Kyvalley Blur drawn inside us. Still, my fella is well.”Herlihy has a vastly-improved second string in The Almighty Johnson, who from barrier one could get the perfect trip. He has really stepped up and with that right trip I wouldn’t be stunned if he tested the two favourites.” Meanwhile, Lazarus should be too good again when he returns to racing in a A$22,000 event in Perth tonight. He has drawn two in the 2536m mobile and should win without Mark Purdon needing to ask for his best, with stablemate Ultimate Machete set to be even shorter in the race before.   Michael Guerin

Three white pieces of paper covered in scribbled nicknames hold the key to over $5 million of summer harness racing riches. And the first plans contained on those papers go into action this Friday night with a surprise at Cambridge and a champion in Perth. After a complete domination of Sunday's Auckland Trotting Cup meeting - where they won seven of nine races they contested - Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen sat down yesterday to plan where their army of pacing stars go next. The logistics are mind-boggling, with not just tens of millions of dollars of horseflesh heading to all parts of Australasia, requiring flights, ground transportation and handlers, but the bookings for all the staff who need to be in New South Wales and Victoria weeks before the racetrack action starts. An example: While Vincent and his stablemates were running the trifecta in the Auckland Cup, the stable had Lazarus, Ultimate Machete, Have Faith In Me and Piccadilly Princess having a quiet day in Perth, where the All Stars have had a travelling foreman for six weeks. That is where Lazarus will resume on Friday night before he races there the following two weeks, with Ultimate Machete and Have Faith In Me joining him in both the Fremantle and West Australia Cups. "He is working well so this week will be a perfect lead-up to the Cups for him," says Purdon, who is back from suspension to drive Lazarus on Friday night. The blueprint for the rest of the all-conquering stable was only confirmed yesterday and it has some calls which will impact dramatically on pre-post markets as well as the group one racing landscape. The only good news for Australian trainers is the already expected decisions that unbeaten three-year-old Chase Auckland will stay home, as does Elle Mac, while Dream About Me also does as she struggles with soundness. "Chase Auckland has had a couple of hard runs and been great in them but you can't do that every week so he will miss the Derbies in Victoria and NSW and be set for the Northern Derby here," explains Purdon. "And Dream About Me hasn't been quite right so won't go to Australia but we will have Piccadilly Princess and Partyon for the mares races over there." Even without Chase Auckland the three-year-old team for the Derbies in Australia will contain The Devils Own and All U Need Is Faith (NSW), Spankem and Ashley Locaz (Victoria and then possibly NSW). But the other big surprise is that Heaven Rocks will take his unique brand of crazy to both Victoria and NSW, after stopping in at Cambridge on Friday night for the $60,000 Flying Mile. "I was happy with him in the Auckland Cup and after Cambridge he will go to the Ballarat Cup and the Hunter Cup, with Laz going to the Hunter as well. "Then they will both go to NSW to try and qualify for the Miracle Mile." Vincent and Titan Banner will be waiting for their mates at Menangle, with the pair to skip Victoria and Vincent will race in lead ups to the Chariots Of Fire on February 10 and Titan Banner in free-for-alls before the Miracle Mile preludes on February 17. That raises the very real possibility if Ultimate Machete qualifies for the Chariots Of Fire and races well there, the All Stars could have five horses in the running for a Miracle Mile invite. "It is possible that could happen but we are not getting carried away with that, there is a lot of racing to go before then," said Purdon. The one window of opportunity the stable has left open for their rivals is the NSW Oaks, for which they won't have their best fillies in action. "It clashes with the Sales Series at Addington so fillies like Elle Mac will stay home and Bettor Trix and Bare Knuckle will be our NSW Oaks pair." Michael Guerin

