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Vicki Purdon is keeping realistic about the sale of the horse who shot her back into the harness racing limelight. News has filtered through this week of the sale to North America of outstanding pacer Christen Me who has struggled to recapture his best form in the past 12 months. And for Purdon, who co-owned by the 11-time Group One winner with Charlie Roberts, it’s bringing mixed emotions. “Obviously there is a bit of sadness there that he’s going,” she said. “But at the same time he has given myself, Paul and Mary Kenny and Charlie Roberts a wonderful ride for such a long time too. So I’m also excited about the next chapter for him and hope that he goes over there and does a great job.” The news was a bit of a bolt from the blue for the industry with Dalgety suggesting that next month’s Easter Cup could potentially be the pacer’s last start. But the wheels have obviously gained motion quickly and the sale is now official. Despite some word about that they would retain a share in the gelding, Purdon confirmed that wasn’t going to be the case. “We have decided not to keep a share in him, so he’s completely sold.” That also negates the opportunity for Christen Me to return to New Zealand following the completion of his racing days in North America with the decision on what happens post-career ultimately up to his new owners. Christen Me leaves New Zealand as one of the greats of the past decade. After beginning his career with Mark Purdon and Grant Payne he found his way into the Cran Dalgety stable and would win his first eight starts in Kentuckianna Lodge colours. As a four-year-old, he raced 15 times for 13 wins and two seconds as well as two Australian victories. He won the Taylor Mile, The Messenger and the Jewels - the latter arguably one of his best performances on Kiwi soil after drawing badly on the second row and working hard the entire trip three wide in a 1:51.5 mile. But it was his five-year-old career that will go down as his greatest. He won the Hunter Cup, sitting parked, over a distance that many said he couldn’t handle and then returned to the following year to add to Miracle Mile, sitting outside Beautide, and the Victoria Cup to the mantle. “That would have to be the highlight for me,” Purdon said. “Winning those big races over there, especially the Hunter Cup after everyone kept telling me he couldn’t go the distance. “Just having him at the races was great though, we had some wonderful times.” In 68 starts down under, Christen Me won 32 races, placed 21 times and won close to $2.5 million in earnings. Now he gets the chance to revitalise himself in America and hopefully recapture some of that form that made his almost invincible here. Matt Markham

Atrociously wet conditions didn’t stop The Orange Agent beating this season’s Interdominion champion, Smolda, by half a neck in the Group Two City Of Auckland Free-For-All Pace at Alexandra Park last night. Smolda and Mark Purdon led for all but the last 50m of the 2200m mobile, but Tony Herlihy (MNZM) got the best out of her in the last few strides to win the $50,000 Auckland Co-Op Taxis sponsored pace. In doing so last season’s best female pacer cast aside her mantle of being ‘The Queen Of The Park’ to now one of the best pacers in Australasia. After breaking her fetlock The Orange Agent is now truly back to her brilliant best. Herlihy agreed. “She needed last week’s run (third) and tonight she had to be good because Mark was setting some even sectionals. She felt extra and I think she will be in for a good season,” Herlihy said. The Orange Agent snuck up the passing lane to pace the 2200m mobile in 2:42.79 mile rate 1:59) and home in 26.6. Have Faith In Me (Tim Williams), who sat parked was three-and-a-quarter lengths back in third. Tonight’s 19th win in 28 starts was the result of extreme patience displayed by The Orange Agent’s South Auckland trainer, Brian Hughes. He could have been tempted to retire her to the broodmare’s paddock but instead overcome two leg injuries with her to get the 5-year-old American Ideal mare where she is now. Hughes said The Orange Agent now head to the Breeder’s Stakes at Addington where she would take on Dream About Me and Piccadilly Princess in what promises to be one of the best mares’ races in Australasia this season.  Exciting 4-year-old trotter Temporale made it five wins from 15 starts when he won the Majestic Horse Floats Greenlane Handicap for the trotters. The Herlihy (MNZM) trained and driven son of Monarchy led for most of the way in the Group 3 $25,000 event. Immediately after the race Herlihy said he was looking forward to the gelding’sfuture. “He’s a lovely trotter and has come to it real nice this time in. He’s got a lot of potential and it’s just a matter of getting more racing experience into him. “I think he will develop into a nice stayer. We will just progress on with him around here,” Herlihy said. Temporale was having just his second start this campaign after a nice first-up second behind the multiple Group One winning 5-year-old entire, Speeding Spur, seven days ago. He trotted the 2700m stand in 3:29.76 (mile rate 2:05 even) and came home in 58.4 and 29.3. He won by an increasing five lengths and two lengths from stablemate The Almighty Johnson (Todd Macfarlane) and Lemond (Maurice McKendry), who broke earlier in the race. Meanwhile, the $2.60 favourite Bettor Joy proved too strong in the Group Two $80,000 Crombie Lockwood Bloodstock Young Guns Delightful Lady Classic for the 2-year-old pacing fillies. The Cran Dalgety trained and Dexter Dunn driven well bred filly got an easy lead and then proved too strong for her 11 rivals pacing the 1700m mobile in 2:06.08 (mile rate 1:59.3). The daughter of Bettor’s Delight had half a length and two-and-a-quarter lengths to spare over Caitlyn Clarke (Scott Phelan) and Sea Of Gold (David Butcher) thanks to a final sectionals of 58.9 and 28.3. “I paid $80,000 for her at the Sales and I thought that might have been a bit much but she has surprised me. She has such wonderful breeding that she’s now developing into one of the better fillies I have trained in recent years,” Dalgety said. Bettor Joy, who drew three on the second line, is out of the late  Alex McDonald’s eight-win Road Machine mare, Joyful Belle. Her older sister, Joyfuljoy (by Mach Three) won 11 races ($339,612) including the Group One3 $200,000 Harness Jewels 3YO Diamond in 2009. “Every time she goes off the property she comes back a better horse. She won four trials before finishing second behind Purest Silk here last week. “She will stay on and contest the Sires Stakes and Sales Series races up here now,” Dalgety said. Duane Ranger

