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Absence, we are reliably informed, makes the heart go fonder. Unfortunately, it can also make you irrelevant, which is what many of harness racing’s best horses are going to be for the next six to eight months. Just days after a blistering Miracle Mile at Menangle saw Lennytheshark down Smolda and Lazarus in front of over 10,000 people, the party is over. At a time when punters may have watched and thought the gladiators of pacing were a competitive antidote to the amazing but rather repetitive domination of galloping great Winx, we now won’t see them all together again until next season. For those who haven’t been paying attention, the harness racing season reached its crescendo in the $750,000 Miracle Mile on the outskirts of Sydney on February 25. The race lived up to its 50th birthday party, with a dazzling early section followed by home straight drama, with four different horses looking the winner. It was racing at his best and even those who look down the noses at harness racing, the laid-back cousin to the hyperbole of the galloping industry, had to admit it was pretty special. But the problem is after their first real meeting for the season, the big guns of harness racing now all get aimed at different targets. Or nothing at all. Harness horses are stronger and more durable than their galloping relatives and should race more often. But it seems they don’t these days. Well, not against each other any way. Changes in the racing calendar mean what used to be the season-ending finale of the Inter Dominions now starts in November, when younger superstars like Lazarus aren’t mature enough to race four times in a fortnight. And it also comes straight after the iconic New Zealand Cup. Being in Perth, it attracts half the pacing elite, maybe a few more. Then the big-time horses get set for the Summer of Glory carnival in Victoria, where we should see them go to war in the Ballarat, Victoria and Hunter Cups. But we don’t. Their trainers pick and choose, with the difference in stake money not overly great, and we never got to see the best clash with each other because they don’t have to, the incentive is not there. So by the time we got to the season’s zenith at Menangle, the absolute stars of the game – Lazarus, Lennytheshark, Smolda, Hectorjayjay, Waikiki Beach and Bling It On – had never been in the same race. In fact, there hadn’t been one race all season in which more than three of them started. So as wonderful as the Miracle Mile was, it was like round one of the footy finals being followed by no more footy. Some of the big names will press on deeper into the season but they will only rarely race each other, instead picking off the low-hanging fruit on the country cups circuit or in age group racing. And harness racing loses a golden opportunity. Because the horses are tougher and handle travel better, they should be racing each other at least five, maybe even eight times a year. That would give the industry some momentum, some name recognition for the media, and a point of difference from the sometimes-protected world of big-galloping action, where stud careers can outweigh racetrack value. Ironically, because Winx is a mare and arch rival Hartnell a gelding, we get to see them clash up to six times a season. Australian harness racing actually has a thing called the Grand Circuit, which is supposed to bring these horses together all over the country but it simply doesn’t work. The main reason is money. The Inter Dominion is $1.1 million, the Miracle Mile $750,000 and the New Zealand Cup $NZ800,000. So they are the be-all, end-all targets to the point where the $500,000 of the Hunter Cup can sometimes be canablised by the $400,000 Victoria Cup a week earlier. They are simply too interchangeable. And Australian officials fear the AFL and NRL so much, they try and squeeze their entire feature-race season into just over four months, meaning the elite horses can’t and don’t fit it all in. This, sadly, leaves eight months in which the stars never come out at the same time. In the modern world, where attention spans are measured in download speeds, harness racing’s elite needs to race each other more often and for longer. Because absence makes the heart grow fonder for a while. Then people, particularly punters, just move on. By Michael Guerin    

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 are favoured to win five group ones inside 140 minutes. The meeting is the strongest held at Menangle since it opened in 2008 but good as the support card is, 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 do that he may 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 that 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 had 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 tough for her without a lead-up race 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 Kiwis, with Have Faith In Me and Chase The Dream both coming off hard summers into an even free-for-all tonight. - NZ Herald Read more by Michael Guerin  Email Michael Guerin

Hopes of finding missing harness racing horseman Shane Hayes alive are sadly fading. The popular 53-year-old who spent much of his adult life training and driving out of Kumeu, NZ, has been missing at sea since February 10. Family friend and spokesman Peter Smith said Hayes took his boat out over the Mangawhai Heads, north of Auckland, to test it for an upcoming fishing competition and has not been seen since. “There are a lot of people searching for him and we even have helicopters and a crop dusting plane from a local farmer involved,” said Smith. “But the family are realistic now. They are holding on to hope but everybody realises we may not see Shane again. “It is terribly sad but it may be a case of searching for a body now.” Hayes, who is married to Laureen and has two children, Harry and Jackie, is best known for his association with talented trotter Chiola Cola in the late 1990s. Along with his father Don they trained the giant trotter to win 17 races and he even campaigned in Scandinavia alongside champion mare Pride Of Petite. The Hayes were rarely without a good horse and had their share of success with pacers but were best known for their trotters through their association at stud with Great Evander. Shane moved out of harness racing full-time when the family moved from Kumeu a decade ago but still dabbled. He is an immensely popular figure in northern harness racing, a big man with a big smile and engaging conversationist. A Givealittle page has been set up to help fund the search for Shane and support the family through this tough time. by Michael Guerin

