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War Dan Delight continued on his winning way when he took out the time honoured Alabar New Zealand Kindergarten Stakes at Wyndham yesterday. "He's a little professional, a typical Bettor's Delight and just does what he has to when he has to. Today he felt great in the running and sits on good speed. I think he's going to be a genuine racehorse with really good speed," said driver and co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen after the win. For most of the 1609 metre journey she trailed stablemate Jack Jones who ensured there was a strong pace early. Halfway down the straight Rasmussen pushed the colt into a gap and he came home nicely to beat a late charge from another stablemate Another Masterpiece. The winning margin was a neck.  Natalie Rasmussen and War Dan Delight (2)          - Photo Bruce Stewart. "He got a bit lost when he hit the front. He was going to go woosh but then when there was nothing to chase he went ........ okay (knocked off). I think a few gear changes will sort that out."  War Dan Delight is out of the seven win Elsu mare Miss Elsie which won two of her five two year old starts including her debut at the Northern Southland meeting in January 2010. Miss Elsie, as a broodmare, has also left Raukapuka Ruler which has won six of his fifteen starts.  He's owned by Australian Danny Zavitsanos and was bought at the 2017 Sale of the Stars for $90,000 when named Horotane Jack. Rasmussen says she's had a bit to do educating War Dan Delight.  "I've had a lot to do with him. He was just borderline early on and we ummed and arred. I had to iron out a few little niggles with him. After his first or second trial he thought 'ah I am a racehorse' because he's just so casual. Even in the trail today he was very kind and at the 1000 I had to turn the stick around and say come on, wake up. But he's going to go places."  The time of 1-53.3 was a new race, track and Southland record for two year olds. The previous record of 1-54.3 was jointly held by Kindergarten Stakes winners Le Sol (2010) and Itz Better To Win (2014).  "No surprises there. The track was lightning fast. Just beautiful and in great order."  It was the seventh time Mark Purdon has won the Kindergarten and the fourth time in the last five years that the Purdon/Rasmussen training combination have won the race. Purdon, as a solo trainer, won it in 2003 with Lennon and again in 2013 with Messini. In 2008 he won it with Sir Clive who he trained in partnership with Grant Payne. His last five winners with Rasmussen have been; 2016 - Pacing Major, 2015 - Waikiki Beach and 2014 with Itz Bettor To Win. The win also gives War Dan Delight a good chance of completing the time honoured treble of the Sapling Stakes (Ashburton), Kindergarten Stakes (Wyndham) and Welcome Stakes (Addington). The last horse to do that was Pacing Major in 2016.   And in a major move, the Rolleston training partnership recently decided to buy fewer yearlings at the sales so it's likely that they'll have fewer two year olds next season.  "We ended up with about 18 instead of thirty or forty so we can concentrate on each individual a bit more." Bruce Stewart Southland Harness Racing  

Top harness racing 3yo Chase Auckland has been pulled from the New Zealand Derby field after suffering a leg injury. The Purdon/Rasmussen trained gelding has curbed a hock meaning he will not get a chance to emulate his sire Auckland Reactor by adding the New Zealand Derby to his already impressive resume. “He has a curb and we will give him about three weeks off now and assess where we are with him,” said Natalie Rasmussen on the All Stars stable website. “If all goes well he could be got up for the Harness Jewels otherwise he will have a long break with an eye to the Cup meeting in November maybe. “It is bad luck from a timing viewpoint, though the owners have had a good run with him so far and these things are always a possibility. “We have some other nice three-year-olds to tackle the Derby but he will certainly be missed.” Natalie Rasmussen The All Stars team will still be well represented in the derby with four runners still nominated for the race including the now TAB favourite Sicario along with Tennyson Bromac, Funatthebeach and Anthem who all won their respective races at Addington on Friday night.   Harnesslink Media    