The favourites have been handed no favours for the $250,000 Woodlands Derby, the new signature race of Cup week at Alexandra Park. While it is still Cup week in Auckland, the Trotting Cup has moved to December 31, where it seems to sit better in the overall harness racing calendar. That promotes the Derby to the highlight of the harness racing week, a fair trade off considering the depth and class of the classic in the last decade. But while there is plenty of both in Friday night’s version it is shaping as a trick for punters with favourites Ultimate Machete and More The Better drawn poorly. Had this Derby been held in December when Ultimate Machete swept the three-year-old features at Alex Park he would have been odds on even from the outside of the front line. But he has been defeated twice at Menangle in recent weeks and his rivals will at least now sniff some vulnerability so it will be interesting to see how the bookies price him, hopefully sooner rather than later as the Australian TAB now regularly beats its New Zealand counterparts in putting out feature-race New Zealand harness markets. His stablemate, More The Better, one of five in the race for the All Stars, looked back to something like his best with a booming second against the good older pacers last Friday but also faces a disadvantageous  barrier at three on the second line, while the greatly-improved Motu Meteor will start from six. The Derby competes with the City Of Auckland Free-For-All and the Young Guns Final for race of the night though. The free-for-all brings together Inter Dominion champ Smolda, former Auckland Cup and Miracle Mile winner Have Faith In Me and Waikiki Beach for his long-awaited Alexandra Park debut all against The Orange Agent and Christen Me. And the Young Guns looks one of the more open Alexandra Park juvenile group ones in years, with Alta Maestro (Robert Dunn) and Mach Shard (Barry Purdon) having thrown down the challenge to the usual All Stars domination of the race. One winner from last Friday night who won’t be returning for this Friday’s Greenlane Cup is Speeding Spur, with the outstanding trotter in Melbourne for the A$100,000 Grand Prix at Melton on Saturday night. Michael Guerin

If you want to join one of racing’s more exclusive clubs talent will only get you so far - you also need heart. And Partyon showed plenty of that to justify her hot favouritism in the $125,000 Pascoes Northern Oaks at Alexandra Park last night. The filly joined the likes of Adore Me and Carabella as Northern Oaks winners when still unbeaten, her victory maintaining an unblemished record after 10 starts. Four of those have been at group one level, two of them Oaks in the last week after she won the NSW Oaks at Menangle last Saturday. Maybe the rigours of the week were getting to Partyon as she turned for home in front last night, with first Spanish Armada and then Juice Brogden running at her hard. But while Partyon looked vulnerable she didn’t buckle, maintain a slight advantage to the line and breaking the 3.20 barrier for the 2700m mobile. It was a brave performance from a filly who probably wasn’t as her best and suggests she is very special. “That took some courage, not many horses win two Oaks in a week,” said trainer-driver Mark Purdon. Partyon could face Spanish Armada and possibly even her Aussie arch rival Petacular in the NZ Oaks and Harness Jewels in May and June, clashes which could be some of the highlights of the age group racing season. Her effort to remain unbeaten was the highlight of a night on which her stablemate and fellow Jewels winner Heaven Rocks finally got his act together again with a stunning come from last win in the Founders. The recalcitrant big fella has cost punters plenty this campaign but behaved well for driver Natalia Rasmussen and once launched with a lap to go never looked in danger of defeat. Sales topper Mach Shard and improved trotter Princess Makendon were other big winners on the night. Michael Guerin