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 

Just days after one of the richest wins of his harness racing career Luke McCarthy has been handed a surprise Chariots Of Fire drive. The master of Menangle will pilot New Zealand pacer Chase The Dream in the $200,000 Group 1 on Saturday night for trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen. The Kiwi pair have three in the race, with Purdon obviously sticking with $1.45 TAB favourite Lazarus and Rasmussen choosing to drive Our Waikiki Beach, even after his slower than expected start to the season. That means McCarthy, who reined Bling It On to win the $500,000 Hunter Cup at Melton last Saturday, gets the bonus drive on Chase The Dream. The muscly little pacer has been impressive winning both his Menangle starts but has drifted to $21 in the markets after drawing wide. But McCarthy is a boost to his chances as Menangle’s pre-eminent drivers of group one since the track’s opening almost a decade ago. “Luke has driven a lot for us in the past so to get him on Chase The Dream is a real bonus,” said Purdon. Purdon was also pleased with Lazarus’s barrier of four but warned punters it may not be the fancied scenario of a hot favourite jumping to the lead. “There looks to be a lot of speed there but from the draw we have options,” said Purdon. “He has gate speed, as we saw in the Victoria Cup, but we don’t need to make any firm plans yet. “I can see it being a 1:50 mile, even quicker so even our other two being drawn out wide doesn’t bother me too much.” Purdon was still pleased with Lazarus’s win in the $100,000 Bonanza at Melton on Saturday even though it wasn’t as dramatic as his Victoria Cup demolition job a week earlier. “They ran a fast last half (800m) and his class came to the fore but he isn’t going to win by a big margin every time. Meanwhile, the stable has taken a cautious approach with champion mare Dream About Me, nominal favourite for the $200,000 Ladyship Mile on February 25. Last season’s NSW Oaks winner was scratched from the Brian Hancock Cup last Friday with a minor virus and is not entered for Menangle on Saturday. “I didn’t want to enter and then not be entirely happy with her later in the week so she can have her lead-up race to the Ladyship next week instead.” MICHAEL GUERIN | @GuerinSports

Today looks like multi-bet heaven at Alexandra Park but when it comes to punting, heaven can quickly turn into hell. The problem isn't the horses or even the odds on offer. The problem with multi betting is you, and me. Because we punters can be greedy. The array of short priced, should-be-too-good hot favourites racing at today's twilight Auckland Cup meeting is like your Christmas dinner. It's all spread out in front of you, too tempting to ignore, but when you grab too much you end up regretting it afterwards. Because when it comes to multi betting - which has become a staple of the harness racing punters' diet - it only takes one horse too many to ruin the entire day. So let's start with the simple stuff today, the bankers who should pose little risk but add percentage. Ultimate Machete (R7, No 6) should be the no-brainer. He has been too strong, too fast and way too good for all he meets today so far this season and with this race worth $200,000 the money for getting out of his way and settling for second or third is still juicy. So he should work his way to the lead and beat Jack's Legend (2), On The Rantan (1), More The Better (11) or the improved Motu Meteor (3). So that adds 19 per cent to your multi, and you should easily add another 37 per cent ($1.37 fixed price) via Spanish Armada (R5, No 8). Her draw doesn't look great but she sat parked outside her main, and you could say only real rival in Delightful Memphis and beat her last start. If both fillies perform to the same level again then Spanish Armada should win again. Simple as that. That multi alone equals $1.6 but not many punters are going to stop there and the three other hotpots for the day all have some concerns. Marcoola (R8, No 8) was amazing at Cambridge last week but key rivals Bordeaux (No 9), Sunny Ruby (No 7) and Quite A Moment (No 6) all had excuses. Marcoola should win but is going to have to cover extra ground and is far from guaranteed the lead when he does make his move so his $1.20 price is not good shopping compared with the similar quote for Ultimate Machete. So, don't be greedy and leave the National Trot out of your multi. The same could be said for the Cup because while Titan Banner (R9, No 4) and Dream About Me (No 9) are both unbeaten at The Park and stand out, if you add one you are betting against the other in a race that may be decided by standing start manners, luck and tempo. Titan Banner looks the safer bet but $2.40 is hardly encouraging when taking on Dream About Me, Christen Me, Chase The Dream and other proven open classers like Hughie Green and Tiger Tara (both 3200m Cup runner-ups). Because of the All Stars factor it would be easy to throw in Vincent (R2, No 7), especially as he is on his way to the Victoria Derby and won from a standing start last time. What his formline doesn't show is that he started from the outside with plenty of room to move and still got fractious pre-start before that win and today he finds himself a 3-year-old colt sandwiched between two mares on the 10m line. So at $2 he might still be value, any less and let him go. One of the better multi options might be Gupta's Cullen (R4, No 6). She was a big winner here last start and while she is officially trained by Jonny Cox she has been in the Purdon-Rasmussen machine for a few weeks as they look after her for Cox, a stable employee. Drawn the best of the favourites she makes the most appeal to add to your Ultimate Machete-Spanish Armada multi. And if you can't wait to start your punting day at 3.03pm then the opening two-year-old race looks a classic race in two. Alta Maestro (R1, No 6) was faultless, all manners and power, winning a similar race two weeks ago and can repeat but Spankem (No 7) was cutting into his lead late and is likely to improve after her had an interrupted preparation leading into that debut. There won't be much between them in the markets but Spankem might turn the tables. - NZ Herald Read more by Michael Guerin 