Try and not let a glaze come over your eyes but the harness racing All Stars team just keeps setting records. And they get more extraordinary even by the week. Last week the stable posted 10 wins from 10 races competed in. If that had ever happened before it was rare indeed. But five days later the score is 17 races and 17 successive wins. You can bet your  pyjamas that hasn't happened in any professional stable before. But that, as they say, is not all. Seven wins at Addington on Friday night is not a new  record in itself amazing as it might be. But it is if you consider it was a 10 race progamme. All Stars's previous 7 win records have been set on  12 race programmes. Never easy. But a little easier than a 10 race programme even if it not a Premier meeting as the others were  As is occasionally brought out driver Doug Watts drove seven winners on an eighr race programme at Reefton back in the day. Six of them were trained from one stable but the devil in the detail is that three horses won two races each. To train seven winners at Addington with seven different horses is an astonishing feat. The races were not just a+b=c either. Ohanzee had to work a bit harder than Turn It Up in the running and that made the difference (2.22.9 / 27.7) Anthem had to overcome a difficult draw and drag a puncture for the last round to run 2.22.3 / 28.4 but convincing in the end with game Duplicated third. Enchance Your Calm has, not surprisingly, something to learn about racing according to Mark but  getting some nice sectionals he outclassed his 2yo trot opponents while Elle Mac chalking up a second stable quinella with Bettor Trix, didn't run great time but ran a great race winning easily in the end after doing her fair share of work in 2.23.1 /27.8. Winterfell took advantage of stablemate Stress Factor's keenness to get on with the job trailing on the outer and just being too strong for Mark over the final stages in a very good 2.25.7 /29.3  before Funatthebeach really stood up in the open race left sitting parked and giving Alta Orlando the trail but fighting off the older former G1 winner with a game display in 2.23.5 but home in 26.6!. Then Tim joined the party with Tennyson Bromac also sitting parked and still too strong over a G1 placegetter in 2.22.1  /27.7  which was actually the fastest time of the night Courtesy of All Stars Stable website Turn It Up Anthem Enhance Your Calm Elle Mac Winterfell Funatthebeach Tennyson Bromac

On the right Track - 10 Minutes with Tristan Larsen - Georgie Bolton from the HRNZ Education team caught up with Tristan Larsen about this Harness Racing career and goals.    How did you get involved in Harness Racing? I was born and bred into the industry. My Mum and Dad, Michelle and Kirk Larsen are trainers in Southland and my first memories are of sitting in the cart with Dad when I was about six years old holding the reins and pretending to drive.   What does a typical day for Tristan Larsen look like? I am currently still going to school at Southland Boys High. Im probably no superstar at school but I enjoy my sports! My alarm goes off at 5am every morning and I head down to the stables to do the boxes, help Dad gear up and drive two or three horses. I then race back into the house to get ready for school and catch the bus by 7.50am. I normally spend Saturdays at the races or playing rugby and Sunday is my day off to hang out with my friends.   Was there ever any chance of you doing anything other than horses? No I think it was always going to be horses! However if I had to pick a trade I would be a Chef. I make a pretty good homemade fish and chips and won an achievement award at school for cooking.   Are there any moments so far that stand out for you? When James Butt won his first race. He is a pretty special horse to me; we brought him at the sales. I broke him in and worked with him and he won in my race colours which was pretty cool. I also love watching the yearling sales and somehow I persuaded Mum and Dad into getting a trotter. Later on down the track if the cheque book is looking ok I would like to get into buying from the yearling sales.   Do you have a favourite horse? Tolkien is my favourite horse. He is the one we brought from the sales and the first trotter that I have worked with from day one. Tolkien or Terry as we call him has a lot of character and is a real thinker which keeps me on my toes. We seem to get along well together and I enjoy working with him.   What do you love about the industry? I love the great people that you get to meet and work with. I also love the excitement and satisfaction you get when a horse you are involved with wins.   What are your hobbies outside of racing? Although I am pretty busy with the horses. I play rugby for school which I really enjoy. I also like to play golf with my cousins. I love watching racing and follow a lot of the racing in Australia as well!   Do you have any ambition to travel? Although it can get abit cold I love living in Southland. At some stage I would like to work in a few different stables to better my knowledge and maybe even work in Australia.   Is there anybody who has influenced you so far in your career? Yes my Mum and Dad have taught me everything I know about horses. They have given me so many opportunities with the horses that I am so grateful for. I admire Dexter and he is somebody I would like to model my driving on. I also admire the greats in the game like Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen as one day I would love to be a trainer myself.   What are your goals for the future? I have already been fortunate enough to have had some workout drives for some of our owners; the Duffy family, Gordon Smith and Melinda Lowe and the Veint family had faith in me to put me on their trotter Top notch eagle which I was very grateful for. I can’t wait until I get my juniors. I just want to keep improving my skills as a horseman and hopefully win as many races as possible. It would be great to get on some of the junior driver trips and then eventually I want to progress into becoming a trainer.   HRNZ Marketing