Mark Purdon shoots for five Kindergartens in a row and a remake of the classic 2014 Wyndham Cup is on the cards, making Saturday's feature meeting at the Young Quinn Raceway one to savour. Purdon's success in the Kindergarten began slowly and his early winners, So Cool and Sir Clive, were six years apart. He was both the trainer and the driver then, hasn't been on the winner since but prepared Messini to win for Tim Williams in 2013, Itz Bettor To Win for Blair Orange in 2014, Waikiki Beach for Brent Barclay in 2015 and Pacing Major for Dexter Dunn in 2016. For the last three he was training in partnership with Natalie Rasmussen and last year their runners actually took out the trifecta with More The Better second and You Gotta Have Faith third. Purdon's most recent drive in the race was on Alta Ronaldo, third in 2014, and he was looking forward to reining All U Need Is Faith this year, but on Thursday the brother to last year's winner was scratched. That has left them with Major Lucky, half-brother to last year's runner up, and Auckland Rector's niece The Devils Own, to represent them on Saturday. Both have trialled well and sprinted home impressively without winning. Until they have had a chance on raceday, Purdon said he was reluctant to label them but did reveal that Rasmussen had done all the work with The Devil's Own and picked him as the best. Major Lucky, he said, was a good gaited youngster and from the one draw capable of going out from the start quickly and bowling along in front. The Devil's Own has drawn the outside of the front line. In his first trial, The Devil's Own finished runner up to Tuapeka Trick, one of two Robert Dunn reps in the Kindergarten. He is the drive of son Dexter on Saturday but was handled in the trial by son John, soon led and raced clear in the straight. He debuted for John at Addington on 23 February, was left parked for the last 1300 metres, but stuck gamely for fourth. John Dunn said Tuapeka Trick would have finished closer with an easier run but he hasn't been knocked by it. With a good run this week he could be in it, said Dunn, who be aboard stablemate The Brooklyn Brawler. A winner for Maurice McKendry at Alexandra Park in December, The Brooklyn Brawler was back south for the Sapling Stakes at Ashburton. In the hands of Dunn, he led from the 1100, was out finished by Cole Porter but still clocked just a tick over 1:54 for the trip. Dunn confirmed it was a really good run and said the Art Major colt has a bit of early speed so he is likely to go out hard early and see what happens. He names The Brooklyn Brawler the best of his pair. The thought of 50 metre markers Titan Banner and Costa Del Magnifico fighting out the finish of the 3200 metre Wyndham Cup brings back memories of three years ago when Franco Ledger from 40 metres got up by a head over Arden Rooney, from 30 metres in the hands of Mark Purdon, but had to clock a record 3:57.0 to do it. Previously trained by his Otago part-owner Graeme Anderson, Titan Banner joined Purdon and Rasmussen midway through last year. At the beginning of this year, Titan Banner was with Purdon in Auckland and due to fly to Melbourne when he hurt a leg in a paddock incident. “He had 10 days off in Auckland after that then we sent him down to Graeme on the beach,” Purdon said. Anderson noted, “There was a bit of racing coming up, his leg scanned really well, we had the ocean nearby so we put it to work. We've got the Wyndham and Northern Southland Cups then we'll discuss it with Mark where to go from there. He's done all that's been asked of him, he's healthy, his work's good, he's ready to go two miles, I'm confident he'll be hard to beat, there'll be no excuses.” Costa Del Magnifico has recently finished third at Waikouaiti from 45 metres and won at Gore from 35 metres, to satisfy his trainer Brent Shirley.  “I'm pleased with his last two races, he's worked on very well and his attitude in training has lifted, he seems to be back to where he should have been if he hadn't had the virus,” Shirley said. “Health-wise and fitness-wise he is very well, he's been stepping well and how he steps, and how the others step will be a big factor at Wyndham.” John Dunn will drive Franco Cristiano who goes from 20 metres in the Cup. “He was checked last start and galloped, I took him the workouts and he had no problems,” Dunn said, “he is well and the two miles will be no worry.” Mac Henry

