Some things change and some things remain the same.
Lazarus is #1. We knew that and we now know that for good and for certain. His status as the king of Australasian Harness Racing is unquestionable. He can be beaten in races – as we saw in the Fremantle Cup – but phenomenal things need to go against him for that to happen.
And whilst this Summer of Trots has largely been about Lazarus and his ability to draw people to our sport, it’s also been about a changing of the guard in the elite ranks. Lennytheshark and Smolda battled it out as arguably the best pacer of the past few seasons but Smolda is a full-time grass eater and Lenny is slowing up.
Heaven Rocks, Soho Tribeca, Chicago Bull, Ultimate Machete, Vincent and to a lesser extent Tiger Tara have arrived on the scene and look like the horses clamouring for a shot at Lazarus’ crown.
Injury has also forced change.
Vincent – the stunning son of Bettors Delight and the ever-improving threat to Lazarus – may never be seen on the race track again. A significant suspensory issue has put everything in jeopardy, except perhaps a fruitful career at stud.
For the purpose of our rankings, Vincent – whilst a top five lock – will be excluded, as will Our Dream About Me and Hectorjayjay.
Ultimate Machete has eerily followed Vincent’s hoof-steps this season. He took over as favourite from Vincent in the Group 1 $200,000 Chariots of Fire then succumbed to an injury of his own. His is not seen as career-threatening.
Anyhow – it’s been a dramatic month or so since the last edition of the power rankings and I hope it is equally as exciting until the next.
I don’t really feel compelled to state why he’s No.1 but I will anyway.
As a five-year-old on the open class scene he has convincingly won the New Zealand Cup, Inter Dominion and Hunter Cup and was historically magnificent in defeat in the Fremantle Cup.
He enters the Miracle Mile series needing to solidify his reputation to some absolute resisters but in my view, Lazarus is a generational horse who has put together two never-to-be-repeated seasons. And he may race for another two or three!
2 SOHO TRIBECA
I’ve seen enough. He gave Lazarus everything he could handle in the Hunter Cup after making an early race move and was sensational in running second.
He’s versatile. Fast, tough and improving. Like Laz, he’s a five-year-old who will be even better at the top level in 12 months time.
This is the horse everyone wants to see lead in the Miracle Mile. He’s like a big, tough, fast greyhound when he can follow the rail and run them along.
3 ULTIMATE MACHETE
IF Vincent was mini-Laz then this guy was mini-mini-Laz. Albeit both are bigger animals. Ultimate Machete is the perfect horse to have led last week’s Hunter Cup. He eats up consistent sectionals and whilst he may not be able to peel off a 26-second quarter, he will roll along at 28-odd seconds all day long.
He’s gone for the season which means we’ll miss him in the Chariots of Fire and Miracle Mile but he showed us how good he is winning the NZ Free-For-All sitting outside Tiger Tara before obliterating his classmates in WA.
4 CHICAGO BULL
Mr. Hall will be happy. His star pupil rockets up this list but things have also fallen his way. Predictably he stayed away from Lazarus and the east coast and opted to skip the Hunter Cup and Miracle Mile. I have stated I’d do the same thing but as a fan it would have been magnificent to see another top-liner in these races.
Would he have won, unlikely, but the little Bull could’ve run top three in any of the big ones.
5 HEAVEN ROCKS
Ability wise, he’s second. Tractability he’s last. But since coming to Australia the big guy has put it all together and won a Group 1 Ballarat Cup and dashed home for a stunning third in the Hunter Cup.
He will desperately miss Natalie Rasmussen should see not be able to drive him in Sydney and being put to the extreme outside of the draw is both staggering and dooming. He cannot win a Miracle Mile from the back.
It looks like the big goof is coming of age and Mark Purdon has always stated that he has at least the raw talent of Lazarus.
A healthy Vincent, Hector and Ultimate Machete could’ve seen Lenny even miss a spot in the Miracle Mile because the grand old champion is winding down. And rightfully so.
Chris Alford has given him every conceivable chance in two of his past three starts and for a now eight-year-old, five starts in six weeks is not a great thing.
I have been less impressed than many with his Hunter Cup run. He had a sweet run buried on the pegs, Alford got him off perfectly yet Heaven Rocks gobbled him up down the lane. He’s capable but his very best days seem long gone.
7 TIGER TARA
As tough and dogged as he is, I suspect Tiger Tara now knows he cannot outstay Lazarus. He got punished in the Inter Dominion and was completely crushed in the Hunter Cup.
Handing up in big mile races is frowned upon but he just does not strike me as the type of horse who could lead all the way. He’s almost a better proposition controlling the tempo from the death.
He goes around this weekend in a Menangle Free-For-All and I actually think he’s vulnerable against solid open class horses.
He’s a Grand Circuit horse but more an opportunist rather than a heavy-hitter!
Boom! A surprise. And this may say more about the Grand Circuit ranks than it does the horse but the facts are this mare has run superbly in a Victoria Cup and Hunter Cup whilst being among the favourites for the upcoming Ladyship Mile.
She’s won four Group 3’s, a Group 2 and the $50,000 Norms Daughter Classic in Perth this season. Amongst the girls, she’s been a dominant monster and when she’s stepped up in the two Grand Circuit events she’s been opportunistic to grab place money.
She would not be out of place in this year’s Miracle Mile.
9 BLING IT ON
Hanging by a thread. Bling It On was poor in the Hunter Cup and began to fade before that run so like Lennytheshark, he may be past his peak.
His effort behind Lenny in the Casey Classic was encouraging but he made no ground last week in a scenario where he would have been a top-three hope given his usual turn of foot off a hot tempo. Hopefully there’s a few more barks left in this dog.
10 THE ORANGE AGENT
Who else ? She’s brilliant and I love her but the cupboard is bare. Step up San Carlo, Moonrock, Shadow Sax or someone else. There are plenty of talented four-year-olds but we want genuine Grand Circuit contenders.
Word is, The Orange Agent is en route back to the races so hopefully her health holds up and we do indeed see this magical mare back at her best because the best version of her holds up against any horse in this part of the world.
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