Dream About Me has one glaring weakness heading into tomorrow's $250,000 Auckland Cup - her sex. The exceptional 4-year-old has been the long-time favourite for the great race, even though a second-line draw could see her lose that mantle to stablemate Titan Banner on the tote tomorrow. Trainer-driver Mark Purdon isn't overly worried by her draw, suggesting the fact Dream About Me is following out good beginners negates the damage. That aside, she has the breeding, the group one record, the track stats, the x-factor and is in the perfect stable to win an Auckland Cup. However, while she may be on the way to becoming a champion mare, that last part should be reason for concern, because mares have a worse record in the Auckland Cup that just about any other major race in this country. The last mare to win the Cup was Flight South in 2000 and she paid $108, while the only other girl to grab the gold in the past 33 years is Kate's First. Some exceptional mares have tried and failed in that time, including New Zealand Cup winners Adore Me, Mainland Banner and Kym's Girl. Add to that the fact Dream About Me is still only four, has had only one serious open class start for a luckless sixth in the NZ Free-For-All and she has that pesky second-line draw and she starts to look a false favourite, or, at least, too short. She is a special mare who has run some sensational times and Purdon has openly compared her to Adore Me but she might need to be every bit as good as her close relation to win tomorrow. So while she has spent most of the week around the $2.20 quote, punters will want $2.80 or even $3 to be getting real value and that probably won't turn up, especially with the strong Australian co-mingling as Dream About Me is unbeaten there. Aiding her chances of ending the girl power drought is the fact this is hardly a deep Auckland Cup, with plenty of very good horses but not many great ones, the obvious exception being Dream About Me's older half-brother Christen Me. He has nothing left to prove in his awesome career, which is just as well because he looks a two- or three-length inferior horse to what he was when he won this race two seasons ago. Others like Hughie Green, Hug The Wind, Tara Tiger, obviously Chase The Dream and even No Doctor Needed have shown enough to suggest they have blowout hopes but the horses who ticks almost all the boxes for tomorrow is Titan Banner. He has been amazing in the past month, overcoming two brutally hard runs to win the Summer and Franklin Cups and was a brave third in Lazarus's New Zealand Cup last month. Titan Banner looks to be in the zone, happy and healthy, has good standing start manners and is a natural stayer. If he can get to the front without having to do anything silly, it is going to take a huge performance to run him down. While standing start manners and luck in the running always have a role to play in 3200m cups, the markets and recent wins suggest those factors won't be as important in tomorrow's other huge races. Ultimate Machete seems to have too much physical strength for his rivals in the $200,000 Sales Series Pace but is so short he is really only of use as a multi anchor. The same could be said for Spanish Armada in the Sires' Stakes Fillies Champs, although the best version of Delightful Memphis can always test her. And anybody who saw Marcoola put nearly 12 lengths on his rivals at Cambridge last Saturday will be reluctant to back against him in the $80,000 National Trot. The tactics of his trainer-driver Clint Ford will be interesting as he probably can't risk going forward hard at the start so may have to settle before looping the field in the middle stages. If he can do that and wrest the front he looks home, if he has to sit parked then being a 4-year-old over 2700m mobile he could be slightly vulnerable, with Bordeaux and Quite A Moment having the stamina to suggest they could upset if the favourite has a tough night at the office. Auckland Cup twilight Best bet: Gupta's Cullen (R4, No 6): Comes out of similar race last start so should win again. Improver: Spankem (R1, No 7): Had interrupted prep before brave debut second in same field. Derby bound: Vincent (R2, No 7): Off to the Victoria Derby and handled standing start well when winning last time. - NZ Herald Read more by Michael Guerin