Complete confidence in one feature at Alexandra Park tonight, none in the other. That is how champion trainer Mark Purdon is viewing Oaks night tonight as he returns from Australia with his team of stars and Auckland’s biggest week of racing kicks off. Purdon and training partner Natalie Rasmussen totally dominate the $125,000 Pascoes Northern Oaks, with Partyon $1.50 to remain unbeaten and stablemate Spanish Armada rated her only real danger. The two fillies have taken all them on different sides of the Tasman this season and tonight is just their second meeting, the first being when Partyon led and won the Jewels last year. The same scenario and result looks more than likely tonight as the last-start NSW Oaks winner has drawn barrier seven, while Spanish Armada is handicapped by one on the second line. Unless something truly odd happens Partyon should find the front and win, with Spanish Armada such a fine stayer she is likely to come sit parked and run the quinella. But while the All Stars look certain to win the Oaks, Purdon is far from confident with another star three-year-old, More The Better, in the Founders. Last season’s best juvenile has played second fiddle to Ultimate Machete this summer but will have plenty of support against the older horses over 1700m. But Purdon warns punters he does not think he is a good bet. “I am not happy about him being in this race but it was the only one we could get before the Derby next week so he has to start,” said Purdon. “But I am considering going to the stewards and saying we will look to drive him conservatively because his only a young three-year-old, fresh up and against horses who have won major Cups. “So while he will start and you never know what can happen I think the punters deserve to realise this is the wrong race for him and I am not very confident with him." You can’t be more blunt than that and once those sentiments are consumed by punters expect to see More The Better drift in the market. It is not an easy race to find a clear alternative though, especially with outstanding mare The Orange Agent having not raced for 14 months. She is a very special mare back from a fractured pastern and showed both gate speed and her ability to cruise quick sectionals winning at the Alex Park workouts last Saturday. At her best she would win but trainer Brian Hughes is trying not to put pressure on his stable star. “She is forward as she can be after this long away from the track but trials fitness and race fitness are different things,” says Hughes. “I won’t be giving any instructions because she has a wide draw and so much depends on what the ones inside her do. “So she will go well but I don’t want her having a gutbuster.” Doubts over the pair suggest punter’s enemy of late, Heaven Rocks and now veteran Christen Me have chances in a battle of four Jewels winners. But the race stacks us nicely for Christen Me if they decide to launch him at the start. While his stunning best form is long gone he still pushed Lazarus close in the NZ Free-For-All in November and might get revved up for a slick 1700m so could be the each way value. Tonight’s meeting also host two excellent juvenile races before next Friday’s Young Guns finals as well as plenty of top three-year-olds in support races prepping for the Derby. Michael Guerin   

THREE out of three ain't bad . . . Group Ones that is. Only this time the Mark Purdon stable also bagged the Trifecta as well as Vincent, the next superstar of harness racing in this country captured tonight's $200,000 Wards Accounting Group NSW Derby at Tabcorp Park @ Club Menangle. Vincent beat Ultimate Machete and Motu Meteor to give the powerful All Stars stable the first three over the line as they completely monopolised this blue riband event. Vincent (Mark Purdon) found the front fairly easily in a 58.3s lead time over the 2400m only to be pressured by Ultimate Machete (Natalie Rasmussen) and handing up the lead. Turning for home Ultimate Machete found plenty fort Natalie and had the audacity to kick clear despite his hard run but when Mark Purdon found some clear running with Vincent he simply sprouted wings and rated possibly the fastest final quarter ever run at Tabcorp Park Menangle, 25.5s, to score a fairly comfortable win in a 1:54.6 mile rate. Officials later lamented that the mighty Vincent was a mere one-tenth of a second outside of the world record over the 2400m but there will be bigger things and Group One wins in store for Vincent in coming years as he continues to beat the best of them. "This is a very very good horse," was Purdon's simple comment as he returned with Vincent. "He is really something special." Vincent is by Art Major from the Safely Kept mare Kept For Pleasure. He has had 11 starts for 9 wins to date. Anyone who witnessed that Derby win would be happy to agree. Amanda Zammit  

Not that he needed any incentive, but the sight of his 90-year-old father Roy striding through the gates of Tabcorp Park Menangle tonight signalled the start of a big night for champion harness racing trainer-driver Mark Purdon. A little over an hour later Purdon landed the first Group One of the evening, the HQ Insurance NSW Oaks, with a masterful drive to score with his latest 'female' stable star in Partyon. Caught behind the leader, Takara Truffle for most of the race, it was always going to be a case of simply being given a chance to get a crack at her rivals in the straight for Partyon ($2.50) to be the one to beat. Still Purdon remained patient and turning for home extricated his filly from the pocket behind the leader coming wide on the track as the $2.40 favourite Petacular (Michael Stanley) made a dash for home. "I was a bit anxious turning for home, I'll admit," said Purdon afterwards. "But once she [Partyon] got a crack at them she was just too good on the night. "She's done a great job for us since joining the stable, this filly and she's now remained unbeaten." Partyon rated 1:56.2 for her last mile to defeat Petacular and outsider Eliza Dushku (Amanda Turnbull) who zoomed home along the pegs to just hold out Shezallapples for third. Partyon is by Bettor's Delight from the Beach Towel mare Beach Parade. Partyon has now won $397,000 from her nine lifetime starts. Purdon was quickly off the podium to chase more Group One glory in later races. Amanda Zammit

