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The race to the top is on. And while the mighty champion Lazarus leads the way, it is not a given that he takes the harness racing title. Entering Saturday night’s Gr.1 $750,000 Ainsworth Miracle Mile at TABCORP Park, Menangle, the Mark Purdon prepared equine freak leads the way in the Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit race, sitting at the top of the leaderboard with 300 points. Victories in the New Zealand Cup, Inter Dominion and the Hunter Cup have him as the chosen one but as the season gets deeper, the challengers are coming. Only two legs remain in the current Grand Circuit season, the Miracle Mile and the Blacks A Fake in Brisbane in July and that only adds to the pressure Lazarus is facing this weekend. Lazarus is facing many adversities as he looks to rebound following his shock loss last week in the qualifying race while also looking to break a major hoodoo. On Sunday, the Bettors Delight entire was slammed with the outside barrier in the 1609m feature; he now needs to rewrite the record books. As it stands, no horse has overcome the outside gate since the race was moved from Harold Park to the spacious surroundings of Menangle back in 2009. Even more worrying, no horse has even placed from the extreme outside post position! But as we know, Lazarus is no normal horse. Yet to miss a place in 44 career starts to date, the winner of 35 races (15 at Gr.1 level) will need to bring his absolute best to establish a new and exclusive club. If successful, Lazarus will become the only pacer to win the New Zealand Cup, Inter Dominion, Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile (and all in the same season!). Purdon is no stranger to success in the Miracle Mile; he prepared the 2016 winner and race record holder Have Faith In Me (1:47.5) Lazarus may need to eclipse that mark to win this weekend. As good as Lazarus has been this season, his rivals aren’t backing away and the current logjam behind him on the Grand Circuit leaderboard is ready to take their shots again. If Soho Tribeca (165 points), Tiger Tara (125) or Lennytheshark (124) prove victorious and Lazarus can’t overcome his wide draw, the race to be crowned Grand Circuit champion could take an interesting twist. Lazarus won’t make the trip to Brisbane for the final Grand Circuit event while his three rivals could easily venture north in July and snatch victory. Both Tiger Tara and Lennytheshark contested the Blacks A Fake last season while Soho Tribeca was being considered before a late change in plans. For the third time this season in a Grand Circuit event, Tiger Tara has drawn the inside gate and will prove very hard to beat following his Gr.1 triumph last week in the Canadian Club Classic in a time of 1:51.5. Prepared by Kevin Pizzuto and to be driven by Todd McCarthy, the Bettors Delight entire will again prove a worthy rival. Allied Express Sprint winner Anything For Love rated a scintillating 1:48.7 last week and will also prove hard to catch after landing saddlecloth number three. Prepared by Shane Tritton, his wife Lauren will take the drive and look to join Kellie Kersley, Jodi Quinlan and Natalie Rasmussen as winning female drivers of the Miracle Mile. Classy pacer My Field Marshal sports saddlecloth number four and shapes as a legitimate threat following his booming effort last week when runner-up behind Tiger Tara. The ultra-consistent performer is looking to provide Tim and Anthony Butt with their maiden Miracle Mile success. Last start Chariots of Fire winner Jilliby Kung Fu will represent Victoria and the speedy four-year-old looms as the ‘wild card’ runner for Marg and Jason Lee. Fresh from his success two weeks ago when he equaled the race record of the Chariots with his 1:48.8 clocking, the emerging force looms as a genuine threat. The last four-year-old to claim the Chariots/Miracle Mile double was Have Faith In Me two years ago. Another Victorian trained pacer boasting outstanding credentials is the Michael Stanley trained and Greg Sugars driven Soho Tribeca, the classy five-year-old was beaten narrowly last week as favourite when second behind Anything For Love in 1:48.7. The WA Pacing Cup winner will carry saddlecloth number six. Defending champion Lennytheshark creates plenty of intrigue despite being safely held last week in the Allied Express Sprint, the 1:49.2 performer finished fifth behind Anything For Love and Soho Tribeca after enjoying a good trip throughout. The David Aiken prepared $2.9 million earner will be handled by champion reinsman Chris Alford and carry saddlecloth number seven. The veteran of the field is looking to become the first eight-year-old to win the Miracle Mile since the mighty Smoken Up back in 2010. Locally prepared star Charlaval finished an eye-catching third last week behind Anything For Love and Soho Tribeca in 1:48.7. Prepared by leading trainer Kerryann Turner, the five-year-old gelding will be handled by Turner’s husband, Robbie Morris. The two emergency runners are Let It Ride (saddlecloth number nine) and Atomic Red (saddlecloth number two). No mares are starting in this year’s event. The Ainsworth Miracle Mile is scheduled to start at 9.32pm local time. As always, the race time will be a fascinating aspect but the race to be crowned Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit champion could be decided after this weekend. Again, time will tell. Chris Barsby Hoofnote: Only Westburn Grant is even with Lazarus with Gr.1 victories.

