This evening’s $500,000 Group 1 A.G. Hunter Cup is a cannot-miss event as an all-time great chases yet another Grand Circuit victory whilst a star-studded group of enemy combatants all set out to defeat the champion.
New Zealand phenomenon Lazarus enters tonight’s great race with overwhelming support from punters and Harness Racing fans alike. His feats throughout his 42-race career have been legendary – having never missed a top three placing and already amassing $3.3 million in stakes.
And this fella is five. With perhaps three peak racing seasons to come.
Standing in his way is a handful of magical competitors, led admirably by another generational superstar in Victoria’s own Lennytheshark, Victorian-bred Kiwi Heaven Rocks, now Victorian-trained Soho Tribeca and a pair of New South Wales raiders in Tiger Tara and reigning Hunter Cup champion Bling It On.
Let’s break down this amazing race;
1 TIGER TARA
This guy is as tough as nails and lives for the fight. Tonight he will get exactly that because he’s likely to again see the great New Zealander Lazarus sitting outside him applying immense pressure.
Trainer Kevin Pizzuto has declared race on with his charge now faster off the arm, tougher across the extended trip and as fit as a fiddle after a brilliant first-up Goulburn Cup win. I sincerely doubt he can win this one but as usual he will be fighting all the way to the end.
2 BLING IT ON
The reigning champion almost never raced again following a severe fall in Queensland but the New South Wales entire has returned to the track in ripping form before a couple of average runs at his home track in western Sydney.
In last weekend’s Casey Classic, he encouraged with a dashing second behind Lennytheshark and with a nice run in transit tonight he will be sniffing around the top four at the post. A really hot speed may even see him repeat his sprint lane victory from 2017.
When a horse has won 34 from 42 of his starts, it’s mind-blowing to think that one of those eight ‘losses’ was actually his best ever performance. But that’s exactly the case as the Mark Purdon & Natalie Rasmussen-prepared five-year-old sat three-wide for the duration in the Fremantle Pacing Cup. He hit the line like a horse coming off a hot speed and was only beaten a head in a truly historical effort.
This race is at his mercy tonight and whether he breezes or leads, he’s nearly unbeatable at 100% health – but there is a tiny query there after a bout of sore feet.
This guy will stay all day which is crucial in these big staying tests.
His best is no longer capable against this lot but he savages the line when the speed is on early and he is jogging along out the back. Trainer Brent Lilley has him going great guns and a surprise fourth or fifth may actually not be such a big surprise.
5 SHADOW SAX
For now, it seems as though this guy has met his match. He dominated a few country cups before going interstate and easily conquering the Group 1 South Australian Cup.
A battle with the big boys in the Ballarat Cup saw him comfortably handled by Heaven Rocks so throw in an awkward alley and this fella in up to his eye-ball in trouble here tonight.
6 YAYAS HOT SPOT
After trailing Bling It On last year, the Shane Tritton prepared horse sprinted hard to finish a clear second but tonight, the pegs seem miles away as he begins from gate six.
There’s a 10% chance Tritton asks driver Jack Trainor to light him up and gun for the front but the likely scenario sees him go back early and hope for boatloads of luck.
He trailed the favourite and winner in the Ballarat Cup and draws to trail the leader again here tonight. Should Tiger Tara and Lazarus go to war – and provided the Tiger can get him to the lane – then Lenny looms as an enormous winning hope but the grand old champion is relying a lot on luck.
I was not as enamoured as some with his second in the Ballarat Cup because he only took ground from Heaven Rocks when the big Kiwi knocked right off 100m from home.
He can win tonight and is highly likely to finish top four but he’s my third pick.
9 HEAVEN ROCKS
He’s the enigma of the race. He’s the wildcard with all the ability but half the tractability.
His Ballarat Cup win was magnificent, breaking 29 seconds for every quarter of the last mile and the stable has stated that he is absolutely thriving out here in Oz.
He’s the biggest threat to Lazarus in my eyes and Mark Purdon has continually said that he is more than capable of beating Laz on his day.
His race map is interesting and holds almost all the keys to the race. Does Nat Rasmussen unleash him early and try secure the front or death or can she settle him early and allow him to use that explosive speed to make a late run ?
The only mare in the race. She dropped three-pegs in the Victoria Cup and ran second but this looks a much harder task despite being likely to end up in the same spot in transit. She should get a clean look at the line but with at least four superior horses likely to be in front of her its hard to see the Kerryn Manning charge making a winning run.
11 SAN CARLO
He’s continually improving but he’s outgunned here.
The draw is cruel and racing cold is not his go in life. A mid-race move seems pretty unlikely so he will be left out the back, likely running home hard but for little reward.
This guy is on the way up and takes another step forward almost every time we see him at the races. The draw is brutal and driver Anthony Butt has said he will be reliant on other horses wrestling Lazarus to give him even an even chance, let alone a winning one.
13 SOHO TRIBECA
Michael Stanley has taken on the responsibility of training this beast of a five-year-old. His sister won on debut last night at Ballarat but a sibling double looks unlikely thanks to a car pack marble. He’s tough, fast, genuine and versatile but overcoming gate 13 against horses this good is just a bridge too far. An early move from driver Greg Sugars looks likely though.
9 Heaven Rocks
13 Soho Tribeca
THE REST OF THE CARD –
Trifecta: 3 Gotta Go Dali Queen, 2 Soho Angel, 9 Shakahari
2 Ascot Encounter to win
10 Ample Power to win
2 Jedi Mind to win
10 Sparkling Success to win
10 Cruz Bromac to win
F4: 3 Lazarus from 9 Heaven Rocks, 8 Lennytheshark, 13 Soho Tribeca
9 Soho Burning Love to win
7 Marvellous Max each way
2 Glenferrie Belle each way
1 Luvumoves to win