If Lazarus is to cap one of the great summers in New Zealand harness racing history he is going to have to do it the hard way. That is the reality of tonight’s A$750,000 Miracle Mile, the centrepiece of a stunning night at Menangle where Kiwi horses have favoured to win five group ones inside 140 minutes. The meeting is the strongest held at Menangle since it opened in 2008 but as good as the support card it, the Miracle Mile is the race people will remember, especially if Lazarus wins. After his New Zealand Cup demolition job, a similar display in the Victoria Cup and bullying wins in the NZ Free-For-All, Chariots of Fire and Ashburton Flying Stakes, if Lazarus wins tonight his body of work sits alongside the golden summers of Christian Cullen, Christopher Vance and Chokin.   But first he has to win and to that he might need to add a new string to his bow.  Lazarus is at his most crushing when able to lead and run consistently searing sectionals which deter challengers before rolling into a quick last 800m.  But there is next to no chance of him leading tonight and trainer-driver Mark Purdon admits if a fast tempo allows him to drive the champ sit-sprint something special could unfold. “I have never really had the chance to drive him cold before and I think he might love it,” said Purdon.  “I am pretty sure Hectorjayjay will lead and if he tries to go slow then I might have to come sit parked.  “But if the pressure is on and we follow the right horse into the race then he might come out and really sprint.”With Lazarus likely to settle midfield at best in a race where swooping victories are rare, those who take the short odds tonight could be in for some uncomfortable times.  But he is still the best horse in the race and Purdon believes having a week off from racing has helped bring both him and stablemate Our Waikiki Beach on.  “They sprinted up together well on Thursday morning and I am sure they will both be better than in the Chariots two week ago.”Purdon has already has one win going into tonight’s meeting, where he trains all five New Zealand favourites.  Auckland Cup winner Our Dream About Me, who has struggled with corns, passed a NSW stewards-ordered vet check yesterday and is almost certain to start in the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile.  “She had a small corns issue and we have been working hard to get her to the race.  “She hasn’t missed any real work but it is going to be a tough for her without a lead-up races and while she is a great mare, Piccadilly Princess has to be at least as good a chance now.”  Purdon favours Vincent from the ace draw over stablemates Ultimate Machete and Motu Meteor in tonight’s NSW Derby while Partyon’s inside second line draw in the NSW Oaks may not be as bad as it looks.  She follows out a fast beginner in Takara Truffle and may be able to get a tactical advantage over arch rival Petacular.  The night’s other group one pace looks the trickiest for the New Zealanders, with Have Faith In Me and Chase The Dream both coming off hard summers into a even free-for-all tonight. Michael Guerin

Harness Racing New South Wales Stewards advise that two runners from the Mark Purdon stable will undergo a veterinary examination at the Menangle Park Training facility tomorrow morning. OUR DREAM ABOUT ME: "HRNSW Stewards advise that on Tuesday afternoon at Tabcorp Park Menangle they spoke to a representative of the Purdon stable and information was provided in relation to the horse's condition and recent treatment," reported HRNSW Chairman of Stewards Graham Loch. "Following review of the two recent trials of Our Dream About Me at Menangle, having noted that the mare last raced on 31 December, 2016, and having regard to comments made this morning by Mr Purdon on Perth radio, we have advised the trainer that we require our HRNSW Regulatory Veterinarian to examine the horse tomorrow morning." HAVE FAITH IN ME: HRNSW Stewards have received information from a number of New Zealand-based Veterinary Surgeons regarding a kidney condition sustained by Have Faith In Me. It appears that the condition was identified and treated prior to the horse racing successfully in Australia last season. "It is our position that we possibly should have been provided with the information in the past but in light of recent performances and public speculation HRNSW Stewards are attempting to gain an understanding of the condition and what, if any, issues may affect performance," said Loch. Loch added that Mr Purdon has been advised to present the horse tomorrow. ULTIMATE MACHETTE: HRNSW Stewards have also received the results of pathology tests undertaken from Ultimate Machete after racing at Tabcorp Park Menangle last Saturday night. Following the race Mr Purdon had expressed disappointment in the performance. Wollondilly Equine Clinic Veterinary Surgeon Dr Andrew Argyle has advised the pathology results were normal other than indicating that Ultimate Machete was exhibiting signs of post virus recovery. MICHAEL PRENTICE | INTEGRITY OFFICER (02) 9722 6600 GRAHAM LOCH | CHAIRMAN OF STEWARDS (02) 9722 6600                AMANDA RANDO   MEDIA & COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER       HARNESS RACING NEW SOUTH WALES   22 Meredith Street Bankstown NSW 2200   PO Box 1034 Bankstown NSW 1885   T: 02 9722 6600 E: T: @Amanda_Rando   W: | T: | F:              