A Miracle Mile that Lazarus couldn't lose is starting to look like one the champion pacer will struggle to win. The Kiwi pacing hero struck not one but two judder bars over the weekend on the road to the only great Australasian race to have eluded him and is set to be a huge drifter in the market. The first signs of trouble for Lazarus, and punters, came when the Inter Dominion champ was a brave but battling third in his $100,000 prelude to the Mile at Menangle on Saturday night. That was still enough to earn him an invitation to the A$750,000 super sprint this Saturday but Lazarus clearly wasn't at his best, only clawing his way into third on heart after looking beaten at the 500m mark.   He appeared still drained by the effects of a virus trainer-driver Mark Purdon had expected to be out of his system but dogged the entire Purdon-Rasmussen stable on a dreadful night at the office. "We had a bug through the team during the week but we thought they were over it," said Purdon. "They had good blood reports and we even had Laz scoped on the morning of the race so we could keep the stewards up to date but clearly he was still below his best. "So while I was disappointed in him because he tried so hard, it was hardly ideal." Purdon said Lazarus appeared to come through the hard run behind long-time rival Tiger Tara well and looked fresh yesterday, and he expects to know more about his well-being after fast work on Tuesday. But that isn't the only problem facing Lazarus as he drew the outside of the front line at yesterday's barrier draw, meaning he will start from barrier eight. Since the Miracle Mile moved to Menangle a decade ago no horse has even placed in the race from barrier eight. That saw him move from $1.70 on Saturday morning to $2.20 with the NZ TAB last night but he could stretch out to $3 with some bookies before race start time, especially depending on how Purdon assesses his bounce back to peak fitness. The big winner in the draw was the faster of Saturday's two prelude winners in Anything For Love, who has barrier three for the Mile while Tiger Tara's unbelievable run of ace barrier draws continued. He has now drawn the ace in the Inter Dominion Final, Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile and whether he can hold Anything For Love at the start will be a crucial factor in the race. A$750k Miracle Mile The field for the A$750,000 Ainsworth Miracle Mile at Menangle on Saturday night is: 1: Tiger Tara (1) 2: Atomic Red (2) 3: Anything For Love (3) 4: My Field Marshal (4) 5: Jilliby Kung Fu (5) 6: Soho Tribeca (6) 7: Lennytheshark (7) 8: Charlaval (8) 9: Let It Ride (9) 10: Lazarus (10) Emergencies: Let It Ride, Atomic Red.   Michael Guerin

These are the barrier draws for the Big 4 harness racing Group One races at Club Menangle on Saturday night, 24th February. $750,000 Ainsworth Miracle Mile 1: Tiger Tara by Bettor's Delight 2: Atomic Red (2Em) by Rocknroll Hanover 3: Anything For Love by Rock N Roll Heaven 4: My Field Marshal by Art Major 5: Jilliby Kung Fu by Four Stazzz Shark 6: Soho Tribeca by American Ideal 7: Lennytheshark by Four Starzzz Shark 8: Charlaval by Four Starzzz Shark 9: Let It Ride (1Em) by Rock N Roll Heaven 10: Lazarus by Bettor's Delight   Macarthur Square Ladyship Mile 1: Rocker Band by Rocknroll Hanover 2: Ameretto by Million Dollar Cam 3: Partyon by Bettor's Delight 4: Our Golden Goddess by Art Major 5: Ima Mystery Girl (1Em) by Village Jasper 6: Carlas Pixel by Courage Under Fire 7: Miss Riviera Belle by Bettor's Delight 8: My Rona Gold by Klondike Kid 9: A Piccadilly Princess by Bettor's Delight 10: Berisari (2Em) by Safari 11: Delishka by Bettor's Delight 12: Shakahari by Courage Under Fire   John Gibson Memorial NSW Oaks 1: Redbank Addi (1Em) by Rock N Roll Heaven 2: Imprincessgemma by Village Jolt 3: Ideal Pleasure by Bettor's Delight 4: Fame Assured by Mach Three 5: Shez All Rock by Rock N Roll Heaven 6: War Dan Bad Girl by Bettor's Delight 7: My Sweetchilliphilly by Betterthancheddar 8: Nostra Villa by Art Major 9: Callmequeenbee by Shadow Play 10: Macey jayde by Shadow Play 11: Soho Burning Love by Auckland Reactor 12: Prophesy (2Em) by Somebeachsomewhere   APG NSW Derby 1: Colt Thirty One by Mach Three 2: Major Times by Art Major 3: Divine State (1Em) by Tintin In America 4: Poster Boy by Somebeachsomewhere 5: Maraetai by Somebeachsomewhere 6: Higherthananeagle by Mach Three 7: All U Need Is Faith (2Em) by Art Major 8: The Black Prince by Bettor's Delight 9: Code Bailey by Christian Cullen 10: Tam Major by Art Major 11: The Devils Own by Art Major 12: Little Peanut by Blissfull Hall For further information contact Club Menangle Racing Manager David Wonson (02) 4645 2200 *Em = Emergency Mandy Madern

