Michael Jordan – widely considered the greatest basketball player ever – shot three-pointers at 18% and 29% in his last two seasons in the NBA.
Frighteningly bad percentages.
But before that, he reeled off a career saved for only the very best in their chosen profession.
In Harness Racing, Lazarus has been our Michael Jordan for the past few years. Yes, his last run in this part of the world was easily his worst – and the only time he missed a placing – but his dominance, particularly in open-age staying races was like nothing we’ve ever seen.
It was not until Lazarus was three that he truly announced himself to us Aussies when he dismantled a ripping field in the 2016 Victoria Derby after sitting three-wide for a long, long way before breezing and running away from them in a 1:55.1 mile rate.
Thereafter, the sensational son of Bettors Delight amassed a few million in prize money and broke records almost everywhere he went. He obliterated rivals in back-to-back New Zealand Cups, sat in the death and smashed them in a Hunter Cup, sat in the breeze when they said he couldn’t and brained them in an Inter Dominion Final and accounted for another couple of handfuls of Group 1’s in a three year run that saw him become our sport’s version of Winx.
His name was one even the most casual of trots fans were beginning to remember so his loss to Australian and New Zealand racing will be felt strongly – but life does go on.
There’s a nice bunch of Grand Circuit superstars both here and in New Zealand ready to win the biggest races we have to offer but it’s unlikely any will dominate the way Laz did.
The further they went, the bigger his margin.
Arguably his signature victory came in his first NZ Cup – aged four – when he defeated horses like Smolda, Messini, Christen Me, Have Faith In Me and others by more than ten lengths.
I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of his owners – Phil and Glenys Kennard – a few times and they were more like adoring fans than entitled owners. Co-trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen often complimented Lazarus on his impeccable manners and nous for what it took on race day.
He won Group 1’s in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Christchurch, Auckland and was a winner of 35 of his 45 starts.
Sold to American breeding entrepreneurs, Laz looks set to embark on a mini-career in American to try and secure an electric mile rate and create interest in him as a stallion in the USA. Good luck to him but it will not be long before we see his progeny winning big races back here in Oz and NZ.
Here are what I viewed as his top five performances;
2016 NEW ZEALAND CUP
Having only just turned four, Lazarus crushed his rivals by 30m in a New Zealand Cup performance for the ages. He averaged a frighteningly incredible 29.1 seconds across the eight 400m sectionals he covered in the Cup. There were concerns about him stepping away from the stand and there were concerns about him winning as a four-year-old. Those concerns did not last long as Laz had time to peak at himself on the Addington big screen such was the dominance of his victory.
2018 HUNTER CUP
After another dominant NZ Cup, a gruelling but successful Inter Dominion campaign and a mammoth defeat in the Fremantle Pacing Cup, Lazarus finally showed some signs of being mortal when he suffered from hoof soreness in the lead-up to the WA Cup.
He was subsequently withdrawn from the race and his Hunter Cup campaign was in limbo. Immortality again began to show as he not only made it to the $500,000 race at Melton but sat outside the leader and scorched the track in a record-breaking 1:54.1 last mile after the 2760m journey. Soho Tribeca went enormously to run him to a neck but Lazarus was truly amazing in that performance, in what is his last run at Tabcorp Park Melton.
2018 FREMANTLE PACING CUP
Lazarus won 35 races, yet one of his rare defeats ranks as one his best ever runs – and perhaps the bravest, most brilliant defeat we’ve ever seen.
With driver Mark Purdon declaring his intentions publicly early in the week, rival Chicago Bull kept the breeze and forced Laz to sit three-wide for the entirety of the 2536m trip.
On the extremely tricky, tight confines of Gloucester Park, Lazarus really lived up to his name to continually fight off fatigue and be beaten only a nose to My Hard Copy who had the cart into the race on his back. The 1:55.4 rate defied belief.
Even his harshest critics could not deny his greatness, even in defeat.
2017 INTER DOMINION GRAND FINAL
To the uninitiated, Lazarus’ Inter Dominion heat campaign saw him off his best as Soho Tribeca beat him convincingly in heat one, Tiger Tara topped him in heat two and out-of-form stablemate Have Faith In Me pushed him to within a length in heat three.
Heading into the big dance, many questioned whether Laz could sit in the breeze – the lead was never going to be his – and win. Again, he answered any questions with an exclamation point by crushing Tiger Tara and sprinting away from anything stalking him in the straight. Mark Purdon admitted winning the ID2017 was tougher than he envisioned for his champion but on Grand Final night, Laz did it in a jog.
2016 NEW ZEALAND FREE-FOR-ALL
Just four days after a triumphant and dominant victory as a young horse in New Zealand’s greatest race, Lazarus backed up in the 1950m New Zealand Free-For-All and the result was electrifying.
Sitting outside another truly great modern day horse in Christen Me, Laz blew him and the rest of them away in the straight to complete the Cup Week sweep and record a swift 1:52.4 mile against older horses.
Do you agree ? Which do you think were Lazarus’ greatest performances and who will take the mantle as Australasia’s best horse ?