Cran Dalgety couldn't be happier with Christen Me heading in to Saturday's $250,000 Auckland Trotting Cup - it is just the opposition he isn't thrilled with. The Canterbury trainer says the $2.4 million earner is working as well as he ever has leading in to the 3200m group one and he wouldn't change a thing. But that may still not be good enough to win. "I have been thrilled with a couple of his recent runs, but we just keep meeting one better," says Dalgety. "Three starts ago, you would have thought he was enormous running second in the (NZ) free-for-all but Lazarus was just unbelievable. "And then, last start here in the Franklin Cup, I was thrilled with him again but Titan Banner just outstayed him. "He feels great, is working well and is actually running times like he always has but the reality is the best horses of Mark and Natalie's are simply going better. "They are having a freakish run and, while we haven't given up beating them this week, on paper it is hard to make a case we will." Christen Me is the $12 fourth favourite for the Cup, with his half-sister Dream About Me heading a trio of favourites from the All Stars barn alongside Titan Banner and Chase The Dream. That trio have age on their side, with Dream About Me and Chase The Dream only four-year-olds while Titan Banner is a lightly-raced five-year-old, the veteran of only 32 starts. The younger, fresher legs have been the most potent in New Zealand harness racing in the last 12 months, with Have Faith In Me winning this cup last season, Lazarus the New Zealand Cup last month and Monbet dominant as a four-year-old trotter last season. Marcoola did the same in the champ's absence this summer. "It feels a bit like that. My horse feels as good as when he was winning Miracle Miles and when he won this race two seasons ago but the younger horses have gone to another level," says Dalgety. "It is a bit like our horse is Dan Carter and some of the others are Beauden Barrett. " Christen Me's improved standing start manners this season should ensure he gets that luck as he should settle handy, which would give wonder driver Dexter Dunn plenty of options. But the reality is, while he looks a picture and his performances would be excellent coming from most other horses, Christen Me hasn't been as razor sharp as when he went on his Miracle Mile-Victoria Cup-Auckland Cup winning rampage two seasons ago. One rival who seems to have slipped even further, again without any identifiable reason, is last season's Auckland Cup runner-up Hughie Green. This time last year he led the cup until the last few strides and it took a rampant Have Faith In Me to deny him, with Inter Dominion hero Smolda in third. Hughie Green has only shown glimpses of that form since and trainer Brian Hughes says he is happy with the big horse but his racetrack performances have lacked bite. "When you look at his last two runs, he has probably paced his personal best times," offers Hughes. "So I can't be disappointed with him. Maybe the opposition has just gotten better? "Can he win? I hope so, but he would need things to go his way." While Dream About Me ($2.20) and Titan Banner ($2.60) battle over cup favouritism, there is no such dispute in a couple of Saturday's other big money races. Marcoola has come up a jaw-droppingly short $1.20 to win the National Trot even from the outside of the front line, while Ultimate Machete is $1.19 to win the $200,000 Sales Series Pace. Which almost makes the $1.38 for Spanish Armada in the Sires' Stakes Championship Final seem like a decent price. Read more by Michael Guerin  Email Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald            