Harness racing trainer Mark Purdon is confident he can turn champion pacer Lazarus around in time to win Saturday's Ainsworth Miracle Mile. But he knows it won't be easy. The great Kiwi pacer's campaign hit a judder bar at Menangle on Saturday night when he was brave but battling third in his Mile prelude won by Tiger Tara. Beaten off the gate from the ace draw he was then forced to sit parked and it was obvious 500m from home he wasn't going to win, only his huge heart allowing him to claw his way back to third. That still earned him his invite to the Mile but he had clearly been feeling the effects of a slight virus that had gone through the Purdon-Rasmussen stable last week. "We had a few horses get crook but we thought that were well over it," explained trainer-driver Mark Purdon. "We had our vet inform the stewards and take blood tests which came back suggesting he was fine to race and then we even had him scoped him on Saturday morning, and it was fine too. "So I was surprised he raced so flat, as did the rest of the team. He was brave and was running on heart up the home straight but I am glad to get through this and now we have a week to get him back to his best." While that was less than ideal for Purdon and an army of punters, the real blow to Lazarus's Mile hopes came at Sunday's barrier draw where he was saddled with the outside of the front line. Since the Miracle Mile move to Menangle a decade ago no horse has even placed from barrier eight. That saw him drift from $2 to $2.25 with the TAB but he looks certain to get longer as the enormity of the task he faces hits home to punters. The big winners in the draw were Saturday night's two prelude winners Tiger Tara (1) and Anything For Love, who has drawn barrier three but will start from two if the emergencies don't get a start. The field for the A$750,000 Ainsworth Miracle Mile at Menangle on Saturday night is: 1: Tiger Tara (1) 2: Atomic Red (2) 3: Anything For Love (3) 4: My Field Marshal (4) 5: Jilliby Kung Fu (5) 6: Soho Tribeca (6) 7: Lennytheshark (7) 8: Charlaval (8) 9: Let It Ride (9) 10: Lazarus (10) Emergencies: Let It Ride, Atomic Red. For Further information contact Club Menangle Racing Manager David Wonson (02) 4645 2200  

Sydney's greatest harness racing spectacle was thrown wide open by a crazy qualifying night at Tabcorp Park Menangle on Saturday, leaving plenty of questions over next Saturday's $750,000 Ainsworth Miracle Mile. Both Australasia's best pacer Lazarus and defending Mile champion Lennytheshark were beaten in their $100,000 preludes, needing the discretion of the New South Wales Harness Racing Club committee to secure their Mile invites. The early second favourite for Mile in Heaven Rocks didn't qualify at all while Hunter Cup runner-up Soho Tribeca was beaten by Anything For Love in the 1:48.7 first prelude. The intrigue started when Anything For Love led as Team Tritton suggested he would and held out Soho Tribeca by a nose, with bolter Charlaval third in the first prelude, the $100,000 Allied Express Transport Sprint. All three got invites to the Miracle Mile, as did Lennytheshark who finished fifth, with club officials saying the champion pacer's career record as well as his status as defending champion aiding his cause. But the biggest shock of the night came when Lazarus struggled bravely into third in the $100,000 Canadian Club Sprint won by local hero Tiger Tara over My Field Marshal. Tiger Tara was expertly driven by Todd McCarthy early to keep Lazarus in a pocket and press on to the lead and he was never extended to win in a far slower 1:51.5, with My Field Marshal storming home from the tail of the field for second. Lazarus was clearly below his best and looked gone at the 400m mark but picked himself up to finish third, giving a huge scare to one TAB punter who had bet $50,000 a place on him at $1.04. His trainer-driver Mark Purdon said the Inter Dominion champion was below his best after a slight blood complaint during the week, which his vet had informed stewards of. "I thought he was over it but the way the race panned out and him having to race parked after being crossed it affected him," said Purdon. "So we have a week to get him right and I am just glad he gets into the Mile." The NSWHRC directors said they found the final field decision relatively straight forward, with the first three home in both preludes joined by the defending champion and last Saturday's Chariots Of Fire winner Jilliby Kung Fu. The all-important draw for the $750,000 Ainsworth Miracle Mile will be held at Club Menangle around 1.30pm on Sunday. The field field for the great race is.-- Anything For Love, Soho Tribeca, Charlaval, Tiger Tara, My Field Marshal, Lazarus, Lennytheshark, Jilliby Kung Fu. Emergencies: Let It Ride, Atomic Red. Anything For Love Tiger Tara Mandy Madern

Mark Purdon isn’t expecting his rivals to simply give champion pacer Lazarus his $100,000 Miracle Mile prelude at Tabcorp Park Menangle on Saturday night. But he would also still be surprised if his harness racing superstar was beaten. Lazarus is rated a $1.20 chance after drawing the ace in the second of the two preludes which will decide the remaining seven invitations to next Saturday’s $750,000 Mile. After dominant wins in the Inter Dominion, New Zealand and Hunter Cups this summer, Lazarus should win again but Purdon has resigned himself to his rival drivers generally making it tactically tricky for the five-year-old. And with Lazarus not blessed with the same blazing gate speed of some of his Australian rivals, Saturday night’s mile may not simply be a case of lead and win. “Obviously I’d love to be in front from the draw but they can leave the gate very quickly here in Sydney so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of them have a look,” says Purdon. “I think we should be able to hold Tiger Tara, who we have seen quite a bit of this summer, but a horse like Mach Doro could come off hard. “But if we get crossed I think they will have to go so fast to do it we can come off the markers straight away.” Considering Lazarus has sat parked in his two biggest Australian wins this season, he should be able to do so again if needed. Purdon will be in for a very different experience with Heaven Rocks in the first prelude where he could settle near last in a race Soho Tribeca should be able to control either in front or parked, making him the best bet. Saturday night’s meeting also sees heats of the NSW Oaks and Derby, with the barrier draw for the Miracle Mile to be held on Sunday around 1pm.  Michael Guerin