The cloud of doom hovering over the career of Auckland Cup winner Vincent is clearing. The exceptional four-year-old is now rated a good chance of racing again next season just weeks after fears he may need to be retired to stud because of a suspensory injury. Trainer Mark Purdon says the magnificent looking pacer could even be back at the races as soon as early next year. "We are definitely aiming him at getting back to the races, not a stud career," Purdon confirmed to the Herald. "Initially when he got injured it looked like that may not be the case we really feared it might be the end of his racing career. "But things since then have been far more positive." Vincent had just won the Auckland Cup and was favourite for the Ballarat Cup and Chariots Of Fire when he damaged his suspensory in late January. That also ruled him out of the Miracle Mile and he was brought back to New Zealand for a thorough veterinary inspection, which had it suggested he was finished as a racehorse, would have seen negotiations start with stud farms. "But he has been at the clinic at Matamata and they are hopeful that stem cell injections into the area can help it heal 100 per cent," explained Purdon. "He has already had one course and is now on his next and apparently the nature of the injury is not as bad as it can be. So it is very early days but I'd like to think he will be back racing." Even all going well Vincent won't be back to try and thwart stablemate Lazarus's attempt at a third New Zealand Cup come November or the Inter Dominions in Victoria a few weeks later. But if and when he does make it back to the track he will add much needed glamour to the New Zealand pacing stocks. It is almost unprecedented to have so many top horses leave the country or be retired in such a short period of time, with Have Faith In Me, Heaven Rocks and Waikiki Beach having left over the summer while Smolda was retired last year. Add to that the injuries to great mares Dream About Me and The Orange Agent and Auckland Cup runner-up Titan Banner and the cupboard at the highest level is awfully bare. For once the Australian ranks seem to have more depth, with My Field Marshal there now and horses like Chicago Bull, Soho Tribeca and Jilliby Kung Fu having emerged. A fully healthy version of Vincent has done enough to suggest he is as good as them and if he can return to the track he remains the heir apparent to Lazarus, who you would have to think would be retired at the end of next season. One of the genuine class acts to have emerged from the sparse local summer of pacing has been Star Galleria, who blew his rivals away again at Alexandra Park last Friday. After a roller coaster three-year-old season last term he has developed strength to compliment his raw speed but trainer Steven Reid will not stretch him out to 3200m in the Easter Cup at Addington in a few weeks. Even though Star Galleria was a brave fourth in the Auckland Cup over that 3200m distance on December 31, Reid will stick to his original plans and aim him at the Taylor Mile and Messenger at Alexandra Park in late April and May before the Harness Jewels at Cambridge in June. With some possibility Miracle Mile runner-up Jilliby Kung Fu could be lured to New Zealand for the Jewels a clash between he, Star Galleria and Jack's Legend would set that meeting alight. Michael Guerin

Driven by Tim Williams, More The Better, the winner of twelve races and over $500,000 proved to be too strong in the Group Three Yardhurst Hotel Northern Southland Trotting Cup. Owned by co-trainer Mark Purdon, his father Roy Purdon MBE and David Levene OBE, the four year old entire was having his first start for the season. “His three year old season wasn’t as good as we'd hoped. He was a fanastic two year old. He seems to have come back just as good as he was at two. We’ve been happy with his trials and we were very confident today,” said stable manager for the Purdon/Rasmussen stable Michelle Neilson. Neilson says as a young horse he raced over the shorter sprint distances but his forte is staying races. “Our next aim is the Easter Cup at the end of the month at Addington. He’s a strong horse so it’s nice to slow him down a bit. They race a bit over short trips as young horses so the distance won’t be any worries for him now.” After beginning well from the twenty metre mark Williams settled More The Better in seventh place as the field settled into single file. With 1200 metres to run he decided to move around the field and for the last lap he sat parked beside leader My Wee Man. Inside the last 400 metres these two runners cut away from the field and were both in for the fight. But More The Better proved too good.  Williams had only to run the reins over his rump to win by three and a half lengths from a late charging Buster Brady. A brave My Wee Man was a nose back in third. “He’s got great manners and he won today with the plugs still in.” This is the second time Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen have won the Northern Southland Cup. They won with Isaiah in 2015. His time of 3-20.1 is a race record. The winning time today was 3-22.6.  Sponsor Dave McHugh, his wife Glenda, and Michelle Neilson  - Photo Bruce Stewart.  More The Better is out of the In The Pocket mare Lucky Pocket which is a full sister to Christian Cullen. The win by More The Better caps off a very profitable two days for the Purdon/Rasmussen All Stars stables. They starters thirteen runs at two race meeting (Auckland and Invercargill) winning eight races and stakes of $347,900. Driver Tim Williams scored three wins at the Northern Southland meeting and one in Auckland.  Bruce Stewart Southland harness racing    