Defending champion Lennytheshark looks increasingly likely to take his place in Friday's Inter Dominion final after a chaotic weekend that has seen the market turned on its head. The superstar Victorian pacer plunged the Perth series into a spin when he was surprisingly beaten last Friday night and stewards advised immediately after the race he was sore in both front legs. Trainer David Aiken quickly refuted that and said Lennytheshark's below-par performance in his heat on Friday was because of a hoof abscess. He will now have to undergo a veterinary examination before being allowed to start, with fears for his soundness so serious initially that the Australian TAB listed him as "doubtful" in their markets. "Being an abscess is far better than anything structural in his legs so we are quite relieved," Aiken's son and right-hand man Josh told the Herald. "So we will know more as the week unfolds but Dad is confident he can get him there." The loss and subsequent speculation saw Lennytheshark drift from $3 before Friday's heat to a remarkable $7.50 for the final with some bookmakers. He was drawn in the field on Sunday and has secured barrier four, which is seemingly perfect for him, and would start considerably shorter if punters thought he was going to be back to his best for Friday night. His troubles had a huge impact on the market but so, too, did hot favourite Hectorjayjay being handed the worse possible draw, the outside of the front line for the final. After dominating his heats to come through the series unbeaten, Hectorjayjay got as short as $1.70 pre-draw but has bounced back out to $2.50 with Australian bookies. His draw suggests he has no chance of running to his favoured pacemaking role and luck will now come into play around a Gloucester Park track on which leaders thrive. Kiwi reps Smolda (barrier seven) and Franco Nelson (six) have awkward draws and both look likely to have to come wide in the last lap, although as New Zealand Cup runner-ups they will at least be suited by the step up to 2936m mobile. The big winner in the draw was former Kiwi pacer Run Oneover, who has shortened from $81 pre-series to $4 second favouritism after securing barrier two, with Bling It On perfectly placed on his back from the ace. Smolda's stablemates Piccadilly Princess and Mr Mojito could both start favourite in supporting group one races on Friday night. The drama for harness racing's elite horses hasn't just been confined to Perth though, with Have Faith In Me's Auckland Cup defence looking in tatters. The Miracle Mile winner is undergoing an intensive veterinary examination in Waikato this week to diagnose why he has been pacing roughly and racing below his best this season, with trainer Mark Purdon admitting a Cup start is now unlikely. New Zealand's two best trotters are also out for the summer, with both Monbet and Speeding Spur to miss the Christmas carnival at Alexandra Park and the Victorian summer. Monbet is set to undergo a bone chip operation this week and could even miss the rest of the season, while the connections of Speeding Spur have pulled the pin on defending their Great Southern Star title. "We don't want to rush him back so the Anzac Cup and Rowe Cup are now our main aims," says Speeding Spur's co-trainer Josh Dickie. That leaves the trotting group one's over the summer shorn of their biggest names and with Stent still troubled by injury, 4-year-old Marcoola is now the big gun of the ranks for upcoming features. He has opened favourite for the National Trot on December 31, in front of Master Lavros, who is back trialling and Australian visitor Kyvalley Blur, who has remained in New Zealand because of the weakened open class ranks. "He is handling open class well and will travel north on Wednesday and start in the Lyell Creek on the 16th on his way to the National," says Marcoola's trainer-driver Clint Ford. Inter Dominion chaos The A$1.1 million Inter Dominion Final is in Perth on Friday night. The market has been thrown into chaos by an injury to defending champion Lennytheshark and a terrible draw for Hectorjayjay. Franco Nelson and Smolda represent New Zealand in the great race. by Michael Guerin Courtesy of The New Zealand Herald

Dexter Dunn’s storied career enters a unofficial new phase under the most extreme of circumstances tonight. The champion harness racing driver will steer Franco Nelson in an Inter Dominion heat he thinks he can win at Bunbury in Western Australia and even though that may seem a little out of the way, for a driver who has competed all over the world that in itself is hardly strange. What is different about the next two weeks of Dunn’s career is that he will also be training Franco Nelson during his Inter Dominion bid. Franco Nelson’s training is already an oddity in that he is officially trained by Dunn’s father Robert, but he actually runs the Auckland arm of the stable while another son John trains most of the team in Canterbury. So in reality John trains Franco Nelson most of the year but not for the next two weeks as he has commitments at home and believed Dexter was the best person to drive the stallion in West Australia. So rather than having two of the family travel with one horse, driver Dexter becomes caretaker trainer Dexter. “John has had Aimee Edmonds over here looking after Nelson until Sunday but now she has gone home I am in charge,” smiles Dexter. “I am hoping it is business as usual because he seems pretty straightforward. “And obviously in a series like this they don’t take much work between races.” Dunn’s first and perhaps only major training task of the week will be trying to get Franco Nelson to accept wearing a boring pole in training. The former New Zealand Cup runner-up hung badly when third in his opening night heat at Gloucester Park on Friday and Dunn is hoping a pole will make him travel straighter. “He raced really well but it is hard to make ground when they hang like that,” says Dexter. “I think he will be better for this race because Bunbury is a slightly bigger track and from his draw he will be going forward at the start. “I don’t see why he can’t win it.” The heat also features the only other Kiwi in the series in Smolda and thankfully for New Zealand harness fans is tonight’s first heat so runs at a bearable 11.20pm NZ time, rather than after midnight as all the opening night heats did. The front line for the 2100m mobile looks very quick and Smolda’s trainer-driver Mark Purdon is hoping the speed is on all the way so the leaders come back to him late. “I as happy with his run on the first night and while he handled Gloucester Park well I think Bunbury might suit him better,” said Purdon. Smolda is also suited by drawing two on the second line for the seven (front line) and three field configuration, as opposed to being drawn the outside of the front line at barrier nine last Friday. The second heat looks straight forward with series favourite Hectorjayjay drawn barrier two and set to lead and win, which could see him shorten into $2.50 to win the A$1.1million final. His stablemate Lennytheshark is his only challenger at the head of the market and faces a tricky draw at one on the second line in the last heat but the field lacks any depth and if driver Chris Alford gets serious he should still win. The final round of heats return to Gloucester Park on Friday, where Purdon-trained four-year-old Mr Mojito will be looking for a change of luck in a support race. He was heavily-backed on his Australian debut last Friday but had his tyre flattened by a rival early and was all but pulled out of the race. “He took no harm from that so will still tackle good four-year-old races the next two weeks,” says Purdon. by Michael Guerin