Harness racing driver Lauren Tritton knows what it takes to qualify a horse for the Miracle Mile. There has been only one other female driver that has competed in more Miracle Miles since the race has been held at Menangle and that is Natalie Rasmussen. And this Saturday night at Menangle the 24-year-old Tritton has a chance to earn her spot in next week’s $750,000 scintillating sprint. The first chance is Anything For Love in the Group 1 Allied Express Sprint (1609m). Facing defending Miracle Mile champion Lennytheshark and $2.10 TAB fixed Odds favourite Soho Tribeca, Tritton has her tactic in mind. “I will have to drive him extremely aggressive . . . it’s the way he likes to race,” said Tritton. “He is facing a lot better horses but I can’t let that worry me, he has run 1:49 before and the only way to beat ‘Lenny’ is to make him do the work. “I also think Heaven Rocks is the silent assassin of this race but I just have to focus on my job.” With the removal of the two emergencies, Anything For Love will start from gate three. The gelding overcome barrier nine last week to win at Menangle rating the mile in 1:50.4. “He was super last week and we couldn’t be happier with the way he has come through it,” said Tritton who co-trains the pacer with husband Shane Tritton. The duo also have Yayas Hot Spot engaged in this qualifier with Jack Trainor set to drive. In the Group 1 Canadian Club Sprint (1609m) Tritton not only has to face harness racing’s pin-up pacer Lazarus but her drive Franco Nelson will have to deal with drawing the outside gate. “He’s drawn out wide so it limits what we can do but what I do know is that I’m not going to hand the race to them,” said Tritton. “Often in these big races when the fancies draw well, they get to the front and run a slow quarter which makes it impossible when coming from behind. “I’ll have to play it by ear.” Team Tritton have 13 runners engaged on Saturday night including New South Wales Derby and Oaks prospects and Ladyship Mile hopeful Angel In White which now gains a run in the Group 3 Robin Dundee Stakes (1609m). “I’m really excited about her,” said Tritton. “She showed her presence in the Chariots, she finished seventh but she broke 1:50 for her individual time. “She has come through the run very well and will be all guns blazing for this race.”  Amanda Rando

Trainer Michael Stanley believes Soho Tribeca gets the perfect dress rehearsal for next week’s Miracle Mile in his prelude at Menangle on Saturday night. The Victorian horseman brings the Hunter Cup runner-up to Menangle with the same ambition as all the trainers in the preludes, to snare one of the seven remaining spots in next week’s $750,000 glamour sprint. But Stanley’s bid has a little more edge because his five-year-old is seen as maybe the best chance of upsetting Kiwi champion Lazarus in next week’s thriller. Not only was he enormous coming from the outside of the second line to push Lazarus close in the Hunter Cup at Melton two weeks ago but he led and beat him in the opening heat of the Perth Inter Dominion in late November. Stanley wasn’t training Soho Tribeca then but like everybody in harness racing he realises the best way to beat Lazarus is to get in front of him, especially over a mile. “I don’t think you can come from behind him and beat him unless he has a bit of bad luck,” says Stanley. “So if we are going to beat him next week I think our best chance is to lead and make him do the work.” Which is why Saturday night sets up so perfectly for Soho Tribeca and driver Greg Sugars. They start from barrier four in the first of the two $100,000 preludes, with key rivals Lennytheshark (seven) and Heaven Rocks (out of draw) facing a lot tougher tasks. So Sugars can push the go button early and try and dictate to them, much as Stanley would like to see him do to Lazarus next week. “We get our chance this week to show them what we can do and not being in Lazarus’s heat is a big help. “So I’d love to see him in front, like I would next week.” If he finds that position tomorrow night it will take a stunning effort from any of his rivals to beat the $2 top elect. Later in the night Stanley expects his exciting filly Soho Burning Love to excel in the second heat of the NSW Oaks. “I think she’s got as good a chance as any of not only winning the heat, but the final as well,” he said. “She’s won all three runs really well this campaign and she will definitely be sharper than when she was Hunter Cup night. “She missed a lead-up run at Kilmore before Hunter Cup night and she blew quite hard after the race. “She’s a really good filly this one. Very strong. She’ll love the 2400m and I think it could find some of them out.” Michael Guerin