Three white pieces of paper covered in scribbled nicknames hold the key to over $5 million of summer harness racing riches. And the first plans contained on those papers go into action this Friday night with a surprise at Cambridge and a champion in Perth. After a complete domination of Sunday’s Auckland Trotting Cup meeting - where they won seven of nine races they contested - Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen sat down yesterday to plan where their army of pacing stars go next. The logistics are mind-boggling, with not just tens of millions of dollars of horseflesh heading to all parts of Australasia, requiring flights, ground transportation and handlers, but the bookings for all the staff who need to be in New South Wales and Victoria weeks before the racetrack action starts. An example: While Vincent and his stablemates were running the trifecta in the Auckland Cup, the stable had Lazarus, Ultimate Machete, Have Faith In Me and Piccadilly Princess having a quiet day in Perth, where the All Stars have had a traveling foreman for six weeks. That is where Lazarus will resume on Friday night before he races there the following two weeks, with Ultimate Machete and Have Faith In Me joining him in both the Fremantle and West Australia Cups. “He is working well so this week will be a perfect lead-up to the Cups for him,” says Purdon, who is back from suspension to drive Lazarus on Friday night. The blueprint for the rest of the all-conquering stable was only confirmed yesterday and it has some calls which will impact dramatically on pre-post markets as well as the group one racing landscape. The only good news for Australian trainers is the already expected decisions that unbeaten three-year-old Chase Auckland will stay home, as does Elle Mac, while Dream About Me also does as she struggles with soundness. “Chase Auckland has had a couple of hard runs and been great in them but you can’t do that every week so he will miss the Derbys in Victoria and NSW and be set for the Northern Derby here,” explains Purdon. “And Dream About Me hasn’t been quite right so won’t go to Australia but we will have Piccadilly Princess and Partyon for the mares races over there.” Even without Chase Auckland the three-year-old team for the Derbys in Australia will contain The Devils Own and All U Need Is Faith (NSW), Spankem and Ashley Locaz (Victoria and then possibly NSW). But the other big surprise is that Heaven Rocks will take his unique brand of crazy to both Victoria and NSW, after stopping in at Cambridge on Friday night for the $60,000 Flying Mile. “I was happy with him in the Auckland Cup and after Cambridge he will go to the Ballarat Cup and the Hunter Cup, with Laz going to the Hunter as well. “Then they will both go to NSW to try and qualify for the Miracle Mile.” Vincent and Titan Banner will be waiting for their mates at Menangle, with the pair to skip Victoria and Vincent will race in lead ups to the Chariots Of Fire on February 10 and Titan Banner in free-for-alls before the Miracle Mile preludes on February 17. That raises the very real possibility if Ultimate Machete qualifies for the Chariots Of Fire and races well there, the All Stars could have five horses in the running for a Miracle Mile invite. “It is possible that could happen but we are not getting carried away with that, there is a lot of racing to go before then,” said Purdon. The one window of opportunity the stable has left open for their rivals is the NSW Oaks, for which they won’t have their best fillies in action. “It clashes with the Sales Series at Addington so fillies like Elle Mac will stay home and Bettor Trix and Bare Knuckle will be our NSW Oaks pair.” Heaven Rocks - Mcmillan Feeds 4yo $150,000 Emerald (Mobile Pace) By Michael Guerin

Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen repeated their feat of 2009 by winning seven races on the night at Alexandra Park on Sunday. The All Stars Stable won with A Lister, Jesse Duke, Stress Factor, Chase Auckland, Elle Mac, Vincent and Ashley Locaz. Tim Willams drove three winners for the stable, while Natalie Rasmussen drove the remaining four including the Auckland Cup aboard Vincent.  Vincent will now head to Australia in search of more wins and a possible clash with Lazarus later in the year. His first target will be the $100,000 Ballarat Cup on January 20 _________________________________________________________________________________ Olivia Thornley had her first win as a driver when she won during the Banks Peninsular meeting at Motukarara last Friday. The win came on her nine raceday drive on a horse called Awaytocullect, who is trained by Olivia's father Robin at Templeton.   _________________________________________________________________________________ Promising pacers King Size and Steiger have been put down in the last week. Steiger had an unfortunate paddock accident last week and had to be euthanised after he shattered an elbow joint.  One win pacer King Size fell during a race at Reefton on Saturday and had to be put down. Driver Dexter Dunn emerged from the crash unscathed but the race was abandoned after King Size could not be removed from the track.   Harnesslink Media