Lazarus’s ascension to the top of the pacing world has had its first major casualty --- his stablemate Have Faith In Me. The Miracle Mile and Auckland Cup winner has undoubtedly lost his crown as the king of pacing to Lazarus this spring, the handover completed in under four minutes at Addington on Tuesday. But now he has also been robbed of the chance to compete for harness racing’s richest prize in Australasia and one of the few major races he could target knowing he wouldn’t have to run into Lazarus. Have Faith In Me has been pulled out of the Inter Dominions, which start in Perth in 15 days, with trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen suggesting they simply couldn’t take him after he galloped for apparently no reason at the 600m mark on Tuesday. “We don’t know what is bugging him but something isn’t quite right,” said Rasmussen. “If he is not pacing cleanly enough here and that isn’t going to get any better around Gloucester Park. So we have pulled him off the plane to Perth on Friday.” Stablemates Smolda, who was fourth in the Cup, Harness Jewels winner Piccadilly Princess and Tuesday’s national 2600m record setter Mr Mojito will still be heading to Perth. Have Faith In Me will also miss Friday’s $260,000 New Zealand Free-For-All, but if vets clear him of any serious issues he could be back to defend his Auckland Cup title at Alexandra Park on December 31. That would set up a chance for some much-needed revenge on Lazarus, who has totally usurped him, winning all four of their personal clashes this season. Lazarus has now not been beaten in a Group 1 race for almost 18 months and will be red hot to add another in the Free-For-All on Friday, which is the day before he actually turns four in real terms. He has drawn barrier five in the mobile 1950m event and, although he has plenty of gate speed inside him, after his demolition job on Tuesday it is hard to imagine rival drivers getting into a war with him. The race will bring together Lazarus and his female equivalent Dream About Me for the first time in an actual race and while the All Stars have often indicated in the past there may not be too much between them, it hardly looks a fair fight on Friday with Dream About Me drawn barrier eight. So, even though Rasmussen suggested she will start, it still wouldn’t surprise to see her pulled out and saved for Auckland next month. While Dream About Me copped a terrible draw, champion trotter Monbet looks ideally placed to add the Dominion to his bulging trophy cabinet after drawing wide on the front line on Friday. He set another NZ record, for 1950m mobile, beating Marcoola on Tuesday and that rival won’t be in the Dominion. That will see Monbet start around $1.30 for the biggest race he has yet to win in New Zealand because, while he has actually drawn the second line, emergencies will see him start wide on the front line and that is ideal for a horse who has had little experience of starting among other horses in standing start races. by Michael Guerin

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 harness 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 modest hardened racegoers stunned. The time, on a blustering Canterbury day, was absurd while the margin was Winx-like in its brutality. For racing people their combined shock value instantly raise 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 groups 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 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 rationalize 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 look 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. by Michael Guerin

If harness racing was simple, a game played out on paper, Lazarus has already won today's $750,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup. There is no other argument to be made. The 4-year-old, who has only ever been beaten by bad luck, has had the most faultless Cup preparation, dominating the two lead-up races that matter. He has becoming increasingly confident from a standing start, can sprint hard or stay long and is trained by the most powerful harness racing stable we have ever seen. To put some icing on the Cup cake, his most dangerous rival is his stablemate Have Faith In Me, who should settle a conservative 12 lengths from him. Have Faith In Me is good, very, very good at his best but is he 12 lengths, or even four lengths better than Lazarus? No. Is he better than Lazarus at all? Probably at his peak, but not so far this spring. Add to that the fact champion horseman Mark Purdon, who trains four in today's classic, including remarkably third favourite Smolda as well, has told the Herald he expects the winner to come from his top two and that Smolda, being older, is a length behind them. So this is Lazarus's Cup to lose, evidenced by one of the shortest prices in the history of our greatest race. But before punters gorge themselves on the $1.80 price for the 4-year-old it pays to remember one thing - this is the New Zealand Cup, not a Derby. Derbys, or most other major pacing races in this country, tend to run to form. Sanity usually prevails. However, the New Zealand Cup script often has a twist in it tail. Consider the fact Purdon, now training with Natalie Rasmussen, has been at the absolute top of the industry for 20 years but has only trained one New Zealand Cup winner since 1996. Trainers you have almost never heard of train New Zealand Cup winners. Horses that couldn't get beaten do. The reasons are numerous, some obvious. The standing start in front of harness racing's biggest crowd adds an element of intrigue and doubt. Then there is the searing early speed, with most of the winners in the past decade being those who have missed the early fireworks. The lung-searing effect of the best horses on a rocket-fast Addington track when nobody wants to go home wondering. It wasn't that long ago the Cup was won in 4:5, two years ago Adore Me ran 10 seconds faster. At that speed, with pacers racing on the absolute limit of their potential, only the smallest thing needs to go wrong, even for just 200m, and even the best become vulnerable. The Disney version of today's race script is Lazarus and Smolda will head forward after the early dash and Lazarus will end up in front, with the pivotal moment of the race being when Have Faith In Me invariably moves around the field. If and when that happens does Purdon, driving Lazarus, take a trail, all but guaranteeing the stable a Cup quinella, or does he stay infront and the two wonderful sons of Bettors Delight make each other earn the right to be in the winner's circle? Purdon admits either scenario is possible but regardless, Lazarus is his horse to beat today. "He could definitely end up leading but even if he did trail a horse like Have Faith In Me I think he could probably come off his back and beat him," Purdon told the Herald. "They are my top two chances and with the likelihood Lazarus should get the easier run then he has to be our best hope. "But the one thing that would change all that is if he was slow away and Have Faith In Me settled near him or in front of him. Then the whole race changes." Of course that shouldn't happen. Lazarus has been pacing's perfect prince for more than a year and especially this spring. If this was any other race Lazarus would look close to a certainty today. But it is not, it is the New Zealand Cup. Which is why you should back them both. For the full programme click here Guerin tips LAZARUS HAVE FAITH IN ME SMOLDA Addington's big day What: New Zealand Cup Day. When: First race 12.05pm today. Where: Addington, Christchurch. Races: $750,000 New Zealand Cup, $170,000 Sires' Stakes Final, $80,000 NZ Trotting Free-For-All, $35,000 Pacing Free-For-All. Punt: Fixed odds all races; head to heads; $50,000 Pick6. View: Trackside starts with preview show from 10am, the live coverage from 11.30am. By Michael Guerin - NZ Herald