Fortune favours the brave as they say. And that’s how best to describe the success Kiwi trainer Brad Mowbray is having in Sydney with his exciting mare Delishka. Beating the All Stars’ barn at home in NZ is hard enough and so many Kiwis now don’t even bother travelling to Aussie to try take on the best here plus the All Stars’ raiders. Mowbray took-up the challenge and with stunning results so far. Next stop is the big dance, the Group 1 Ladyship Mile at Menangle on February 24. Delishka opened her Aussie campaign with a sound but luckless seventh in the Ladyship Cup in Melbourne, but hasn’t looked back since. She backed-up a week later to win in a 1min52.8sec mile at Menangle, then went to another level courtesy of a superb Blake Fitzpatrick drive to win the Sibelia Stakes in a 1min51.1sec mile last Saturday night. Delishka beat reigning Ladyship Mile winner, the All Stars’ A Piccadilly Princess, in the process. A Piccadilly Princess was given the run of the race in the one-by-one trail by Luke McCarthy, but couldn’t match Delishka’s “ping” once Fitzpatrick got her clear of the leader’s back. It was a hotly run race with Partyon leading and copping plenty of pressure from Shane Tritton’s tough grey mare My Rona Gold, who fought on well for fourth. Partyon wilted under the pressure and finished last. ________________________________________________________________________________________ LAZARUS didn’t even need to race at Menangle last Saturday night for us to be reminded how good he is. Just a week after Tiger Tara was crushed into submission by Lazarus in the Hunter Cup, he did the same to a solid but weaker field in the free-for-all at Menangle. It was a win which ranked up with Tiger Tara’s best. He drew the outside over a mile, worked forward to sit parked and kept the pressure on throughout in a blistering 1min50.2sec mile. Classy sit-sprinter Mach Doro trailed the leader, got an inside run to draw level with Tiger Tara, but Kevin Pizzuto’s warhorse was simply too strong. His splits for the mile were 26.9, 28.0, 27.6 and 27.7sec. Next stop is another possible clash with Lazarus in one of the two Miracle Mile qualifying sprints at Menangle next Saturday night. ________________________________________________________________________________________ SHANE Tritton is planning to have four runners in the two Miracle Mile qualifying sprints at Menangle next Saturday night. Former top class Kiwi pacer Franco Nelson, who went like a jet winning at Menangle last Saturday week, looks his top seed. “We’re also going to run Yayas Hot Spot, My Alpha Rock and Anything For Love,” he said. Anything For Love made it five wins from his past six starts when he led and sparkled in a 1min50.4sec mile at Menangle last Saturday night. ________________________________________________________________________________________ IT was like the good old days for Kerryn Manning at Melton last Friday night. There was a time, when driving was basically her sole focus, when Manning would regularly dominate race meetings. She did just that, winning four of the eight races at Melton, including the fast-class race with her outstanding former Kiwi mare Our Golden Goddess. Our Golden Goddess has now won all six starts for Manning this campaign and heads to Sydney nominal favourite for the Group 1 Ladyship Mile on Saturday week. Last Friday she led from the pole and scored in a very slick 1min54.8sec mile rate for 2240m. Manning’s four driving wins came for four different trainers. While he trains Our Golden Goddess, it would have been especially pleasing to win a feature juvenile race, the Premiere Stakes, aboard Scheu Creek for her father, Peter. Scheu Creek, who led throughout and won easily in a 1min56.8sec mile rate for 1720m, provided an early and important win for his sire, former Hunter Cup and Chariots of Fire winner Caribbean Blaster. Manning’s other wins came aboard Lance Justice’s Love Ina Chevy, best known as the pacer who cheated death for many days after a snake bite, and Graham Lee’s trotter Illcryifhewinds. Just for good measure, Manning’s win all at to the growing “Teal Pants” promotion booty. She, Kate Gath and Jodi Quinlan are the Victorian representatives for the cause. Manning’s success rolled-on to Echuca last Saturday night when she won the Group 3 Echuca Cup with classy former Kiwi pacer Motu Meteor. The gelding wouldn’t have been out of place in the Chariots of Fire on the same night, but didn’t qualify. So Manning took him to Echuca instead where he led from gate two and won comfortably in a 1min59.9sec mile rate for 2560m. ________________________________________________________________________________________ KYLE Harper keeps marvelling at his classy old pacer Bettors Fire. The nine-year-old is still good enough to upstage WA’s best with the right draw, so he was a moral when he drew one and led a moderate free-for-all field at Gloucester Park last Friday night. Harper led the gelding slide along in a 1min54.7sec and burned down the back in 27.2sec before holding-off a late surge from Our Jimmy Johnstone to win well. It was back on December 29 when he led and upset Soho Tribeca and Chicago Bull in the Village Kid Sprint. Bettors Fire’s now raced 90 times for 34 wins, 20 placings and earned close to $700,000. The other Gloucester Park feature, the $50,000 Group 2 Daintys Daughter Classic (2130m), went to father-son team Gary Hall Sr and Gary Jr in an upset with Art Major filly Slick Artist. She overcame a back row draw to comfortably beat WA’s best fillies in a key indicator race for the upcoming WA Oaks. ________________________________________________________________________________________ MUCH-TRAVELLED veteran Our Jericho snared another feature win in his new home state last Saturday night. Now trained in South Australia by Les Harding, the eight-year-old narrowly but impressively won the Gawler Cup. Our Jericho started his career in NZ, had long stints in Victoria and WA before returning briefly to Victoria and now to SA. He’s now raced 73 times for 16 wins, 14 placings and earned over $220,000.   Adam Hamilton

Stunning Chariots Of Fire winner Jilliby Kung Fu is pushing on to the Miracle Mile. While some might be intimidated by the thought of taking on the rampaging Lazarus, Jilliby Kung Fu’s trainer Marg Lee sees it differently. “It’s a great opportunity, one we may never get again,” she said. “He’s the best horse we’ve had, Jason (Lee, driver) said that a few weeks back, and we might never get another good enough to run in a Miracle Mile. “Providing he comes through that (Chariots) win well over the next few days, we’ll take him back to Menangle for the Miracle Mile. “He’s really blossomed as a horse this campaign. He’s so big and strong now. He’s ready for it.” The clock says Jilliby Kung Fu is up to the challenge as well. He posted a 1min48.8sec mile leading throughout to win last night’s Chariots Of Fire, capped by closing splits of 53.2 and 26.6sec. That 1min48.8sec matched the race record set by Have Faith In Me in 2016. He then backed-up to win the Miracle Mile. Lazarus went 1min49sec winning last year’s Chariots and finished third to Lennytheshark in the Miracle Mile. Jilliby Kung Fu put the writing on the wall for his Chariots win when he sat parked and so brutally won the Group 1 4YO Bonanza at Melton two weeks ago. “When he did that, we knew he’d be hard to beat in the Chariots. Horses don’t do what he did in the Bonanza,” Lee said. “He’s just kept getting better and stronger each season. “I think back to late in his two-year-old season. We still had the Breeders Crown to come, but Noel Alexander told me he thought the horse looked a bit special and if it was his, he’d miss the Crown. “We thought about what he said and did that. We gave him a longer break instead and I think it’s helped him develop into the horse he is now.” Jilliby Kung Fu blasted off the gate from barrier seven to lead in the blink of an eye, but copped constant pressure from classy young stayer Atomic Red through a 55.6sec first half.                      All the while, Tim Butt’s classy speedster Let it Ride was getting the gun sit behind the leader. When Let It Ride saw daylight at the top of the straight, he came at Jilliby Kung Fu quickly, but the Victorian found plenty to win by 1.3m with Atomic Red another 7.3m away in third spot. Adam Hamilton