Mark Purdon won two of the three NSW Derby heats, but still emerged from the qualifiers scratching his head.  That’s because his best three-year-old and the prepost NSW Derby favourite could only manage a well-beaten third in his heat behind NSW pacer Atomic Red, who improved out of sight and led throughout.  Purdon won the other two heats, firstly with the improving Motu Meteor and more significantly with Vincent in the third and final heat.  Ultimate Machete went into the heats a clear favourite for the final, but Vincent emerged clearly the horse to beat.  Purdon seemed at a loss with Ultimate Machete’s run and said he was “beaten a long way from home.”  The draw for the Derby is at noon (NZ time) tomorrow (Monday).  In Ultimate Machete’s defence, he did sit parked and the winner, Atomic Red, broke the track and race record for a three-year-old with a sizzling 1min54.4sec mile rate for the long 2400m trip.  It was a daring drive from Amanda Turnbull, who took the reins on Atomic Red for her father, Steve.  “I wasn’t surprised he did that, more pleased he showed the gate speed he did,” Amanda said.  “We’ve changed a few things to try and get him off the gate better and he did well tonight. I hope begins that well in the final.”  Just as he was in the Victoria Derby heat, Vincent was stunning winning his heat last night (Saturday).  The son of Art Major sat parked and looked win with plenty in the tank in a 1min55.5sec mile rate – just 1.1sec slower than the Ultimate Machete heat.  It underlined what a shame it was he copped a pucture at the start of the Victoria Derby and was retired from the race.  In the first heat, Purdon’s Motu Meteor turned the tables on Our Little General in a reversal of their quinella from the Victoria Derby two weeks ago.  Our Little General led, looked quite wayward at times, and simply couldn’t hold-off the speed of Motu Meteor – who sat parked – in a 26.3sec closing quarter.   They went much slower in that heat with a 1min57.1sec mile rate.    Purdon and co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen will now have to find a driver for Motu Meteor. Purdon is set to stick with Vincent and Rasmussen is regular driver of Ultimate Machete.  Amanda Turnbull also drove three Derby qualifiers in their heats – Atomic Red, Wardan Express and Conviction – but it will be a surprise if she doesn’t stick with the impressive Atomic Red.  Adam Hamilton

Lost: The real Have Faith In Me.  If found, please return to Menangle in time for next week’s $750,000 Miracle Mile. That is the strange story of the defending Miracle Mile champion and Australasian mile record holder as he returns tomorrow night to Menangle, where he is unbeaten. If last year’s version of Have Faith In Me turned up in the $100,000 Canadian Club Sprint tomorrow night there would be plenty of punters willing to bet he could down Lennytheshark and Bling It On. After all, he came from behind Lennytheshark to down him in last season’s Miracle Mile in 1:47.5, still the fastest mile ever paced in the Southern Hemisphere. Bizarrely he has only won one moderate race since, struggling to find his best form in New Zealand and Victoria and more often than not racing erratically. Exhaustive vet tests have found a kidney abnormality which nobody knows how to fix, leaving trainer Mark Purdon with little option but to keep racing him. "It has been a strange season with him,” says Purdon. “He wasn’t himself at the start of the season and even though we now know why he hasn’t come right back to his best. “He is good enough to still be racing but can he make it back to what he was this time last season in time for the Miracle Mile? I doubt it, to be honest.” The other problem facing Have Faith In Me is his poor manners in recent starts have seen him placed out of the draw behind the mobile, meaning he will have to give the Hunter Cup trifecta of Bling It On, Yayas Hot Spot and Lennytheshark a start over the mile. “It is not going to be easy because he has to be put in the race. “He has to run top two to be guaranteed his Miracle Mile spot but as the defending champion we are hoping he can sneak in even if he only finishes third or fourth.” Purdon is more confident with Inter Dominion champion Smolda in tomorrow night’s other Miracle Mile prelude, but says it will be hard to catch Hectorjayjay. “He was a bit tired after his below par run in the Hunter Cup but his work on Tuesday morning was better. “But it stacks up as a tricky race and if he can finished top two or three and qualify then I’ll be happy.” Purdon does have four hot favourites and a second favourite at tomorrow night’s meeting, with the TAB opening a market on how may races he will win, up to three wins being the favoured option at $2.40. MICHAEL GUERIN | @GuerinSports 