The royally bred Luby Lou trained by Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen won the first ever Southland Trotting Oaks at Ascot Park today. The race was sponsored by Haras des Trotteurs. “She trotted pretty fluently and was happy, so that was the main thing. I’ve driven her in three of her trials this preparation so I’ve had a bit to do with her, that always helps. Marks done a super job with her,” said winning driver Tim Williams. By Muscle Hill, the three year old filly is raced by Breckon Farms - Six of the Best Syndicate. She's the first foal out of the Andover Hall mare Luby Ann which won four races from eighteen starts for Mark Purdon. In one of her wins she beat the mighty Stent at Ashburton. Tim Williams talking to Trackside presenter Jason Teaz, Stable Manager Michelle Neilson, Northern Southland President Bill McDonald and Dave Sanders from Haras des Trotteurs  - Photo Bruce Stewart.    In today's trotting features for three year old fillies, Williams took Luby Lou straight to the top with favourite Renezmae hard on his back. At the end of the 2200 metres only five runners were in with a show of winning and Luby Lou proved too dominant beating Renezmae by a length and a quarter.  “She was happy in front and she’s got a bit of quality.” The winning time of 2-47.9 was a new track record. The previous record of 2-50.2 was jointly held by Kumbya (2006) and Avenge (2001). Bruce Stewart Southland harness racing    

Sensational harness racing 3yo Chase Auckland was back in winning form tonight, easily winning the $235,000 Woodlands Stud Northern Derby in race and New Zealand record time.  The imposing son of Auckland Reactor has now won eight races from nine starts this season, with his only defeat coming last week, when he was beaten by stablemate Sicario in the Derby prelude. Sicario ran second tonight giving trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen the Derby quinella. Chase Auckland (Auckland Reactor - Delicata) did not get it easy in tonights race and had to work hard to get to the front. However once getting there he never looked like getting headed and he cruised to victory in 3:16.8 for the 2700m mobile. Driver Natalie Rasmussen was full of praise for the 3yo after the race and said, "He raced well wide for a long way and I had to let him settle before committing him to take the front. All credit to the horse, he tried real hard and always felt great in the run."   "He actually felt like he could not get beat when he got to the front."  "It was great to wear the teal pants and win in a race like this," she said. The All Stars Stable had a very successful night also winning with Princess Tiffany and Jesse Duke. Princess Tiffany won the 2yo fillies $80,000 Delightful Lady Classic after sitting parked for the whole trip, while Jesse Duke put in an amazing run when winning the Group One $100,000 Young Guns. The impressive Jesse Duke (Bettor's Delight - Daisy Dundee) looked like he would be unlucky for the second week in a row when he was squeezed and broke early, but he picked himself up and zoomed home out wide from last at the turn to win narrowly in a 1:55.0 mile rate. His run was one of the best 2yo performances seen on the track in recent years. Chase Auckland winning the Derby   Harnesslink Media    

Elle Mac is going to be exactly where she needs to be to win tonight's $125,000 Pascoes Northern Oaks. Because when it comes to three-year-old classics at Alexandra Park, especially over the 2700m mobile, the winners almost exclusively come from on the marker pegs, usually in front or at worse the trail. And of the three favourites who dominate tonight's Oaks, Elle Mac looks almost certain to have that tactical advantage. In the last decade only one filly has been able to overcome racing in the running line and covering extra ground around five bends and still win the Oaks: Adore Me. She went on to win a New Zealand Cup and pace a 1:47.7 mile so can probably be excused from the normal Oaks winner conversation. Usually the Oaks winner is the filly who can jump to the front, cut the corners and sprint the last 400m to leave her rivals, many of whom are racing over 2700m for the first time, struggling. It is the tried and true Oaks and Derby recipe. And Elle Mac looks that filly tonight as she has a handy enough front line draw while her key, and some would say only serious, rivals in Bettor Joy and Dizzy Miss Lizzy start of the second line. Admittedly either could secure a miracle path through early and get in front of Elle Mac, which would change the complexion of the Oaks and leave punters taking odds on about the favourite facing nervous times. But that looks unlikely enough and all the form between the big three suggests the one with that inside running advantage will win. Bettor Joy did exactly that when she led and won the Sales Series Pace over Elle Mac at Addington last start but the runner-up's performance suggested reverse the draws, reverse the result. Tonight's race should prove that. "It definitely makes it harder on my filly and gives the advantage to Elle Mac but we won't be giving her the race," said Bettor Joy's driver Dexter Dunn. Dizzy Miss Lizzy was able to come from behind both to beat them in both the Sales Series and Jewels last season but that was when she covered no extra ground. It is hard to see her getting that sort of run and the right drag into the race tonight. After a dreadful last fortnight in Sydney, Elle Mac's trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen should get things back on track tonight as they also have Chase Auckland as a red hot favourite in the prelude to next week's Woodlands Northern Derby. He meets some sharp opponents and faces the outside draw but has looked the best of his crop so far, although punters wouldn't be wise to take anything ridiculously short as he is fresh up and the main target is next Friday. While the youngsters will be the star attractions tonight the battle of speed freak four-year-olds Star Galleria and Jack's Legend in The Founders over 1700m is the night's most tactical race. Jack's Legend chased Lazarus home in the NZ Cup, beating Tiger Tara and has had a break after some moderate summer form while Star Galleria downed Heaven Rocks last start but has the wider draw tonight and could be driven the more conservatively in a race where high class mares Utmost Delight and Delishka have a major fitness edge. Michael Guerin