You may not have seen the best of champion harness racing pacer Lazarus just yet. Trainer-driver Mark Purdon is predicting something special in the $750,000 Miracle Mile. YOU may not have seen the best of champion pacer Lazarus just yet. As breathtaking as his record-breaking Hunter Cup win was at Melton last Saturday night, trainer-driver Mark Purdon is predicting something special in the $750,000 Group 1 Miracle Mile at Menangle on February 24. Asked what Lazarus could run for a mile around Menangle, Purdon said: “He’d go a one-minute 46 seconds mile if needed.” Remember, the track and Australasian mile race record is 1min 47.5sec set by Lazarus’ former stablemate Have Faith In Me in the 2016 Miracle Mile. Like every Miracle Mile hopeful, Lazarus will need to qualify for a berth in the race via a qualifying sprint at Menangle on Saturday week. Purdon revealed last Saturday night’s Hunter Cup was both one of his greatest moments in the sport and the defining win so far in Lazarus’ career. “All those Group 1 wins are great victories and he’s had a lot of them, but that one the other night really made a statement,” he said. “It showed everyone he was clearly the best horse going around. “I’ve said for a long time he’s the best I’ve trained.” Lazarus enjoyed a lazy Sunday after his Hunter Cup win then travelled to Sydney on Monday. “One of the great things about him is how well he bounces back from hard runs like that,” Purdon said. “Once he’d settled in here (Sydney on Tuesday), he was really bright and full of himself again. You wouldn’t know he’d had a hard run.” Purdon was also asked about the Menangle factor given Lazarus was beaten into third spot in last year’s Miracle Mile. “It’s not an issue,” he said. “He won the Chariots Of Fire here and when he ran third in that Miracle Mile, he probably wasn’t as good as I’d like to have had him on that night.” Lazarus is trying to become the first pacer since the Miracle Mile started in 1967 to win the sport’s big four — NZ Cup, Inter Dominion, Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile — in the same season. Reprinted with permission of

Even the master gets perplexed sometimes. And you can understand champion trainer Mark Purdon shaking his head after his fourth high-profile injury in a month. Purdon and training partner Natalie Rasmussen have had to shelve Ultimate Machete for the rest of the season, just a week out from the A$200,000 Chariots of Fire in Sydney for which he was the hot favourite. Ironically, he inherited that favouritism from stablemate Vincent last week after he was also sidelined by a leg injury which looks even more serious and that pair can be added to stablemate Titan Banner, who is also unlikely to race again this season. Of course just a few weeks ago Lazarus was in the wars after suffering hoof concussion but at least the great pacer has bounced back to be a hot favourite for the Hunter Cup on Saturday night. That still leaves the All Stars lamenting the loss of three major group one players as well as Dream About Me, whose season started so well but has been sidetracked while Have Faith In Me has headed off shore after being sold. “It has been a bit unbelievable,” says Purdon. “I have never had a run like this before and hope I don’t again. “You really feel for the owners but at least in the case of Mate (Ultimate Machete) the prognosis is good that he will come back next season . “But it hasn’t been a lot of fun the last couple of weeks and there is no one thing you can put it down to because all three horses have been in different states.” The injury to Ultimate Machete leaves New Zealand without a likely Chariots Of Fire starter in a race we have dominated, even more incredible because at one stage the Purdon-Rasmussen stable had the first five favourites in the group one four-year-old event. It also means the All Stars have gone from having six possible contenders for a spot in the February 24 Miracle Mile to only having two -- Lazarus and Heaven Rocks   Michael Guerin

There are plenty of good reasons to head out to Club Menangle over the next few weeks. The club’s biggest harness racing event, the Carnival of Miracles, will kick off on Saturday, February 10, and run for three consecutive weeks. On Saturday, February 24 carnival will conclude with the showpiece event and Australasia’s richest race – the Miracle Mile. Punters who attend the first two race meetings will also have the chance to run their eye over the horses who will line up in the big field. The horse who wins the Cordina Chicken Farms Chariots of Fire on February 10 will automatically qualify for the Miracle Mile. So will the first two runners from the Canadian Club Sprint and Allied Express Transport Sprint (both on February 17). The final three horses to make up the field of eight will be chosen by the Club Menangle board.  “This adds an element of excitement and quite often controversy around who will receive the last three invitations,” Club Menangle chief executive Bruce Christison said. The betting ring won’t be the only place where racegoers can win either. A $1500 travel voucher will be up for grabs for the male and female winner of the Lexus Macarthur Fashions on the Field, held on the same night as the Miracle Mile. Mr Christison said the enormity of the carnival should not be lost on Macarthur residents. “Every sport has its pinnacle event and the Miracle Mile is the grand final of harness racing,” he said. “To have this event with the best international horses is huge for the Macarthur region. “It is not often that we get to have the best international talent in any sport here in our own backyard. “The Miracle Mile gives the people of Macarthur the opportunity to see the best racing action combined with fashion and fine food.” The opening night of the carnival will also feature the Aussie Night Markets, which will see 50 food store holders descend on the course. Mr Christison said at this stage, the two likely favourites for the Miracle Mile were New Zealander’s Lazarus and Lennytheshark, which won last year. He also predicted local hopes Bling it On and Tiger Tara would be in the mix for the title.  Ben Chenoweth Reprinted with permission of The Wollondilly Advertiser