Auckland Cup hero Vincent won't be protected from champion stablemate Lazarus as the Miracle Mile looms as pacing's race of the season. The red hot favourite led home a Purdon-Rasmussen trifecta in the $250,000 Cup at Alexandra Park tonight (Sunday), downing Titan Banner and Heaven Rocks in a race of twists and turns. After Titan Banner led early and Vincent trailed punters could have expected that order to remain unchanged but David Butcher driving Northview Hustler had other ideas, deciding he didn't want to sit parked so attacked for the lead. He was successful, Titan Banner came out of the trail to re-take the lead and once that game of cat and mouse calmed down Vincent strolled to the front. The magnificent four-year-old then dawdled through the middle stages before things lit up again when Heaven Rocks worked around to sit parked, attacked down the back straight and even headed Vincent at the 500m before racing erratically. But the favourite kicked back in the style of a potential pacing great and at the line was easily holding Titan Banner. "That was a huge win when you consider he is only four," said Purdon, who watched the race from the outside fence of the parade ring because he is suspended. That meant training partner Natalie Rasmussen reined the winner and Purdon admitted it was a strange feeling watching rather than being out on the track. "But it was great to see all three of them perform to that level and when Tim [Williams, driving Heaven Rocks] attacked it made the last lap exciting. The winner is a wonderful horse but I thought the other two went great and it was good to see Heaven Rocks get around in one piece." The win was followed by Ashley Locaz winning the last race to give the All Stars a remarkable seven winners at the premier meeting from only eight races but now their gaze turns to Australia. Lazarus returns to racing in Perth this Friday and the following two weeks before returning to the eastern states, where Vincent will contest the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire in Sydney on February 10. If they continue on their winning ways both will be invited to the A$750,000 Miracle Mile on February 24 and Purdon says he will not keep the pair apart. "If they are both going well enough and win their way into the Miracle Mile then I wouldn't be scared to start them against each other," he said. So could the new Auckland Cup winner beat the two-time New Zealand Cup winner in Lazarus? "I think he could," says Purdon of Vincent. "I am not saying he would but it is not impossible as Vincent is a very good horse and any horse, even Lazarus, is beatable as we saw in the early heats of the Inter Dominions. "So that could be the first time they clash and I think if it eventuated it would be great for the industry." Earlier, Temporale ended the argument over who is the best trotter racing in New Zealand when he outstayed Speeding Spur in the $100,000 National Trot, the second time he has beaten him this month and suggesting he has earned himself a trip to Victoria next month. Michael Guerin  

Unbeaten pacing star Chase Auckland may be so good he is allowed to turn his back on nearly $500,000 in coming months. The three-year-old grabbed victory from the jaws of what looked to be certain defeat when he fought back when clearly headed in the $230,000 Sales Series Pace at Alexandra Park tonight. After surging to a mid-race lead following some blazing early sectionals from his rivals, Chase Auckland was in a world of trouble as stalemate All U Need Is Faith raced past him at the top of the straight, looking set to break punter’s hearts. But in the last 50m Chase Auckland suggested he may be that little bit special as he clawed back to retain his unbeaten record at start number seven, setting off chaotic winning circle presentation scenes from his huge syndicate of owners. Chase Auckland was purchased and syndicated by stud giant Alabar to try and give his champion father Auckland Reactor a headstart to his stud career --- they couldn’t have dreamed they would purchase what has turned out to be such a stunning racetrack advertisement for the new stallion. But that campaign may not extend to Australia in coming week as co-trainer and driver Natalie Rasmussen says the dual Derbys of Victoria and New South Wales in February may not be on his radar.  “Mark (Purdon) and I will sit down and talk about it but to be honest I think a little let up wouldn’t do him any harm because he was a maiden three months ago,” said Rasmussen. “So he might not head to Australia yet and we have two Derbys here as well as so many other races for him. “But he is a good horse, a really good horse. He had to be to fight back and win like that.”The win capped a mammoth start to the day for the All Stars stable as they also won the early races and took out group one Sires’ Stakes Fillies Championships with Elle Mac. The latter got revenge on her Harness Jewels conqueror Dizzy Miss LIzzy after they stayed out of the early speed duel before roaring around the field to put pressure into the race and leave their rivals gasping. The stable also produced last season’s yearling sales topper Jessie Duke to win on debut in the two-year-old pace, even after he looked unbalanced on the home bend, suggesting he is the early leader of this two-year-old crop. Michael Guerin   Chase Auckland winning his seventh race in a row!