Pacing champ Lazarus can go faster -- and he might have to. The four-year-old freak wracked up his fifth group one win in his last seven starts when he outmuscled his rivals in the A$200,000 Chariots Of Fire at Menangle on Saturday night. After bullying his way to the front down the back straight he never flinched under pressure from stablemate Our Waikiki Beach in the home straight to head home a stable quinella in 1:49 for the mile. For any normal pacing great that would have been sensational but for a horse who has handed out epic thrashings in New Zealand and Victoria Cups it felt almost tradesmanlike. There was no explosion at the top of the straight, just a relentless staying performance without the icing on top. Trainer-driver Mark Purdon says there are an array of reasons Lazarus was a percentage point or two below his dazzling best. “He has had a tricky week,” admitted Purdon. “He had to travel up here from Melbourne which meant his training was interrupted. “And when he first got here the heat affected him a bit. “And he has raced for Saturdays in a row, all in group ones, which is not easy. “So I was proud of the way he stuck to it when Waikiki Beach came at him.” Lazarus’s win earns him the first invite to the A$750,000 Miracle Mile on Saturday week as well as the luxury of bypassing the preludes this Saturday. “That will be a help, having a week off and also more time to get used to the heat here. “So I am certain he can go quicker than the 1:49 and he might have to in the Miracle Mile.” Lazarus is seemingly unbeatable in front but he may not be guaranteed that role in a  Miracle Mile that could contain Lennytheshark, Hectorjayjay, Smolda, Bling It On and defending champ Have Faith In Me.  At his NZ Cup best he might simply be too good for even that elite bunch but if he performs at his Chariots level then a Hectorjayjay leading or a Bling It On sitting on his back could give him, and punters, a huge fright. The remaining seven Miracle Mile invites will be issued this Saturday, with the first two home in each of the qualifiers getting a start, leaving three spots up for grabs. Our Waikiki Beach might have done enough to sneak in so will be allowed to bypass the preludes but the question mark horse will be Have Faith In Me. As the defending champion and Australasian mile holder the Menangle club will want him in the race and a top four prelude finish will probably be good enough to earn him an invite but anything below that level could make his inclusion hard to justify. Saturday’s meeting will also see heats of the NSW Derby and Oaks so will feature Ultimate Machete, Vincent and Partyon. But Auckland Cup winner Dream About Me won’t be there, with Purdon opting to trial her on Tuesday and again next week in the lead-up to the A$200,000 Ladyship Mile after a recent virus setback. “She is better now and I am happy with her but I think two trials will be enough." Michael Guerin

Lazarus is out to correct one of the great anomalies of pacing in tonight’s A$200,000 Chariots of Fire at Menangle. Because the greatest pacer in Australasia is also the slowest horse in the four-year-old group one. In a remarkable stat, Lazarus, the winner of $1.8million and the New Zealand and Victoria Cups has a fastest official mile rate of 1:52.5, the equal slowest of the 10 acceptors in tonight’s sprint. It is a staggering 3.2 seconds slower that second favourite Salty Robyn’s personal best, all because Lazarus has raced sparingly over sprint trips and never on the lightning-fast Menangle. In fact, Lazarus’s quickest mile rate was actually over the 2240m of the Victoria Cup a fortnight ago. Considering stablemate Have Faith In Me set a track record 1:47.5 in the Miracle Mile last season and Lazarus is better performed he would seem a 1:47 miler in waiting but his lack of Menangle experience should be the greatest concern for punters taking the $1.35 NZ TAB quote tonight. Menangle miles are known for their searing early sectionals and many great horses have found themselves out of their comfort zones early then struggling to make ground after. Add to that that Lazarus has raced the last three Saturday nights and travelled north from Melbourne this week and trainer Mark Purdon admits he could be vulnerable. "He seems great and has trained well but I am also aware this could be a tricky race,” says Purdon. “So while I expect him to go well I wouldn’t be surprised if the race turns out tougher than some people might think.” Purdon is aware he will need to stay handy and not give away tactical advantage to the likes of Salty Robyn with exactly who leads after 400m crucial to his chances of getting the front. If Lazarus was able to reach the lead punters will feel far more comfortable as no horse has ever run past him in his 26-start career. Purdon does have two powerful Chariots support acts in Lets Chase The Dream and Our Waikiki Beach, who he is unable to split the pair from their wide draws. The winner of tonight’s race will be invited to the $750,000 Miracle Mile at Menangle on February 25. Michael Guerin