Three white pieces of paper covered in scribbled nicknames hold the key to over $5 million of summer harness racing riches. And the first plans contained on those papers go into action this Friday night with a surprise at Cambridge and a champion in Perth. After a complete domination of Sunday's Auckland Trotting Cup meeting - where they won seven of nine races they contested - Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen sat down yesterday to plan where their army of pacing stars go next. The logistics are mind-boggling, with not just tens of millions of dollars of horseflesh heading to all parts of Australasia, requiring flights, ground transportation and handlers, but the bookings for all the staff who need to be in New South Wales and Victoria weeks before the racetrack action starts. An example: While Vincent and his stablemates were running the trifecta in the Auckland Cup, the stable had Lazarus, Ultimate Machete, Have Faith In Me and Piccadilly Princess having a quiet day in Perth, where the All Stars have had a travelling foreman for six weeks. That is where Lazarus will resume on Friday night before he races there the following two weeks, with Ultimate Machete and Have Faith In Me joining him in both the Fremantle and West Australia Cups. "He is working well so this week will be a perfect lead-up to the Cups for him," says Purdon, who is back from suspension to drive Lazarus on Friday night. The blueprint for the rest of the all-conquering stable was only confirmed yesterday and it has some calls which will impact dramatically on pre-post markets as well as the group one racing landscape. The only good news for Australian trainers is the already expected decisions that unbeaten three-year-old Chase Auckland will stay home, as does Elle Mac, while Dream About Me also does as she struggles with soundness. "Chase Auckland has had a couple of hard runs and been great in them but you can't do that every week so he will miss the Derbies in Victoria and NSW and be set for the Northern Derby here," explains Purdon. "And Dream About Me hasn't been quite right so won't go to Australia but we will have Piccadilly Princess and Partyon for the mares races over there." Even without Chase Auckland the three-year-old team for the Derbies in Australia will contain The Devils Own and All U Need Is Faith (NSW), Spankem and Ashley Locaz (Victoria and then possibly NSW). But the other big surprise is that Heaven Rocks will take his unique brand of crazy to both Victoria and NSW, after stopping in at Cambridge on Friday night for the $60,000 Flying Mile. "I was happy with him in the Auckland Cup and after Cambridge he will go to the Ballarat Cup and the Hunter Cup, with Laz going to the Hunter as well. "Then they will both go to NSW to try and qualify for the Miracle Mile." Vincent and Titan Banner will be waiting for their mates at Menangle, with the pair to skip Victoria and Vincent will race in lead ups to the Chariots Of Fire on February 10 and Titan Banner in free-for-alls before the Miracle Mile preludes on February 17. That raises the very real possibility if Ultimate Machete qualifies for the Chariots Of Fire and races well there, the All Stars could have five horses in the running for a Miracle Mile invite. "It is possible that could happen but we are not getting carried away with that, there is a lot of racing to go before then," said Purdon. The one window of opportunity the stable has left open for their rivals is the NSW Oaks, for which they won't have their best fillies in action. "It clashes with the Sales Series at Addington so fillies like Elle Mac will stay home and Bettor Trix and Bare Knuckle will be our NSW Oaks pair." Michael Guerin

David Aiken’s stable stars are going in very different directions. Lennytheshark will stay in work and keep racing after his epic Miracle Mile triumph, while Hectorjayjay is headed for minor surgery and a spell. Aiken said Hectorjayjay had a bone spur which was not causing him any issues, but could in time so it will be removed as a precaution. “It’s nothing serious, but we can get that done now, give him a break and still look at a possible Queensland winter campaign,” Aiken said. “The long range plan is to take him back to Perth for the Inter Dominion again. “People have to remember this was his first season in the big league and he obviously had no luck at all with draws when it mattered. He’ll come back a better horse for the experience.” Meanwhile, Lennytheshark will keep racing because he’s had a very light season so far. Mainly because of the untimely hoof injury which ruined his Perth Inter Dominion title defence. Lennytheshark’s Miracle Mile win was only his 10th start for the season. His next target is the $70,000 Group 2 Kilmore Cup on March 18. “He’s come through the Miracle Mile win really well. He could’ve gone around in the Cranbourne Cup this Friday, but we didn’t want to ask that of him,” Aiken said. “Kilmore fits well and then we will keep him ticking along because he’s had a light season. “He’ll go to the Len Smith Mile and possibly up to Queensland during winter as well.” Lennytheshark’s past two seasons have been amazing with 23 starts netting 13 wins, nine placings and $2,007,198 in stakemoney. Adam Hamilton

