Day At The Track

Trainer eyes more riches with star-studded line up

07:30 AM 19 Jan 2017 NZDT
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NZ Cup winner Lazarus is favourite for the Victoria Cup.
NZ Cup winner Lazarus is favourite for the Victoria Cup.
Stuart McCormick Photo

This is the defining weekend of the harness racing season.

Most of the biggest names from Australia and New Zealand step-out at Ballarat on Saturday night, headed by the sport’s young rockstar Lazarus.

The $120,000 Group 1 Ballarat Cup and a ho-hum sprint race on the same night could reshape TAB’s markets for coming features like the Victoria and Hunter Cups as well as the Miracle Mile.

Lazarus has eased from $1.30 to $1.35 at Ballarat after drawing the outside (gate seven) and is still a commanding $2.20 prepost favourite for the Victoria Cup.

His main Victoria Cup rival Hectorjayjay ($3.30) will rest at home this weekend after toying with a handy field in last Saturday’s Group 2 Shepparton Cup.

Lazarus turned heads around the world winning last November’s NZ Cup — New Zealand’s biggest race — by a record 10 lengths, but has only raced twice since. And he’s only run once since November 11, for a soft Cambridge win on January 5.

“I’m pretty happy with him. In fact, I think he’s back very close to what he was NZ Cup week,” trainer/driver Mark Purdon said.

You still get the feel whatever Lazarus does at Ballarat, it’s an important race to bring him to peak fitness for the Victoria Cup and beyond.

Purdon’s stable of riches means he also trains Lazarus’ main danger at Ballarat. That just happens to be newly-crowned Perth Inter Dominion champion Smolda.

“He’s come on well since South Australia (where he won the Cup last Saturday week),” Purdon said.

As good as Smolda has been racing, Purdon said the best of Lazarus would simply be too good for him.

Smolda edged out Hectorjayjay to win the Perth Inter Dominion last month.

“If Lazarus is back to his NZ Cup form he would be too good,” he said. “It’s just whether he is quite there for this weekend.

“Smolda is really wound-up and Anthony (Butt, new driver) will get him off the gate well. I think Lennytheshark will be hard-pressed getting across him at the start.

“I think Smolda might be the leader and Lazarus will come around and sit parked.”

It’s also great to see Lennytheshark back in the Ballarat Cup this weekend for his first start since a hoof injury cut his Perth Inter Dominion title defence short after the third round of heats on December 2.

“His foot is good. He’s ready to go this week and we’re pleased with the draw (gate four),” stable spokesman Josh Aiken said.

Lurking at Ballarat is last season’s Miracle Mile winner Have Faith In Me — also trained by Purdon — who hasn’t raced since having liver issues following the NZ Cup on November 2.

Mark Purdon has his eyes on several big prizes in coming weeks. Picture: Stuart McCormick.

He needs to win and impress Purdon to prompt the trainer to make a late entry payment for the Group 1 Hunter Cup on February 4.

“With no Hectorjayjay in the race I would expect him to win,” Purdon said. “I’m happy with him, but also keen to put him to test to decide whether he’s ready to go into the Hunter Cup.”

It’s another massive weekend for Purdon and his co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen.

Here is Purdon’s snapshot of his other runners across Victoria and NSW:

GEELONG — THURSDAY NIGHT

MOTU METEOR (Race 6, No. 4): “He seems well. He’s been a bit of a challenge to train, but I’m happy with him now. This race looks to suit him.”

VINCENT (Race 7, No. 2): “I’d put him up with More The Better as out second-best 3YO. I was a bit disappointed with him at his only defeat on (NZ) Cup Day, but we’ve made a few gear changes since and he's kept improving. This will top him off nicely for the Derby.”

BALLARAT — SATURDAY NIGHT

PRINCE FEARLESS (Race 6, No. 2): “He was off the scene for a while and I think he’ll need another couple of runs to show us whether he can get back to his best form.”

A PICCADILLY PRINCESS (Race 7, No. 2): “She’s a really nice mare and could easily have won all her runs in Perth with more luck. She won well last time (at Melton) and this looks another good race for her.”

MENANGLE — SATURDAY NIGHT

OUR WAIKIKI BEACH (Race 6, No. 1): “John McCarthy will drive him for us. I was happy with his run even though he didn’t win last week. He kept coming, but he was a bit awkward on the last bend, hung a bit and didn’t help himself. He’ll be better on the markers (from gate one) and hopefully John can get him away quickly at the start to lead.”

TAB FEATURE RACE MARKETS

VICTORIA CUP

(Melton, Saturday week)

$2.20 Lazarus

$3.30 Hectorjayjay

$5 Lennytheshark

$15 Bling It On, Smolda

$21 Young Modern

$26 Restrepo

HUNTER CUP

(Melton, February 4)

$3.10 Lennytheshark, Smolda

$4.50 Hectorjayjay

$6 Have Faith In Me

$11 Bling It On

$21 Restrepo, Young Modern

Reprinted with permission of The Advertiser

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