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Luby Lou showed she was the best 3yo trotter in the country when she waltzed away to win the $100,000 (Gr1) New Zealand Trotting Derby at Addington raceway tonight. Two weeks ago Luby Lou beat the fillies convincingly in the Trotting Oaks and trainer Mark Purdon was in two minds whether he would start her against the boys in the Derby.  "She is such a natural trotter and I thought if there are a few there that make mistakes, then she will be there to capitalize even if she has to do a bit of work in the running," he said tonight. During tonights race, Luby Lou (Muscle Hill - Luby Ann) was beyond midfield early before getting a beautiful cart up three wide behind the stablemate Winterfell until the home turn. In the straight driver Mark Purdon only had to flick the reins at the classy filly and she powered to the front to win easily by more than three lengths at the line. Winterfell stuck on well for second to make it an All Stars quinella for driver Natalie Rasmussen and Majestic Man battled on well into third. Luby Lou trotted the 2600m mobile in 3-14.2, not far off the New Zealand record of 3-13.5 set by Habibti in this race five years ago.   Luby Lou winning the derby   Harnesslink Media    

All Stars have dominated quite a few major races at Addington in the results column but few can match its reign of terror (for the opposition) in the Welcome Stakes in which it holds a strong hand on Friday. The stable has won the Group 2 race in eight of the last 10 years! In the last four of them it has also added  two trifectas, a first 4 and a quinella and the domination looks set to continue in 2018. Mark and Natalie have targeted the race with their youngsters though quite a few of the stable's best known horses have missed it for various reasons. The best known of recent winners is WAIKIKI BEACH who headed the first 4 of 2015, Motu Premier, Chase the Dream and MacKenzie-now a major winner in the US and a half-sister to Vincent. Neil Pilcher has one unusual record in the race. He was won it as an owner (four times) more often than Mark has won as a driver in the last decade. Mark  has driven only three of the last eight winners though he has six winners in all. One of his most memorable was way back in 1989 when MARK HANOVER won. Generally regarded as the horse who took Mark into the big time as a driver, Mark Hanover's win was one of his first big wins at Addington, a few months after Tax Credit had caused a huge upset in the NZ Free for All. Upsets are not unknown in the Welcome either. Most notable was ZACHARIA raced by Neil and Trevor Casey ( co-owner with Neil of Waikiki Beach) who won at 25/1 in 2013 driven by Blair Orange. Isaiah was the stable elect and Regulus and Tiger Tara the favourites but Zacharia-who is still racing successfully in Perth-came with the last run and downed the stars. HIGHVIEW TOMMY, ALTA ORLANDO  and KOTARE MACH have been the other winners in the last decade while earlier winners for Mark were ADVANCE ATTACK, LIGHT AND SOUND and the first BOGAN FELLA  in 1996   Courtesy of All Stars Racing stables  

After a number of minor placings in her driving career, promising junior harness racing driver Sarah O'Reilly broke through and grabbed her first win in the sulky at the Banks Peninsular meeting at Motukarara Raceway yesterday. Sarah drove a perfect race in the last race of the day behind the Bruce Negus trained Highland Reign.  After sitting three deep on the fence for most of the race Highland Reign got a gap with 100m to go and dashed through late to win going away. It was win number ten for Highland Reign (7m McArdle - Mainland Reign) with most of the mares wins coming on the grass surface. _______________________________________________________________________________________ Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen extended their lead in the National Trainers premiership yesterday when stable runner Letterkenny Boy won his first ever start at the Banks Peninsular meeting at Motukarara. The All Stars Stable have had 81 wins from 260 starters this season and now lead the premiership by 22 wins from Robert Dunn who is in second on 59 wins, with Steve Telfer in third on 37 wins. Top ten table in the trainers premiership Name Starts Wins  2nds 3rds Stakes UDR Mark Purdon/ NatalieRasmussen 260 81 54 27 2,729,882 0.4615 Robert Dunn 403 59 54 54 806,854 0.2655 Steve Telfer 247 37 37 36 511,985 0.2816 Michael House 183 34 20 22 266,955 0.2866 Ken & Tony Barron 221 33 24 20 338,451 0.2398 Cran Dalgety 166 32 17 18 514,615 0.2858 Greg & Nina Hope 248 31 25 24 420,532 0.2133 Mark Jones 276 31 34 22 300,221 0.2073 Tony Herlihy 168 29 22 35 427,586 0.3148 Nigel McGrath 117 29 12 13 327,037 0.3419   Harnesslink Media