It’s official. The biggest threat to Lazarus, the current champion of Australasian harness racing, lies within his own stable. This will not shock most fans, the depth of the All Stars stable is at an all-time high and the result of the Gr.1 $250,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup at Alexandra Park today (Sunday) only solidifies the point. Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen provided the top three finishers with boom four-year-old and race favourite Vincent defeating Titan Banner and Heaven Rocks in the 3200m stand-start feature. While Lazarus has dominated most open class features this season including his powerful and relentless thrashings of rivals in the New Zealand Cup and Inter Dominion, his stablemate Vincent is well on the way to being his nemesis. His winning effort in the Auckland Cup, his first foray into the Grand Circuit level of elite pacing, clearly underlines the enormous talent that fits into his hulking frame. It’s a lethal combination. Stepping safely and landing behind Titan Banner soon after the start, Vincent travelled comfortably while outsider Northview Hustler challenged hard for the lead and eventually found it before releasing both Titan Banner and Vincent again. Rasmussen positioned Vincent in the lead role passing the 2100m mark. The lead time was covered in a moderate 2:04.9. With Vincent dictating terms, Heaven Rocks and Tim Williams whistled around the field before parking outside of his stablemate with 1200m remaining. The first half of the final mile was covered in splits of 32.7 and 32.7 seconds. Entering the back straight, Vincent was tested by Heaven Rocks who raced keenly albeit pacing like a startled giraffe. Heaven Rocks actually headed Vincent coming off the back straight before pacing very awkwardly, the back straight quarter was covered in 27.4 seconds. But Rasmussen wasn’t perturbed and allowed Vincent to pace comfortably within himself before releasing the shackles in the straight, the margin soon expanded and the highly decorated pacer scored easily by 1.5 lengths from Titan Banner who used inside runs while Heaven Rocks was a further head away in third. The final quarter was covered in 27 seconds. The overall time was 4:04.7 – a winning mile rate of 2:03.0. “That was a professional effort, he stepped away safely and travelled really well and felt terrific in the straight when challenged. He’s a very good horse.” Winning driver Natalie Rasmussen declared. It was Rasmussen’s maiden victory in the North Island feature. The victory of Vincent also provided his champion sire Art Major with his first Auckland Cup winner. The All Stars stable have now won the Auckland Cup on six occasions and have recorded back to back victories following the success of Dream About Me last year. Other winners include Sharp And Telford, Young Rufus, Auckland Reactor and Have Faith In Me. With four legs now complete in the Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit, the All Stars stable has won three legs (New Zealand Cup, Inter Dominion and Auckland Cup) while Lennytheshark won the opening leg of the 2017/18 series, the Victoria Cup. The next leg of the APG Grand Circuit takes place on January 19 at Gloucester Park with the running of the Gr.1 $450,000 TABtouch WA Pacing Cup, an event that will feature Lazarus. Collectively, the combination of Purdon and Rasmussen have either trained or driven in excess of 50 Grand Circuit winners! Auckland Cup By Chris Barsby

Tim Williams likes going to work on New Years Eve. Which is handy because he knows better than anybody how much he has that work cut out for him in tomorrow’s $250,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Trotting Cup. Williams is the 28-year-old third-string driver for the all-conquering All Stars stables, which means his driving career can take some unusual twists and turns. Take tomorrow’s Cup for example. Williams would be watching from the driver’s room had boss Mark Purdon not been suspended for 26 days but instead he is driving the slightly mad Heaven Rocks.  Just six days ago Williams partnered Auckland Cup red hot favourite Vincent to win at Cambridge, but tomorrow co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen jumps back on, leaving Williams knowing exactly what he is up against. But you never hear Williams moan about his role in harness racing’s biggest stable.  “I have had some amazing opportunities, like driving Vincent last Sunday, so I know better than most how hard he will be to beat this week,” says Williams.  “But I can’t worry about him, I have my own job to do.” Williams is good at doing his job on New Years Eve, with two of the richest wins of his career coming at the year ender. He won the Auckland Cup two years ago on Have Faith In Me, a drive Purdon could easily have taken for himself but instead he waited for a successful Williams appeal hearing before staying loyal to the young man. Williams piloted the same horse to win the Sales Series Pace on New Years Eve the previous year. “New Years Eve at The Park has been a happy hunting ground for me,” he smiles. “And I’m lucky to have some good drives again.”Heaven Rocks and Williams have a hate-love relationship: He hates the fact they have combined four times for exactly no wins but Williams would love to change that. Their latest disaster was in the Franklin Cup two weeks ago when Heaven Rocks, galloped, led, hung badly and then galloped again. “Mark has been here working him this week and I hope he can do his magic but a lot with him depends on his body language on the day, he is just that sort of horse. “My first job is to get him away and then I hope we can get around them and make a race of it with Vincent because it would make for a great spectacle.” So can the star he drives tomorrow beat the superstar he drove last Sunday? “Um, maybe. But it will be very, very hard for us to beat him.” Not so hard is tomorrow’s $100,000 National Trot, which has been ravaged by drop outs over the last two months to the point where there look to be three serious winning hopes. One of those is Kyvalley Blur, the Victorian veteran who Williams drove to beat Speeding Spur fair and square at Cambridge last Sunday. There wasn’t a lot between the pair but Kyvalley Blur outstayed his more favoured rival and the 2700m mobile gives him a shot at doing so again, although their career records suggest Speeding Spur is still the better horse. “He trotted beautifully last Sunday and I can’t see why he couldn’t win again but it might come down to who has the luck out of my fella, Speeding Spur and Temporale, who is going well too,” says Williams. Add in A Lister (race one), Stress Factor (race three), The Devils Own (race seven), Delight In Me (race eight) and Ashley Locaz (race 12) and it would surprise if Williams didn’t leave Alexandra Park a New Years Eve winner again.  Which would be the perfect way to end a tough year during which he missed 12 weeks in the sulky after shoulder surgery and came back short on confidence and in need of some time back out on the track. “It was hard coming back and maybe my timing was just a bit off and I was struggling to win races.” That fact is impossible to deny, Williams has driven just five winners this season but 20 second placings, and that figure would be even more disproportionate if it wasn’t for last Sunday’s double. “It was very frustrating but last week’s double came just as the right time and and is a nice confidence boost. ” Right on cue for Tim’s time -- New Year’s Eve. Michael Guerin

We should be about to find out just how good unbeaten three-year-old Chase Auckland really is. Because we know he is very, very good but to win tomorrow's $230,000 Sales Series Pace at Alexandra Park he might need to be special. The three-year-old has suggested that might be the case with six straight wins since he debuted on September 16 including a national record group one in the Sires' Stakes and a last start stunner in the Alabar Classic. But as freakish as he has been, he has led or trailed in five of those wins and sat parked against moderate opposition in his second start. Tomorrow is a totally different challenge, starting off the second line against group one winning opponents in a race where a sizzling time is all but guaranteed. Co-trainer Mark Purdon is undaunted. "He is very, very good and if they go hard I think he can still come sit parked and be the one to beat," he said. Whether punters