The pre-Sires’ Stakes conversation between Steven Reid and Tony Herlihy today will be short. The pair combine with Star Galleria to take on the might of the All Stars, who have four or even five reps in the $170,000 three-year-old Group 1. Usually taking on that many Purdon-Rasmussen runners in a three-year-old race only ends in disappointment one way or another, as we learnt with Hughie Green in this very race two years ago. But after two brave and brilliant heat wins in the north were followed by a trials thrashing of Ultimate Machete last Wednesday, and then Star Galleria drew the best of the favourites, confidence in the Reid-McMullan camp is growing. “I have known he was a good horse for a while,” admits Reid without wanting to talk his new stable star up for fear of a fall. “A few weeks ago I worked him one windy afternoon at Pukekohe and he paced his last 400m in just over 26 seconds. That was as quick as I have ever had a horse work there, as good as Monkey King or Gold Ace. I am not saying he is as good as them yet but he has their speed.” So talent won’t be the issue for Star Galleria and Reid is confident he can cross to the lead after the positive feel he got when buzzed off the gate at the trials. But if he does lead Reid expects pressure from the likes of More The Better and Ultimate Machete. It is not so much team driving he fears, more the fact the Purdon-Rasmussen horses are so good and so fit they don’t let rivals away with dawdling leads. “I think he can lead but I also expect some pressure and then it will be up to Tony to decide what to do next," he said. “A couple of times in the past I have given Tony pre-race instructions but who am I kidding? He has been doing this for decades and I will let him decide what he does out there. “All I will be saying to him is that the horse is spot on and I think he isn’t just a speed horse, he has some bottom to him.” More The Better is still just the favourite after a dominant juvenile season but he has been good without being spectacular so far this term. Which sums up all the Purdon-Rasmussen reps, all look good enough to win but none to be totally feared. More The Better looks the most likely to settle handy to the speed with cover so appeals the most of their team but the race has the potential for an upset, not so much in the winner but definitely the placegetters. The punt: The Herlihy factor might be enough to get Star Galleria home but you would want cover with More The Better. NEW ZEALAND CUP 1: LAZARUS 2: HAVE FAITH IN ME 3: SMOLDA FACT BOX CUP DAY: What: NEW ZEALAND CUP DAY When: First race 12.05pm today. Where: Addington, Chch. Races: $750,000 New Zealand Cup; $170,000 Sires’ Stakes Final, $80,000 NZ Trotting Free-For-All; $35,000 Pacing Free-For-All. Punt: Fixed odds all races; head to heads; $50,000 Pick6. View: Trackside starts with preview show from 10am, the live coverage from 11.30am. by Michael Guerin

