Oh So Close

Lazarus winning in USA – Photo Dean Gillette Photography

Earlier this year the champion New Zealand horse Lazarus was to be sold to Taylor Made Stallions in the USA and in May he was placed in the care of leading USA trainer Jimmy Takter, with the aim to further enhance the career of the richest Standardbred of all-time down under by aiming to win some important stakes races in North America and attempting to break the World Record of Always B Miki of 1:46.0 for the mile and then become a dual hemisphere stallion, serving mares in both North America and Australasia.

Lazarus made an immediate impression in the northern hemisphere, qualifying in a sensational 1:48.3 mile on the 28th July at The Meadowlands, for driver Yannick Gingras, which fast-tracked his North American race debut, to be made in the US$325,000 Dan Patch at Hoosier Park in Indiana on the 10th August.

Lazarus duly obliged despite drawing the outside barrier for the mile race and won in a time of 1:48.4, to have a dream start to his North American career and be affectionately dubbed “The Wonder from Down Under”.

Lazarus was to race next in the $600,000 Canadian Pacing Derby, on the 1st September, at Woodbine Mohawk Park, after his connections made a US$40,000 sustaining payment for him to be eligible. With nominations totalling only 10 horses there was no requirement for eliminations, so it was straight into the Final for his second race-start in North America in Canada’s oldest harness racing event.

Lazarus drew perfectly at Barrier No.2 and was installed favourite for the race, but was sensationally beaten, being outmuscled by established North American star McWicked in what was a relatively sedate 1:49.0. Lazarus did finish in 2nd place, so certainly was not disgraced, with driver Yannick Gingras saying after the race, “He raced good, just a little tired finishing. He needs some racing. The other horse is a good horse and went a big mile and you’ve got to give him credit, but I think my horse needs a couple of starts.” Lazarus’ trainer Jimmy Takter added, “McWicked is a very good horse and it is no shame to be beaten by him … missing an elimination last week didn’t help and I honestly think it will still take him another two or three races up here learning how we race to get used to it. Then I think we will see the best of him but considering it was only his second start in this part of the world he was still very good.” With his win, McWicked passed the US$3 Million stake earnings mark and interestingly also has a New Zealand connection, with his trainer Casie Coleman being married to Mark Herlihy, son of New Zealand’s all-time leading driver, Tony Herlihy.

Lazarus then had his trip to Canada extended, with another start, in a $34,000 Preferred Pace once again at Woodbine Mohawk Park, on the 15th September, drawing out at Barrier No.7 in a field of nine runners. He was to finish a somewhat disappointing 2nd place, being easily beaten by Nirvana Seelster in a 1:48.2 mile, with trainer Jimmy Takter saying, “Obviously we would have liked to win but it is not that easy against these horses over a fast mile. We found out he had a virus after the Canadian Derby so he missed some work coming into this race which is why we decided to drive him further back rather than sending him down the road (leading). So, for him to come from fourth to run second and pace his last half mile in 53.2 seconds was good. And he will improve with that. All the mile races he can have will help.”

Lazarus was then to head to the US$175,000 Hoosier Park Derby in Indiana on the 21st September. He was to lead this race throughout, after showing blistering gate speed and while he didn’t have much in reserve at the line he had done all the work early and into a strong wind down the back straight to stop the clock at 1:48.4 to hold out his new arch-rival McWicked. Driver Yannick Gingras said, “After having a virus a few weeks ago I am sure he is still getting back to his best. He felt good but he can feel better still. He really is a very, very good horse.”

This victory took Lazarus’ record to two wins and two seconds in four North American starts, in the process winning against the best free-for-allers there.

Lazarus was then to transfer to Kentucky to contest the US$179,000 Mister Big Allerage Farms Pace, the feature pace at the lightning fast Red Mile track, on the 6th October. This was the race in 2016, in which Always B Miki set his World Record 1:46.0 mile, so it was going to be interesting to see what unfolded.

McWicked is to clash again with Lazarus in the $250,000 Dan Rooney Pace – Photo Nigel Soult

Lazarus drew Barrier No.5 and unfortunately was left parked out for the entire race, while McWicked used his ace draw to obtain a cosy trip on the markers before launching his run and leaving Lazarus to chase bravely. Lazarus ran his last quarter in a slick 26.4 to get within a long neck, but in finishing in 2nd place it was not quite enough to pull off the dream result. They smashed the clock with the second-fastest race mile in history; 1:46.2, so it was oh so close.

Trainer Jimmy Takter said, “I could not be prouder. We didn’t get the run we hoped, he was parked out for the race, but he just kept coming. He still picked up half a length on McWicked in the stretch. He’s an amazing horse. When you take the four lengths off [that he ran being one-off the entire race], he’s run a 1:45.3 mile. He [Always B Miki] had a better run than Lazarus that day he ran the record. You can’t break records having the trip Lazarus did today.”

With this win McWicked levelled the head-to-head score with Lazarus, making it 2-2, but Lazarus’ herculean effort cannot be denied.

Very excitingly, the two horses are on target for an immediate rematch this Saturday, the 13th October, at Yonkers Raceway in New York. This is set to be in the $250,000 Dan Rooney Invitational Pace, in which McWicked has drawn Barrier No.2, while Lazarus has drawn out at Barrier No.6, in the 8-horse race.

Lazarus is now the winner of 37 races in 50 starts, along with 12 placings and over US$3 million (NZ$4,418,683) in stake earnings, with US$400,245 (NZ$597,617) already this season in North America, so it will be interesting to follow his upcoming racing as he strives towards establishing a record-breaking winning time and ultimately a successful dual hemisphere stud career in the future.

We wish Lazarus, the current NZ Horse of the Year, all the best for his future endeavours.

Rob Carr

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