FRESH from his stunning Hunter Cup-winning drive on Bling It On, Luke McCarthy has snared the drive on Lets Chase The Dream in Saturday night’s $200,000 Group 1 Chariots Of Fire (1609m) at Menangle.  Co-trainer Mark Purdon today confirmed he would drive Lazarus, Natalie Rasmussen would take the reins on Our Waikiki Beach and McCarthy had the gig on Lets Chase The Dream.  “I’m really happy with all the horses,” Purdon said. “Luke’s a terrific driver and he’s driven for us in a lot of big races over the years.”  Lazarus, lining-up for his fourth run in as many weeks, is the Aussie TAB’s $1.45 favourite from Salty Robyn ($4.80). Then comes Arma The Gun (gate two, $10), Sams The Master (gate one, $15) and Dashofluck (gate three, $15).  Our Waikiki Beach is an $18 shot from gate seven while Lets Chase The Dream is $21 from barrier nine.  Shane and Lauren Tritton have Salty Robyn and Anything For Love in the race.  Chris Geary will drive Salty Robyn, while Luke McCarthy’s brother, Andy, has picked up the drive on the emerging Antyhing For Love.  Shane Tritton has promised early fireworks now Anything For Love has drawn out wide in gate nine.  We’ve got no option but to burn out early and lead from the nine,” Tritton said.  “I think the draw (five) is ideal for Salty Robyn. I’ve been waiting so long for this race and the chance to take on Lazarus.”  There is plenty of depth to Saturday night’s support card as well including the Group 2 Silbelia Stakes for mares where former Kiwi pacer Cyclone Kate is $3.80 favourite in an open race from gate three.  Champion mare Frith ($4.20) resumes from a spell in gate four for new trainer Craig Cross, while Queensland raider Smooth Showgirl ($5.50) is the other key player from the pole.  Another former Kiwi pacer No Doctor Needed continues his path towards a possible Miracle Mile start in the free-for-all. He’s drawn the outside (gate seven). Adam Hamilton

RIVAL harness racing trainer Shane Tritton was the most interested onlooker as Lazarus worked a lot harder than expected to win the the Group 1 4YO Bonanza at Melton last night (Saturday).  It booked Lazarus his spot in next week’s $200,000 Group 1 Chariots Of Fire, but also raised some queries about the pin-up horse of Australasia.   As he has done a few times before, Lazarus appeared to struggle at top speed rounding the final bend in a race.  But, as great horses do, he found a way to come deep and win, which most others found impossible with the pattern of racing last night.  Tritton, who trains the Chariots second favourite Salty Robyn, is big on homework and will have carefully noted Lazarus’s battle on the final bend.  When you have won the NZ Cup by a record margin and the Victoria Cup, dropping back to race your own age should be stroll in the park.  Tritton isn’t so sure that will be the case for Lazarus at Menangle next Saturday night.  In fact, the always upbeat and confdent Tritton thinks he can beat him with his emerging star Salty Robyn.  Salty Robyn goes ino the Chariots having won his past 10 starts.  And he has run time, too. Salty Robyn’s PB is a 1min49.2sec mile and that was sitting parked.  Tritton think he can much quicker if needed.  Facts say that will be needed to test or beat Lazarus.  That’s because Lazarus’ trainer Mark Purdon thinks he can run a faster mile than his stablemate Have Faith In Me, who paced 1min47.5sec beating Lennytheshark in last year’s Miracle Mile.  If Salty Robyn has any hope, the barriers need to go his way and he needs to stay in front of Lazarus.  “I’m so looking forward to it. My horse could not have had a better build-up and he’s ready to fly. Lazarus won’t get this race on a platter,” Tritton said.  Tritton will have two Chariots runners with his emerging Anything For Love also making the field.  Purdon and co-trainer Natalie Rasmussen will have three runners with Our Waikiki Beach and Lets Chase The Dream joining Lazarus.  Lets Chase The Dream showed he was primed with another dominant win at Menangle last night.  Despite sitting parked for much of the race, Lets Chase The Dream controlled the race from the “death” and dashed home in 55.3 and 26.7sec for a 1min52.2sec mile. It followed a 1min49.9sec win a week earlier.  Adam Hamilton

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