Is the fallen champion back to his best? Can he get off the canvas and do what no other pacer has done? For Lazarus, the $750,000 Miracle Mile on Saturday night will reach a climatic finale of biblical proportions. Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen have been here before. It was November 29, 2009 when the pair, who at the time barely knew each other, arrived at Menangle very separately for a Miracle Mile with a pacing great a piece. Rasmussen was the trainer-driver of Blacks A Fake the four-time Inter Dominion hero and still Australasia’s richest ever pacer. Purdon trained Kiwi speed freak Auckland Reactor, a horse seemingly suited to Sydney’s need-for-speed race. Both superstars were drawn wide, settled back, and barely ran past a horse, finishing alongside each other near last. Back then Purdon and Rasmussen wouldn’t have had much to say, they didn’t even exchange more than a casual hello till 2011, before soon after becoming the most powerful couple in the history of harness racing. Harness racing champion Lazarus. Picture: Ashlea Brennan Source:Supplied But that dusty November day they both learned a lesson: You don’t win the Miracle Mile going backwards. It is still seared into their memories as tonight Lazarus, a hybrid of Blacks A Fake and Auckland Reactor, rolls onto the track for the $750,000 Ainsworth Miracle Mile. Before this Miracle Mile though they will talk. The conversation will be short. Rasmussen will ask her partner if Lazarus is ready. Really ready? If Purdon says yes, Rasmussen will unleash the world’s most powerful pacer. “If Mark tells me he is back to his best, then I will be driving him like that,” says Rasmussen, fearless as she is blunt. She has driven the two fastest miles ever paced in Australia with Have Faith In Me and Adore Me, the latter when she started from the outside of the front line and ran as hard as she could for as long as she could until her rival’s couldn’t take it. “I drove Adore Me four wide, three wide and then parked and she bolted in 1:47.7,” says Rasmussen. All we need is a miracle: Lazarus and trainer Mark Purdon. Picture: Ashlea Brennan Source:Supplied “And Laz is better than her. She was a great, great mare, but Laz is better.” Saturday night’s problem for Lazarus is two-fold. He was below his best, troubled by the lingering effects of a virus when he clawed his way into third in his Mile prelude last Saturday and then he drew the outside barrier for Saturday night’s glamour sprint. No pacer has even run a place in the Menangle Miracle Mile from the outside barrier. No horse has won from outside barrier five. “You don’t win Miracle Miles going back, those top horses don’t come back to you,” says Rasmussen. “But if Mark has Laz back to his best then I’m there to race. I will let him show me how good he is.” Lazarus has rarely let the pair, or his fans, down. After two New Zealand Cups, an Inter Dominion, a Hunter Cup and a Victoria Cup, the Mile is the only missing jewel in his crown. Well-named, he has bounced back from adversity before, winning the Hunter Cup three weeks ago when a fortnight earlier he was lame and in doubt. Mark Purdon works on Lazarus’s fitness. Picture: Ashlea Brennan Source:Supplied Now, like a boxer floored, he must get off the canvas and do what no other pacer has done. He needs a miracle. Blacks A Fake couldn’t do it and he was a warrior. Could Lazarus be even better? “Maybe,” offers Rasmussen. “Blackie was amazing but maybe he would have been even better if I was the trainer then I am now, having learned so much from Mark. “But Laz has that x-factor, that stamina and speed. And he has confidence, confidence that comes from all that winning from a young age. “Is he better than Blackie?” muses Rasmussen. “If Mark gives me the word on Saturday night, I am going to go find out.” Lazarus salutes in the Victoria Cup last year. Picture: Stuart McCormick Source:Herald Sun By Michael Guerin Reprinted with permission of the site 

