It could be advantage Heaven Rocks for the first major clash of the harness racing season.
The biggest names in pacing - Lazarus, Heaven Rocks and Have Faith In Me - trialled at Rangiora yesterday as their final public lead-ups to Addington tomorrow week.
And the way Heaven Rocks dealt to his two superstar stablemates suggests he could start favourite for their season-opening clash.
Heaven Rocks displayed perfect manners not only at the start of the 2600m standing start but also at near full speed over the last 800m in 55 seconds. That was enough to see him overcome his 40m handicap to beat Robbie Burns, who started off the front, with Lazarus (40m) not asked for his maximum effort in third. Have Faith In Me galloped badly early and was fourth.
While it was only a trial and Lazarus was not asked for his best, the ease with which Heaven Rocks won suggested he is more forward than the NZ Cup winner, which driver and co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen was quick to confirm. "Lazarus has developed into a real stallion, very big and thick through the neck and the shoulder so he is taking a little longer to come up," says Rasmussen.
"And being a stallion, they often take a race or two to come to hand and get that fat out of them. Whereas Heaven Rocks is a big, athletic horse, obviously not a stallion, and he is very forward.
"His manners have been great this time in and I have done a lot of one-on-one work with him, which I think suits him because he is a very finicky horse.
"So while we are very happy with them both, Heaven Rocks will probably be the more naturally forward of the two when they race next week.
"Still, it will be hard to tip against Lazarus, because he always turns up on raceday."
The pair will makes their seasonal debuts in the $50,000 Canterbury Classic on Friday week, with Have Faith In Me certain to be among their rivals and Dream About Me also a possibility.
That would make the race a serious early trial for the NZ Cup at Addington on November 14, with potentially only the Flying Stakes at Ashburton on October 23 likely to be as strong among the lead-up races.
While nobody at the All Stars is panicking over Lazarus's fitness, the consistently positive news about Heaven Rocks has seen him shorten into $2.60 with the NZ TAB for the Cup, while the defending champion is out to $2.30, suggesting they could be joint favourites in just over a week if Heaven Rocks resumes with a victory.