want to brave taking $1.40 to multi up Chase Auckland (R7, No.11), especially with key rival King Of Swing (1) drawn to lead or trail is another matter. In a deep field the favourite should still win but for bad luck's sake alone the $1.40 may not be worth it as a multi anchor and stablemate All U Need Is Faith (12) might make better place sense. Also facing what looks a tricky draw on paper is Bettor Joy (R8, No.9) but her inside second line marble may not be a disaster as the 150-1 chance she follows out has gate speed and could create a gap early. It has been a mixed crop with no dominant filly but Dizzy Miss Lizzy (15) and Elle Mac (14) can win at their best and Bare Knuckle (4) looks like getting one of the better runs of the favourites. Speeding Spur (R10, No.2) is the best horse in the National Trot but was disappointing by his very high standards when he couldn't run down Kyvalley Blur (5) at Cambridge last Sunday. That was only his second run back after nine months off and with the better draw he is still the one to beat, with Temporale (6) having the weapons to test the two favourites. Early season juvenile races are often not as straight forward as they seem that could apply to Jessie Duke (R2, No.8) who has a reputation as big as his yearling sales-topping price. He has a tricky draw to work with and no Alexandra Park experience so while the opposition don't look stellar yet, if he is odds on, move on. Stress Factor (R3, No.4) was racing out of his grade when he won last start so meets some of the same horses, like Musculus (1), on the same mark so if he behaves he looks the best of the early bank builders. Heavyweight Hero (R5, No.9) is an open class trotter of the future still maturing and even though he is not well handicapped it may not matter while Freedom Fighter (R6, No.12) looks one of the better value options for the day. He was third to two good three-year-olds last start, meets a mixed bunch and his second line draw will boost his dividend. If Vincent (R11, No.3) steps and races up to his recent two wins the Auckland Cup is his to lose with stablemates Titan Banner (2) the logical danger and Jack's Legend (4) the improver and he was, after all, runner-up to Lazarus in the New Zealand Cup. Michael Guerin

Vincent may have a fair way to go to match champion stablemate Lazarus but you wouldn’t know it looking at the Auckland Cup market. The exceptional four-year-old pacer is set to start one of the shortest Auckland Trotting Cup favourites in history in the $250,000 classic at Alexandra Park early on Sunday night. Bookies are likely to have Vincent around the $1.40 mark to win the great race, matching what Lazarus was a few days out from the New Zealand Cup in November. Lazarus bolted away with that race and justified his record short price and has since gone on to win the Inter Dominion. But was already established as the best pacer in Australia before his second NZ Cup win, having already won the Cup the previous season by 10 lengths, the Victoria Cup in record time, two Flying Stakes and a NZ Free-For-All. Remarkably, Vincent is approaching Lazarus-type odds for Sunday at what will be only his second open class start. He bolted away with the first in the Franklin Cup at Alexandra Park two weeks ago and showed he had taken no harm from that when he jogged to victory in the $50,000 Four and Five-Year-Old Futurity at Cambridge on Sunday. With Mark Purdon losing his appeal against a 26-day suspension in Perth, co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen has been confirmed to partner Vincent while Tim Williams, who drove Vincent to win at Cambridge will be behind Heaven Rocks. Dexter Dunn will drive the third All Stars runner Titan Banner. While Vincent’s odds seem ridiculously short considering his lack of experience against top class older rivals, bookmakers probably don’t have much percentage to pay as they took a staggering $20,000 each way bet on him at $1.60 on Sunday and it is hard to make a case for any of his rivals to down the budding superstar. While the Auckland Cup contains New Zealand Cup runner-up Jacks Legend and the mad mammoth Heaven Rocks, it does lack Tiger Tara and Dream About Me from the NZ Cup, so Vincent’s rivals are not as strong as those Lazarus beat on November 14. While Vincent has an awfully long way to go to be compared with the open class version of Lazarus, their records are almost identical at the same stage of their careers: after 18 starts both had 15 wins with some luckless placed efforts.  