Racing: Lazarus leaves them for dead

By Michael Guerin, Michael Guerin in Christchurch

Lazarus first, daylight second in the $750,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington yesterday. Photo / NZ Racing Desk
Lazarus first, daylight second in the $750,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington yesterday. Photo / NZ Racing Desk

Sometimes when the head can't comprehend the heart takes over.

Which explains the raw emotion that poured out of champion horseman Mark Purdon as he oversaw the coronation of racing's new king at Addington yesterday.

Lazarus did the unthinkable in the $750,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup, distancing his rivals by a record margin and obliterating the national 3200m record in 3:53.1 of power pacing that left even the most hardened racegoers stunned.

The time, on a blustery Canterbury day, was absurd while the margin was Winx-like in its brutality.

For racing people their combined shock value instantly raised an unanswerable question: just how good is this horse?

He is clearly now a champion and has produced one of New Zealand racing's most unforgettable performances.

As a four-year-old yet to scratch the surface of his potential and with the very real possibility he can continue to improve, maybe what we saw yesterday was a horse who will one day sit alongside Cardigan Bay, Christian Cullen and Highland Fling among the elite few. The horse of his generation.

But that is too much information for even the smartest racing brain to process in a mere four minutes or the dizzying moments that followed.

So as trainer-driver Purdon enjoyed the rarest of rides up the Addington straight behind Lazarus, his head let his heart take over.

First there was a prolonged whip flourish from a man who usually wins group ones impersonating a statue.

Then, more incredibly, there were tears.

Tears, on a racetrack, from the man who is redefining his industry but who has also known its darkest days.

Purdon, the biggest brain in harness racing, became the computer who cried.

The reaction was understandable because when you have dedicated every day of your adult life to striving for perfection, it must be humbling when you find it.

Lazarus could be Purdon's masterpiece, a horse who can win everything in Australasia and with owners ambitious enough to consider taking on the world. "That was special," said Purdon, who trains Lazarus with partner Natalie Rasmussen.

"He is special. A horse shouldn't be able to do that."

The muscular stallion stepped away quickly at the start of the 3200m but was beaten to the lead by stablemate Smolda and he had to work hard to wrest that lead away.

The early burn - filling lugs with burning air and legs with lactic acid - should have left him vulnerable later but Lazarus simply never slowed down, an equine Forrest Gump running for the pleasure of it.

Had he set the national record after a cosy trip you could point to a rocket-fast Addington track and rationalise what has happened.

Had he won by 10 lengths in a slow time you could belittle the opposition.

To do both is a game changer. And the game is only beginning.

He will return to Addington for the NZ Free-For-All on Friday, then head to Auckland for the Cup there on December 31, with Victorian and NSW campaigns to come ending in the Miracle Mile. Taking a line through stablemate Have Faith In Me, who galloped at the 600m mark of yesterday's race, Lazarus will smash the Australasian mile record the first time he needs to.

That will eventually aid his stallion career, which already looks set in stone, with the next two years simply deciding his fee.

But racing fans can only hope Lazarus doesn't go to stud until he has climbed his Everest.

Because at Addington yesterday it felt like harness racing discovered its Usain Bolt.

New king

• Lazarus: 21 starts, 18 wins, three placings.
• Stakes: $1,355,414.
• Record book: 10-length margin the largest winning margin in metric era; 3:53.1 time tears 1.5 seconds off national record.

- NZ Herald

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