Being the best may not be good enough in tonight's Miracle Mile. Because Kiwi pacing hero Lazarus is the best pacer in the race, the best in Australasia and probably the best pacer in the world. But at 11.32pm tonight at Menangle with A$750,000 ($800k) on the line Lazarus faces the most daunting task of his career, maybe the most difficult faced by any horse since Menangle opened nearly a decade ago. No horse has placed in a Miracle Mile from barrier eight. It's like being asked to win the Olympic 800m medal starting 10m behind the pack. Lazarus faces covering more ground than all of his rivals - all group one winners - in a race where they could threaten the Australasian record of 1:47.5 To win, his real time, taking into account actual ground covered, could need to be close to 1:46, the world record. At his wrecking ball best of the last two New Zealand Cups days or his Inter Dominion win in December, Lazarus could do that. Maybe. But nobody, not even genius trainer Mark Purdon who has spent almost every waking minute with Lazarus this week, knows if the great one is feeling that great. Purdon was stunned by how a supposedly minor virus last week left Lazarus a shadow of himself, well beaten in a 1:51 mile last Saturday. If that version of Lazarus takes up his spot at barrier eight behind the mobile tonight he will have no chance. Purdon doesn't expect that. He is adamant Lazarus is over the virus and better than last week. "His blood reports, which are the most important thing, suggest he is over it," says Purdon. "His white blood cell count is back to normal so I have been working him this week like nothing has gone wrong." Purdon was happy with that final fast work on Thursday morning, although not cat-that-got-the-cream happy. "In a couple of his big wins in the past, like the first New Zealand Cup and the Inter final, I got off him after his last piece of fast work and thought he felt bullet proof. "I can't say he feels like that now. It is hard to tell with him because he is not the greatest trackworker, not one of those aggressive stallions who gets all puffed up and rips into it. "But his work has been as good as I'd expect and I guess we just have to go out there and see what happens. "I know punters may want more detail than that but I won't know any more before the race unless something changes. "He seems bright and happy. But you have to wonder whether the hard race last week when he wasn't right has dulled him and also whether, because he hasn't been at his peak, he is ready for a 1:48 mile. "And in this field, even that may not be good enough." Horses like Soho Tribeca and Tiger Tara are tough enough to beat Lazarus Lite. And My Field Marshal, Anything For Love and Jilliby Kung Fu have the raw speed to strike at any Achilles heel exposed late in the home straight. But most New Zealand punters won't want to back them. It would be like betting against the All Blacks, even if you knew they were vulnerable. Because that is the word to describe Lazarus tonight. He is vulnerable. There is also another word to describe Lazarus. Champion. If you want to back New Zealand's best racehorse tonight you need to decide whether he is more vulnerable or more champion. What does Purdon think? "I think he is ready to go a big race, and I am confident he will be in three. "But ... I'd really prefer if the race was another week away." Needing a miracle •The A$750,000 Miracle Mile is on at Menangle at 11.32pm (NZ time) tonight. •After a shock defeat, viral issue and with a poor draw, Lazarus faces the greatest test of his career. •No horse has won Sydney's biggest harness race from the outside barrier Lazarus faces tonight. Michael Guerin

Mark Purdon will be hoping for a second training win in the Miracle Mile on Saturday night and if it happens he will know it has been well earned. So will Natalie. Both could tell you how hard a race it is to win. Bloody hard!. Even by super race standards All Stars has one on the board thanks to HAVE FAITH IN ME driven by Natalie in his fabulous, record shattering  2016 victory over Lennythshark. But both Mark and Natalie have hard luck stories in other runnings of the race. BLACKS A FAKE posted two second placings for Natalie one by half a head. IL VICOLO was twice second also for Mark. The second time, when he went down to Iraklis in December 1996 they set a mile rate which was never bettered in the race while it was run over 1760m, which it was until 2009. JACK CADE trained and driven by Mark was second to Sokyola in 2003 and SMOLDA second to Lennytheshark last year when LAZARUS was third and WAIKIKI BEACH 4th.  That makes six second placings between Mark and Natalie so perhaps Natalie's strike rate won her the drive this year ! The race is also tougher for New Zealand horses to win than you may think especially given the number of superstar horses we have developed i n the last 20 years. Kiwi-trained horses have only won four Miles this century. Holmes D G won his second in 2000, Monkey King won the first mile race nine years later and Christen Me and Have Faith In Me have scored since. The other thing about the Miracle Mile- If you are an avid supporter of the Kiwis and you have heart problems-don't watch. Only one horse has won the race over the mile  by more than 2 metres. Which isn't very far. The last three have been won by short half heads (nose to us) or a head and that tradition looks like continuing on Saturday. Only one  of the mile races has not broken 1.51 and that was when Smoken UP easily beat Karloo Mick and Imamightyquinn back in 2011. There is no fear of a 1.51 mile this year with 1.47 under threat if we get the fireworks many are expecting,    Courtesy of All Stars Racing Stables               