Vincent’s record should be even better because the only time he has finished out of the money was when his sulky tyre was flattened by a rival in the Victoria Derby, a race he was a $1.10 favourite for. The two imposing stallions could be on the pathway to a thrilling clash in the Miracle Mile in two months after Vincent’s win at Cambridge on Sunday. That earned him an invite to the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire at Menangle on February 10 and if he won that, or even placed, he should be invited to the Miracle Mile two weeks later, a race that at this stage Lazarus’s final major target for the season.  With barrier four on Sunday the Auckland Cup may look Vincent’s to lose but Titan Banner’s closing sectionals were similar to his stablemate in the Franklin Cup and as a good standing start horse drawn barrier two he looms at the logical danger. Another big winner in the draws for Sunday is Speeding Spur, who has drawn barrier two in the $100,000 National Trot.  He was surprisingly beaten on his merits by Kyvalley Blur at Cambridge on Sunday but should appreciate the 2700m mobile while Kyvalley Blur (5) and Temporale (6) have drawn wider.   The National Trot lost a key player yesterday with bold chestnut Bordeaux was withdrawn with his summer campaign over.  “He has banged a hind leg and I was battling to get him right and I’d rather do the right thing by the horse and take him home,” says trainer Philip Iggo.  “So he will have a break and be set for the Rowe Cup.” But the draws for the Sires’ Stakes Fillies Championship and the Sales Series Pace have added intrigue with big names like Chase Auckland, Bettor Joy and Dizzy Miss Lizzy drawing poorly. Michael Guerin

Newly crowned Inter Dominion hero Lazarus will race six times in three Australian states in 36 days to kick off 2018. The champion five-year-old is set to return to the track at Gloucester Park in Perth on January 5 and the following two Fridays there before travelling to Victoria for the A$500,000 Hunter Cup at Melton on February 3. And trainer Mark Purdon will be back on the sulky for all four races. Lazarus has been having an easy time in West Australia since his argument-ending Interdom win on December 8 in which he sat parked to thrash Australia's best pacers.   In the very next race that night Purdon had his reinsman's licence suspended for 26 days for pushing out driving stablemate Ultimate Machete and still hasn't heard about when his appeal against that sentence will be heard. "I was hoping we would have heard an appeal date by now but I won't be going back to Perth for that hearing, we have a QC over there to handle that," said Purdon. The suspension leaves Purdon's chance of driving Auckland Cup favourite Vincent up in the air but regardless of how the appeal goes Lazarus will miss a race in Perth that was being mooted for him on December 29. "If he races next on January 5 then I can drive him no matter what happens in the appeal so that will be his next race," says Purdon. "I will go over and drive him in that, then stay there and train him myself for the Freemantle Cup (Jan 12) and the WA Cup (Jan 19)." Stablemate Have Faith In Me is also likely to contest the latter two group ones as he races on through the summer before heading to North America under new ownership. Michael Guerin