LENNYTHESHARK wasn’t the only horse to beat the amazing All Stars team on Miracle Mile night.  Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen had runners in the five major races, won three of them and finished second in the other two.  Lennytheshark nosed-out Smolda in that epic Miracle Mile with the other All Stars runners third (Lazarus) and fourth (Our Waikiki Beach).  Their other second came when last year’s Miracle Mile winner Have Faith In Me returned to something like his best with a fantastic effort in the Group 1 Bohemia Crystal free-for-all (2400m).  But the race went to the emerging and exciting Tact Tate for trainer-driver Amanda Turnbull.  It marked the most important step yet for the five-year-old’s charge towards being a genuine Grand Circuit horse.  Tact Tate ran out of racing room late and caught the eye when luckless fifth to Hectorjayjay in the Canadian Club Sprint a week earlier.  Turnbull drove him to his strength – sheer speed – and needed plenty of luck at the time, but it came courtesy of dream runs along the marker pegs late.  Tact Tate found the room he needed, exploded through the inside and stormed past a gallant Have Faith In Me to win by 2.2m in a sizzling 1min53.6sec mile rate. That’s just 0.9sec outside the track record Smolda set in the same race last year.    Tact Tate’s win was 14th from just 39 starts and he’s now won $303,470 in stakemoney.   Have Faith In Me was trapped deep early, worked around to sit parked and ran a mighty race.  SHANE and Lauren Tritton had a Miracle Mile to forget, but they salvaged something from the night when stable buzz pacer Anything For Love smashed a handy field in the last race.  The four-year-old, who ran a close fourth in the Chariots Of Fire, underlined his exceptional potential with a sizzling 1min49.5sec mile.  The time was just 0.3sec slower than Lennytheshark clocked in the Miracle Mile.  “He’s so exciting,” Shane Tritton said. “He’s come a long way so quickly and is still learning.  “He’s run himself into the ground a couple of times, but he’s learning about racing all the time.  “We were happy to let him run (last night) and he just ran them ragged.”  Anything For Love, purchased out of Victoria a few months ago, ran his splits in 26.6, 29.1, 27.1 and 26.7sec.  He easily held-off a game Saloon Passage, who sat parked, and Charlaval, who enjoyed the trail.  Also in the beaten brigade were horses like Blazin N Cullen, Shannonsablast and Monifieth, who have contested Inter Dominions.  It will be interesting to see where the Trittons take Anything For Love next.  FORMER Kiwi trainer Nicole Molander made a triumphant return to the scene of some of her greatest moments on Miracle Mile night.  When Molander and husband Dean first made the move from NZ to live in Australia, Menangle was their backyard.  They won a stack of races there with champion trotter Keystone Del – including the now defunct Group 1 Glenferrie Challenge twice.  Molander was back on the big stage winning another feature trot last Saturday night with another former Kiwi trotter, seven—ear-old mare Dead Cat Bounce.  Taking the mare to Menangle has been an inspired move. She was struggling to regain peak form in Victoria and has won three on end at Menangle.  Last Saturday night was by far the biggest in the $54,000 Group 1 Australian Pacing Gold Trotters’ Cup (1609m).  Just moments after he won the Miracle Mile, Chris Alford produced another gem of a drive, weaving through gaps late to dash past the leaders in a 1min54.1sec mile.  ONE of the highlights of Menangle’s three-week Carnival of Miracles has been the strong presence of the Queenslanders.  And the star of them has been Grant Dixon’s Leos Best, who won all three starts during his Menangle raid.  The four-year-old produced a career-best performance to lead throughout in the $52,000 Group 2 Miracle Mile Invitational Drivers’ race in a blistering 1min54.5sec mile rate for 2400m.  Mat Rue, who won a Miracle Mile on former star mare Baby Bling, took the reins on Leos Best and beat his old boss, Luke McCarthy, aboard Match Point by 5.7m.  In the other invitational race, for Lady Drivers, young Martelle Maguire scored the biggest win of her career when she led throughout on $60.20 outsider Epaulette in a slick 1min50.8sec mile.  IT was great to see champion driver Kerryn Manning back in action at Geelong last Saturday night.  It was Manning’s first night back in the sulky since suffering a string of nasty injuries including three broken ribs, a punctured lung and severe concussion in a fall at Charlton on December 16, last year.  Manning had three drives for a third, a fourth and an eighth placing.  EMERGING star Brallos Pass would not have been out of place in one of the features at Menangle on Miracle Mile night.  So that made him close to a certainty when connections opted to go to the Albury Cup instead.  And the four-year-old won accordingly, sitting parked and cruising home by 9.1m in a 2min3.1sec mile rate for the 2555m trip with Ellen Tormey aboard.  Brallos Pass, who a NSW Derby heat last season, ran second to Lazarus in the 4YO Bonanza on Hunter Cup night.  He’s now won 12 of his 32 runs with another 15 placings and has the makings of a serious open-class player in time to come.  The Albury Derby was won in similarly dominant fashion by Josh Aiken’s talented three-year-old The Defiant.  With Aiken at Menangle to drive Hectorjayjay, Mark Pitt took the reins on The Defiant, who led throughout and was eased right down late to win by 2.8m.  SOME big and luckless runs through last year’s Perth Inter Dominion could have been the making of classy WA pacer Our Jimmy Johnstone.  The Greg and Skye Bond-trained former Kiwi was unlucky to miss qualifying for the final and ran third in the consolation.  There has been plenty to like about his past two wins, the latest in the $50,000 Group 2 Governors Cup (2130m) at Gloucester Park last Friday night in a sharp 1min55.2sec mile rate.  The other feature on the night went to young trainer Justin Prentice, but not with the mare most punters hoped for.  Prentice’s stable star Major Reality was sent out a $1.20 favourite in the $50,000 Group 2 Empress Stakes, but faded after sitting parked in a 1min56.8sec mile rate for 2536m.  It was her stablemate The Parade, driven by Gary Hall Jr, who stormed to victory over Jungle Jewel.    Adam Hamilton

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