A Miracle Mile that Lazarus couldn't lose is starting to look like one the champion pacer will struggle to win. The Kiwi pacing hero struck not one but two judder bars over the weekend on the road to the only great Australasian race to have eluded him and is set to be a huge drifter in the market. The first signs of trouble for Lazarus, and punters, came when the Inter Dominion champ was a brave but battling third in his $100,000 prelude to the Mile at Menangle on Saturday night. That was still enough to earn him an invitation to the A$750,000 super sprint this Saturday but Lazarus clearly wasn't at his best, only clawing his way into third on heart after looking beaten at the 500m mark.   He appeared still drained by the effects of a virus trainer-driver Mark Purdon had expected to be out of his system but dogged the entire Purdon-Rasmussen stable on a dreadful night at the office. "We had a bug through the team during the week but we thought they were over it," said Purdon. "They had good blood reports and we even had Laz scoped on the morning of the race so we could keep the stewards up to date but clearly he was still below his best. "So while I was disappointed in him because he tried so hard, it was hardly ideal." Purdon said Lazarus appeared to come through the hard run behind long-time rival Tiger Tara well and looked fresh yesterday, and he expects to know more about his well-being after fast work on Tuesday. But that isn't the only problem facing Lazarus as he drew the outside of the front line at yesterday's barrier draw, meaning he will start from barrier eight. Since the Miracle Mile moved to Menangle a decade ago no horse has even placed in the race from barrier eight. That saw him move from $1.70 on Saturday morning to $2.20 with the NZ TAB last night but he could stretch out to $3 with some bookies before race start time, especially depending on how Purdon assesses his bounce back to peak fitness. The big winner in the draw was the faster of Saturday's two prelude winners in Anything For Love, who has barrier three for the Mile while Tiger Tara's unbelievable run of ace barrier draws continued. He has now drawn the ace in the Inter Dominion Final, Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile and whether he can hold Anything For Love at the start will be a crucial factor in the race. A$750k Miracle Mile The field for the A$750,000 Ainsworth Miracle Mile at Menangle on Saturday night is: 1: Tiger Tara (1) 2: Atomic Red (2) 3: Anything For Love (3) 4: My Field Marshal (4) 5: Jilliby Kung Fu (5) 6: Soho Tribeca (6) 7: Lennytheshark (7) 8: Charlaval (8) 9: Let It Ride (9) 10: Lazarus (10) Emergencies: Let It Ride, Atomic Red.   Michael Guerin

The biggest name in New Zealand racing is set for a surprise season swansong - maybe even two. Champion pacer Lazarus could start in both Auckland and Christchurch before the end of the season, giving New Zealand fans a rare chance to see the freakish pacer. Trainer Mark Purdon is reluctant to confirm either of those options until after next week's A$750,000 Miracle Mile in New South Wales but says they are both on the table as he would love to give Lazarus's fans a chance to see him in the flesh. Lazarus has drawn the ace in his A$100,000 Miracle Mile Prelude at Menangle on Saturday night and is a $1.60 favourite to win Sydney's greatest harness race a week later. He would then have 13 days before the $50,000 Co-Op Taxis Free-For-All at Alexandra Park, a race his stablemate Smolda started in last season after running a close second in the Miracle Mile. "Laz has to travel home through Auckland anyway and could well be there around that time so he is definitely a chance to start at Alexandra Park," says Purdon. "I wouldn't make any decision until after the Miracle Mile because he has had a busy summer and done a lot of travelling but I would like people at home to get a chance to see him. "The way the fans in Perth and Victoria have received him has been wonderful and we know plenty of people back home would love to see him too." Even if Lazarus doesn't make it to Alexandra Park for what would be harness racing's version of a Winx-like occasion, he is almost certain to head to the Easter Cup, fittingly sponsored by Purdon's All Stars stables, at Addington on March 31. "That is definitely on his programme at this stage," confirmed Purdon. If Lazarus doesn't race at Alexandra Park he may need a blowout in the Addington free-for-all a week earlier, so he looks likely to have two starts in New Zealand to end his season. "And then regardless of what happens in the Easter Cup he will be finished for the season and we will aim him at a third New Zealand Cup next term." While he is New Zealand's most loved harness horse Lazarus has only had four starts here this season, the last being his New Zealand Cup win on November 14. Since then he has won the Inter Dominion and Hunter Cup and if he adds the Miracle Mile will be the only horse to hold Australasia's four greatest race titles at the same time. Meanwhile, exactly who drives stablemate and second favourite Heaven Rocks in the Miracle Mile is unclear, with no date set for Natalie Rasmussen's appeal against her suspension that could cost her the drive. With Jilliby Kung Fu having accepted his invitation to the Miracle Mile, the other seven spots in the super sprint will be filled from the starters in Saturday's two preludes. Lazarus's list • A$100,000 Prelude at Menangle on Saturday. • A$750,000 Miracle Mile on Feb 24. • Potentially $50,000 Free-For-All at Alex Park on March 9 or $30,000 Free-For-All at Addington on March 23. • $100,000 Easter Cup at Addington on March 31. Michael Guerin