NSW Oaks winner, Shez All Rock, is all set for a visit to All Stars now after a few issues have been settled as a result of her sale to the United States which added the NZ Oaks to her programme. Mark Purdon was involved in the deal from early on but her move to New Zealand has only now been confirmed after connections baulked at the GST tax situation facing her if she came to New Zealand. "We were at the wedding of Peter Ryder's daughter, Larissa, and Chris had come over from the States for it" Mark said. "He mentioned he was looking for a smart filly and Shez All Rock had impressed me at Menangle so she was my suggestion. The business was done and the idea was for her to race over there in features such as the Vicbred series before going to America and then to send her over here for the NZ Oaks. The catch was that if she came to NZ and then left for America  GST was to be charged and the buyers had already paid GST in Australia and were obviously not happy about paying some more.  If she races here and goes back to Australia that doesn't apply so it was decided to do that. She has some racing coming up over there before coming here but it the intention at this stage for her to race in the Oaks out of our barn" Shez All Rock was  owned and trained by the Pitt family, Mark Pitt and his parents, Mark having selected the filly from the APG sale to be placed with Emma Stewart who did the early work with the filly. By Rock n Roll Heaven whose stud career seems to be enjoying a second chance, she is from a Mach Three-Falcon Seelster-Lordship cross and traces to Heatherlock dam of the outstanding trotter Yankee Loch.  Mark Pitt has handled the filly through her racing career which only comprises five starts going back to September and she did not race at two. She has yet to be further back than second.   Courtesy All Stars Website

In what was a minor harness racing upset, Rock N Roll Heaven gelding A G’s White Socks has ruined an All Stars clean sweep by beating the favourite More The Bettor in yesterdays $90,000 Group 1 Easter Cup. The Purdon/Rasmussen team had looked on target for winning all six of the races they had starters in, until the Greg and Nina Hope trained A G’s White Socks charged down the centre of the track to claim a deserved win in the Addington feature race. Driver Ricky May said after the race that he always thought A G’s White Socks was suited to the extreme distance of 3200m. "He has gone well over the distance before in the Auckland Cup. " Today he really sprinted when I asked him to go and he picked More The Better Up easily," he said. A G’s White Socks paced the 3200m from a stand in 4-02.1 with a closing 800m in a sizzling 55.2 with the 400m in 27.1 seconds. More The Bettor stuck on well for second after trying to lead all the way and Tiger Thompson also battled on well for third after working hard mid-race. The Hope stable also picked up the 4& 5yo Trotting Championship when Enghien led for the last 800m and won easily with May in the sulky. A G’s White Socks winning the Easter Cup Harnesslink Media

Trotting sire Muscle Hill produced a notable harness racing quinella at Addington last night, when two of his progeny finished first and second in the Storer Motors (Group 2) New Zealand Trotting Oaks. The winner of the Oaks was the Mark Purdon/Natalie Rasmussen trained Luby Lou (Muscle Hill - Luby Ann), who whistled home in the middle of the track to easily beat the North Island trained Girls On Film (Muscle Hill - Regal Volo) . Run on an easy track, the time for the winner was a very good 2-25.7 for the mobile 1950m, which equated to a 2-00.2 mile rate. Luby Lou is raced by the Breckon Farms (Six of the Best) syndicate who have some high profile owners among their members.   Luby Lou syndicate among whose owners are Trevor Casey (left) and partner Kate Marriot, and Glenys Kennard (left foreground ) and husband Phil, extreme right. Mrs and Reg Storer, sponsors of the Trotting Oaks also feature.  - photo All Stars Stable The run of Luby Lou was so good tonight she would not be out of place in the 3yo Trotters Derby field, although Mark Purdon said on the All Stars website, "I'm not quite convinced about Luby Lou tackling the male youngsters in the Derby yet." "She was very good tonight and has a heap of potential but in an ideal world I would probably look at keeping her to her own sex at this stage. I want to assess how she comes through the race and what the opposition looks like before I committed to the Derby." he said. The All Stars Stable also produced Jesse Duke to beat the stable-mate A Bettor Act in Heat 2 of the 2yo Sires Stakes and then trained the trifecta in the Group 2 Vero Flying takes won by Sicario from Anthem (2nd) and Funonthebeach (3rd). Luby Lou winning the Trotting Oaks   Harnesslink Media

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 

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