One of the best moments of John Dunn’s harness racing career has been followed by one of the most gutting. But he says he isn’t going to die wondering with Franco Nelson in tomorrow’s $750,000 New Zealand Trotting Cup at Addington. Dunn is not only the driver and unofficial trainer of Franco Nelson but his wife Jenna shares in the ownership, so the speed freak’s return to stunning form this spring has bee satisfying on so many levels. Especially in last Monday’s Kaikoura Cup, a race Dunn was originally going to miss because Franco Nelson likes his races spaced, but he gambled on starting and they lead all the way to down Smolda and win like a serious New Zealand Cup contender. But that buzz didn’t last long after Franco Nelson drew the second line for the epic 3200m race, with the flashy stallion the horse worst handicapped by that draw. “It takes away one of his biggest weapons, his standing start speed, so it was really gutting,” admits Dunn. “He is at his best when he can lead and then hand up to the right horse but unless we have a miracle now that isn’t going to happen. “After Kaikoura I was confident we would be hard to beat with the right run but maybe we are’t going to get that now. “To be honest, it would be a big call to say he could win now.” But Dunn says while Franco Nelson is known for his speed, he can’t afford to sit back and gift the race to the seemingly unstoppable All Stars trio of Lazarus, Smolda and Have Faith In Me. “They could be up front dominating and there is no point just sitting back," he said. “I think he is tougher than he used to be so if we have to make a move we will. “But the race really changed for us after the draw, too.” With Franco Nelson unlikely to be able to settle in front of the likes of Lazarus and Smolda they firm even more because the horses stalking them on the markers are likely to be outsiders rather than genuine threats. So expect Franco Nelson to drift in the market as all the money comes for Lazarus and maybe closer to race start time Have Faith In Me, who, as a Miracle Mile winner, will attract plenty of Australian interest in the co-mingled pools. Dunn did have the smallest piece of good news over the weekend with Seel The Deal scratched from the Cup, meaning Franco Nelson now starts directly behind Smolda. That means Lewy Risk gets a run and Lazarus will now start from barrier four, almost perfect for the horse whose whole Cup campaign could hardly have gone better. That also brings Christen Me in to the outside of the front line, with Titan Banner now to start off one on the inside. While the Cup market has been relatively calm, one of the biggest group one movers at the meeting has been northern three-year-old Star Galleria. After two big win in the Sires’ Stakes heats, a dazzling trial at Addington last Wednesday and drawing the best of the favoured contenders he is in to $3.60 second favoritism, just outside Harness Jewels winner More The Better. While TAB bookies cop plenty of criticism few could argue with the service they have provided for tomorrow’s meeting, with all races having been open since Friday night. TAB FIXED ODDS NZ TROTTING CUP MARKET by Michael Guerin

They say manners maketh man, but they might also maketh the New Zealand Trotting Cup winner. Lazarus guaranteed himself favouritism for the great race at Addington on November 8 with a muscular domination of the Flying Stakes at Ashburton yesterday, downing stablemate Have Faith In Me to end the latter’s challenge to title of their stable’s top chance in the race. Even after being slow away, Lazarus’s huge respect factor saw him easily work to the lead when co-trainer Mark Purdon hit the go button and from there he was perfect, never flinching in a 26.1-second last 400m. He has the speed, stamina, manners, presence and lead-up of a New Zealand Cup winner. In contrast Have Faith In Me gawked around, paced awkwardly and behaved more like a debutante juvenile than an Auckland Cup and Miracle Mile winner, his gait so choppy before and after the line you could have feared he had broken down. But the pair pulled up well, leaving Purdon in no doubt Lazarus is now the better New Zealand Cup hope. “He is doing things so right and professionally, which gives him an advantage over the other horse,” says Purdon. “He was great today after being a bit slow from that inside draw and I just hope he draws the front line in the Cup because he would be a hard horse to get past.”
 On yesterday’s performances it is hard to see Have Faith In Me coming from behind Lazarus to beat him. “I thought he (Have Faith In Me) might have grown out of all that stuff and it is hard to win a Cup pacing like that,” admitted Purdon. Lazarus moved into hot Cup favouritism and with yesterday’s huge third placegetter Field Marshal not in the Cup, it is very hard to make a case for those behind the quinellemates being serious threats at Addington. Lazarus and Have Faith In Me will head to the Cup trial tomorrow week while their stablemates Smolda and Titan Banner face Franco Nelson, Messini and Tiger Tara in Monday’s Kaikoura Cup. As good as Lazarus was his fellow four-year-old and stablemate Dream About Me was just as impressive winning her comeback 35 minutes earlier in a fast time, with Purdon suggesting she will take on Lazarus for the first time in the New Zealand Free-For-All in November 11. “She is a very good mare, as good as the boys we have,” he added. The other star of the show yesterday was Monbet, who also won his return thanks to a beautiful Ricky May drive and a helping of mid-race luck. He settled back, was three wide but able to work into the one-one at the 600m and cruised past Harriet Of Mot for a win befitting the Horse of the Year. Considering his interrupted preparation and how much he should improve, not only the Dominion on November 11 but almost every other major New Zealand trotting race is his to lose. by Michael Guerin

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