Natalie Rasmussen has appealed the suspension she received when driving Heaven Rocks into third place in this years Hunter Cup. Natalie stated on the All Stars Website, she feels the three week penalty she received for "half carting" during the Hunter Cup was excessive and has a stay of proceedings until her appeal against the penalty is held. The penalty would prevent her driving Heaven Rocks, The Devii's Own, Partyon etc on Miracle Mile day at Menangle. "It is the first time I have been charged with that offence  and compared with what other drivers were receiving for penalty it seems very harsh" Natalie says that Heaven Rocks receiving a warning for barrier manners at Ballarat which led to his removal from the mobile draw after the Hunter Cup was "news to us" "We didn't know about that and indeed we weren't told about the Hunter Cup decision either. It is a blow for "Mene's" chances." Meanwhile Lazarus is primed for a tilt at the $750,000 Group 1 Miracle Mile to be run at Menangle on the 24th February.  The current track and Australasian mile record is 1-47.5 which was set by All Stars runner Have Faith In Me in the 2016 Miracle Mile. Mark Purdon has said in the media, "Lazarus could go a 1-46 mile if needed", which would obliterate the current record by more than a second if he can run that sort of time.   Harnesslink Media  

The difference between racing’s very good and its greatest was never more evident than in Lazarus’s A$500,000 Hunter Cup victory. The Kiwi pacing machine overcame slight race fitness concerns after his recent soundness scare to crush many of the best Australasia has to offer, becoming New Zealand’s richest ever pacer in the process. But while the victory continues his surge up the leader board of the all-time harness heroes, just a few days earlier what he makes looks so easy was looking anything but. Because on Wednesday his trainer-driver  Mark Purdon was worried after Lazarus smashed in track work by his own stablemate Heaven Rocks, who himself was a brave and luckless third on Saturday night. “I’ll admit on Wednesday I was worried,” said a beaming Purdon, who trains Lazarus with Natalie Rasmussen. “I shouldn’t have been. When it comes to race night Laz knows. He knows what it is about and knows to get serious. “He did all that work and they tell me broke the track record, he is just an incredible horse.” The difference is Heaven Rocks is a very good athlete, Lazarus is a champion racehorse. Even the clock agreed, Lazarus clipping a full second off the track record mile rate, pacing a 1:54.1 rate for the 2760m mobile.  After being forced to miss the West Australia Cup two weeks ago because of his hoof concussion issues, Lazarus lived up to his name and Purdon admits it is one of the most satisfying wins of his Hall of Fame career. But Lazarus still had one jewel in harness racing’s crown to secure, the A$750,000 Miracle Mile at Menangle on February 24 to confirm his coronation. He will contest a prelude there on February 17 and Purdon has no concerns about the hoof soreness returning. “He will be fine. He recovered from that pretty quickly so I don’t have any concerns going to Sydney.” After passing Monkey King as our richest pacer he now has his sights on Blacks A Fake’s title as the highest earner in Australasian history. He is still over $1million shy of that target but the indications are he will race on next season rather than going to stud. With the Miracle Mile still to come this month and the Inter Dominions moving back to Victoria next year, meaning Lazarus won’t need to travel to Perth, he could take on  over $4million worth of races next season. If he can maintain his present stunning level, he could retire the richest and maybe even the best the Southern Hemisphere has produced. Still, Menangle and the Mile will present different challenges, it being the race where famously he was beaten fair and square for one of the few times in his career. The beaten drivers behind him produced some stunners on Saturday night and Greg Sugars couldn’t have driven brave runner-up Soho Tribeca any better but like most was left shaking his heads after chasing the wonder horse.  “My horse went great and I was happy enough with my drive but really what can you do against that?” asked Sugars. But trainer Michael Stanley issued a Miracle Mile warning. “We were thrilled with how our horse went and when you are beaten by a horse like that what can you do,” said Stanley. “But the Miracle Mile is our chance. If we can draw inside him (Lazarus) and get to the front I think he is beatable.” We will find out on February 24. Michael Guerin

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