One of the deepest fields assembled for a Grand Circuit race, is set to contest the Group 1 $500,000 Del-Re National A G Hunter Cup this Saturday night, the 3rd February, at Tabcorp Park Melton, just outside of Melbourne.
The NZ Cup and Inter Dominion Champion, Lazarus is set to start a short odds-on favourite, currently showing $1.40 to win on the Fixed Odds market.
He has drawn almost perfectly, at No.3 and looks set to dominate the race from there. However, as has been the case before, the horse drawn in the ace at Barrier No.1, Tiger Tara, is going to make a race of it.
The two drew similar marbles for the Inter Dominion Grand Final, back on the 8th December at Gloucester Park, when Tiger Tara was very fast away to led the field throughout, while Lazarus sat 3-back in the running line before moving forward to face the breeze for the last 2½ laps and go on to win with authority.
Lazarus has had only two races since this epic win, winning a lead-up race on the 5th January, before competing in the $300,000 Retravision Freemantle Cup a week later, where he put up what many have described as the best losing race performance they have ever seen, where he was forced to race 3-wide for the entire 2536m journey and yet only went down by a head margin in finishing an astounding 2nd placing to My Hard Copy. Soon after the race he was found to have sore hoofs, so has not raced since.
Tiger Tara has also had two race starts since running third in the Inter Dominion Final, where he was driven back in the field at Menangle on the 20th January to finish back in 8th placing as a
$1.60 favourite, then he won the Group 3 $31,800 Goulburn Cup 8-days later from a 2nd Row draw, in quick time.
This week in the big one, defending champion Bling It On, splits the pair at Barrier No.2 and although he did not compete at the Inter Dominions, he has been racing very well in NSW since coming back from serious injury last season and was a strong 2nd placing to Lennytheshark in the Group 2 $50,000 DNR Logistics Casey Classic, at Melton last Saturday. Bling It On will be attempting to become the first horse since the mighty New Zealand mare Blossom Lady in 1994-95 to go back-to-back in this great race.
The recent Group 1 $100,000 PETstock Ballarat Cup winner Heaven Rocks, held off Lennytheshark by a half neck margin in this important lead-up race. Recent winners of the Ballarat Cup include Smolda (2016), Mah Sish (2013), Stunnin Cullen (2011) and Sting Lika Bee (2007) who all went on to win the Hunter Cup. It is also notable that placed horses in recent Ballarat Cups, Christen Me (2014), Mr Feelgood (2009), Blacks A Fake (2008), About To Rock (2006) and Mont Denver Gold (2003) all went on to also win the Hunter Cup. So, all bodes well for Heaven Rocks in the big one, if he behaves himself.
Victorian supporters will be cheering on their local hero, Lennytheshark, who is yet to win a Hunter Cup. He has won the Victoria Cup (twice), a Miracle Mile, an Inter Dominion Grand Final, a Vicbred Super Series Final, the NSW Derby and many other feature races and with his fast-finishing second in the Ballarat Cup means history is also on his side.
Ex-pat Kiwi reinsman Anthony Butt has driven seven Hunter Cup winners, beginning with the afore mentioned Blossom Lady (1994 & 1995), then followed by Mister D G (2004), Mr Feelgood (2009), Stunin Cullen (2011), Choise Achiever (2012) and Mah Sish (2013). This year Anthony partners up with trainer Sonya Smith and the Kiwi-owned Moonrock, who impressively won the Rocky Baker FFA by 6.2m on the course recently, but it won’t be easy for him from a wide 2nd Row draw and his long $71.00 odds reflect this.
Certainly, Mark Purdon has given no reason for punters to fear the short odds on offer for the favourite Lazarus, saying that his recent concerns over Lazarus’ hoof soreness, that caused him to be withdrawn from the WA Cup, have been overcome quickly and through being able to swim him, his fitness has been maintained and in recent comments Mark has said that Lazarus’ training has been very good, he seems very well, is as good as he was in Perth and he is expecting a great run from his “champion” again.
The TAB has the other Mark Purdon trained horse Heaven Rocks, as the most likely runner to upset Lazarus, currently showing $6.00 to win and Mark has said that Heaven Rocks is right up there for sheer ability and when training with Lazarus he can put two or three lengths on him in a blink of an eye, but he comes with a but – his poor behaviour on occasions.
In an incredible achievement, there are three runners in the field that have common ownership and include amongst their partners, the Breckon Farms Syndicate Members and 2017 NZ Owners of the Year, Philip and Glenys Kennard. Remarkably they share in the ownership of Lazarus (GJ Kennard, PI Kennard, TG Casey, KJ Riseley), Heaven Rocks (GJ Kennard, PI Kennard, PJ Creighton, MC Creighton, GR Douglas, KJ Riseley) and Moonrock (Mentally Stable Limited, PI Kennard, GJ Kennard, AJ Johnstone, D Zahnleiter, NR Jenkin), so we wish them good luck for their runners in this prestigious race and also to all other connections.
The star-studded field of 12 runners set to face the starter, has amassed an incredible $12,888,338 in stake earnings between them, meaning the average earnings per starter is in excess of $1m ($1,074,028.10).
One runner is set to add to this amazing tally of stakes and of course this will be revealed soon after the 9.02pm [11.02pm NZ Time] start time on Saturday night.
The race is scheduled to be shown live on Trackside 1 (Channel 62), so be sure to watch the excitement unfold.