Impressive Auckland Reactor gelding Chase Auckland defeated another strong field of harness racing 3yo's tonight in the $50,000 Alabar Classic at Alexandra Park, and remains unbeaten with six wins from six starts. Trained by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen, Chase Auckland had to be good to win after getting attacked in front for most of the race by David Butcher and the Ray Green trained King Of Swing.  On the turn King Of Swing was beaten and the only danger to Chase Auckland was All U Need Is Faith who had trailed all the way. At the line Chase Auckland found plenty and managed to hold off his stablemate by half a head with another All Stars runner Spankem running into third. Driver Natalie Rasmussen said after the race. "Oh he is a very good horse and just seems to give a bit more every time I ask him". Chase Auckland ran the 2200m in a very fast 2-36.4 with a closing 800m in 56.7 and 400m in 27.9 seconds. The Alexandra Park track was lightning quick tonight with Vincent going close to breaking his own New Zealand record when winning fresh up in the $50,000 Lincoln Farms Franklin Cup. Vincent beat A G's Whitesocks by half a length and ran the 2700m stand in 3-19.7 with a last 800m in 55.6. Titian Banner ran third and remarkably his time of 3-18.8 was inside the record of 3-19.4. Earlier in the night Jo's Dream and Partyon deadheated in the $100,000 (Gr1) Rosslands Queen Of Hearts 4yo and older mares pace. The winners paced the 2200m mobile in 2-40.9 with a closing 800m in 56.3 seconds.   Chase Auckland winning his sixth race in a row.   Partyon and Jo's Dream deadheating tonight.   Vincent winning the Franklin Cup Harnesslink Media

Don't read too much into hotshot driver Natalie Rasmussen turning her back on Heaven Rocks for the $50,000 Lincoln Farms Franklin Cup at Alexandra Park tonight. The co-trainer says the enigmatic star pacer is still the one to beat, even though she has jumped off him to drive Vincent. The pair dominate betting on the 2700m standing start event as Alexandra Park's summer season goes up a notch with its first premier meeting of the season, while the track backs up with another meeting tomorrow night to cater for its huge Christmas bookings. Rasmussen and Mark Purdon train Vincent and Heaven Rocks but a driver reshuffle was forced after Purdon was suspended for 26 days on Inter Dominion night last Friday.   Purdon would have driven Vincent, last season's best three-year-old, in his comeback race but with him sidelined Rasmussen felt compelled to. "It is a tricky situation with Mark out because there is a lot of pressure driving a horse like Vincent fresh up and I don't think it is fair to put that pressure on somebody else," she explained. "He is ready to race and there to win but I think he is a false favourite and don't want him driven like a $2 chance because he probably isn't ready for that. "Of course he can win because he is a very good horse but I think Heaven Rocks is our better chance because he was so good last Friday and should be even fitter. "It is just a very tricky race for Vincent fresh up." Heaven Rocks will be partnered by Tim Williams, who admits he hasn't had great success on the nutcase pacer before. But he has been doing all the work with him in the north over the last two weeks. Add in Jack's Legend back on his home track, the improving AG's White Socks and Titan Banner, now back with Purdon-Rasmussen, and tonight's race will be a huge pointer to what to expect in the Auckland Cup on December 31. With Williams being in charge of the All Stars northern assault, he has been charged with getting Partyon's mind back on the job for tonight's group one $100,000 Rosslands Queen Of Hearts. The multiple group one winner looked lazy when a fresh up fourth last Friday in a race where Bonnie Joan was outstanding but there has been good early money to suggest that result can be reversed tonight. "She needed a bit of a sharpen up and she got that this week," said Williams. "I worked her in block blinds this week to get her mind on the job and she sprinted up the straight well with Vincent in her work. "She will race in sliding blinds on Friday and we expect her to improve a lot." One horse who won't need to improve is the stable rep in the $50,000 Alabar Classic in Chase Auckland. Owned by the race sponsors, the exciting three-year-old has barrier one and should remain unbeaten. The three-year-old fillies clash in the $85,000 Peter Breckon Memorial looks far more even but Bettor Joy deserves favouritism after a mammoth win last Friday while the main trot sees the return of Speeding Spur. Like Vincent in the Franklin Cup, Speeding Spur is good enough to win fresh up but he needs only one key rival getting an easy trip on the markers to be beaten. Michael Guerin

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