The big dog has left his kennel so someone needs to stand up and own the throne.
Lazarus has been the king of open class racing for the past two years but his departure for America opens the door for a handful of horses to stake a claim as the king of Harness Racing.
So, with Lazarus – and stablemate Vincent – gone, let’s take a look at the current top 10 as we roll toward the Len Smith Mile and the Queensland ‘winter’ carnival.
I’ve included a few youngsters due to the exit of many older superstars and unlike previous Power Rankings where it’s been largely based off very recent performances, this edition is more about who I’d like to be with moving into the next Grand Circuit season.
1 – SOHO TRIBECA (Michael Stanley, Victoria)
When Lazarus scorched the track at the most recent Hunter Cup, Soho Tribeca was at least as good a performer running second.
When this son of American Ideal departed Victoria for WA, he was a good horse with above average ability, upon his return he was a Group 1 winner in the Golden Nugget and was arguably the best performed horse throughout the Inter Dominion heats.
Mick Stanley has taken over training responsibilities and Soho Tribeca has gone to another level again, as shown by his courageous Miracle Mile effort.
In the $750,000 sprint, driver Greg Sugars controlled the race from the breeze, only to have My Field Marshal swamp he and Jilliby Kung Fu in the last 50m.
Soho Tribeca genuinely ran a 1:47 mile and his versatility should see him competing in – and winning – more than a few Grand Circuit events.
2 – JILLIBY KUNG FU (Marg Lee, Victoria)
I mentioned Soho Tribeca’s meteoric rise, well this guy can more than match that catapult to the top.
Yes, he won a Group 1 as a three-year-old but his coming of age was in the 4YO Bonanza when he sat outside Stars Align and drilled him into the ground, rating 1:51.9 for the mile. His Bonanza win was followed up with a dashing Chariots of Fire victory in Sydney in 1:48.8 and second placing in the MM in a southern hemisphere record.
His best is certainly ahead of him but can Kung Fu transition to a genuine staying superstar and compete in races like the Inter Dominion and even New Zealand Cup?
3 – MY FIELD MARSHAL (Tim Butt, New South Wales)
A year ago, this guy was miles off the top 10 but things change real quick. Just ask Mark Purdon who could’ve easily been the preparer of seeds one and two had Lazarus not been sold and Vincent not been retired through injury.
My Field Marshal’s MM performance was magnificent but many thought he was a classy horse in the right place at the right time.
With Anthony Butt piloting, the Art Major entire proved his toughness was developing to compliment his speed with an awesome Bulli Cup win when he rated 1:49.3 despite racing off the track for a large portion.
Trainer Tim Butt says an Inter Dominion in Victoria is unlikely but races like the New Zealand Free For All, Len Smith Mile and Miracle Mile look his for the taking.
4 – ULTIMATE MACHETE (Mark Purdon & Natalie Rasmussen, New Zealand)
All of a sudden, ‘Mate’ is Mark Purdon’s best mate and his health will be at the forefront of the stable’s mind as they try to transition him from a juvenile wrecking ball to an open-age warrior.
He obliterated his four-year-old rivals in WA but was only mediocre in the Fremantle Cup before succumbing to injury.
His open class credentials seem certified after what we saw in the 2017 New Zealand Free For All. Sitting outside Tiger Tara and with horses like Jack’s Legend, Dream About Me and Titan Banner back in the field, Natalie Rasmussen barely moved as Ultimate Machete crushed them all in 1:51.9. Such a feat would suggest he is far from purely a brutal staying type but also a capable miler.
5 – CHICAGO BULL (Gary Hall Sr, Western Australia)
His record since departing New Zealand for the west is impeccable but we do need to see him travel to see where he truly fits in.
Multiple Group 1’s are impressive but we’ve seen Soho Tribeca, Ultimate Machete and My Field Marshal – the horses ranked above him – win big races almost everywhere they’ve been. To some extent, the big races have come to him but the Inter Dominion is gone now so it’s time to travel across the country and attack big races in Victoria and Sydney. He’s made a million bucks where he is and he could make a million more at home but this is about the best of the best so as fans, we hope to see him come east.
6 – LENNYTHESHARK (David Aiken, Victoria)
One thing I thought about with the departure of Lazarus was just how magnificent and tough Lenny has been. Lenny has been amongst the very best in his age group as a young horse, suffered significant injuries and overcame them all to become a dominant open age, Grand Circuit gun.
Lenny owns an Inter Dominion, Victoria Cup, Hunter Cup, Miracle Mile and was a whisker away from a then record-breaking mile at Menangle when second to Have Faith In Me.
His best is well and truly behind him but the departure of Lazarus, Heaven Rocks, Vincent and Have Faith In Me, Lenny may get another look at the big races.
7 – SHADOW SAX (Emma Stewart, Victoria)
His transition to the elite level looks almost complete. Yes, he’s yet to peel off a really big victory but seeing him handle his rivals across the Victorian countryside and outstay a fatigued Soho Tribeca in the Melton Plate told me he was ready to compete.
He’s among the favourites for the winter features in Queensland and you’d imagine he will be set for a crack at an Inter Dominion series in his backyard.
8 – CHASE AUCKLAND (Mark Purdon & Natalie Rasmussen, New Zealand)
I have been really hesitant to include age-restricted horses but with so many top line open class horses gone, it’s time to include a few young guns.
Unfortunately for Aussies, the sensational son of Auckland Reactor did not make it to the Victorian and New South Wales derbies because of injury. He will also miss the NZ Jewels.
He’s only been beaten once and already has Group 1 victories in the Sires Series Final, Sales Series Final and Great Northern Derby. Chase Auckland has shown an ability to win from anywhere on a race track. Stalking the speed, sitting outside horses and leading all the way.
Health permitting, Chase Auckland looks like the next big Grand Circuit contender.
9 – CENTENARIO (Emma Stewart, Victoria)
Five starts, five wins, including a Group 1 Australian Pacing Gold victory that looked relatively effortless.
Often, early two-year-old stars can struggle to maintain such dizzying heights but right now, Centenario – named after a Lamborghini – looks poised to clean sweep the big rookie races in 2018.
10 – SOHO NOLITA (Michael Stanley, Victoria)
Centenario is the standout baby boy but this girl may be even more superior to those of her age and sex.
She has been beaten but she beat herself in an APG Heat before demolishing them in the $350,000 Final.
Arguably as well bred a horse as there is alive (sister to Soho Tribeca, Birdy Mach and Carlas Pixel) she is big, strong and brilliant.
Trainer Mick Stanley has been drawn into comparisons between her and Petacular, even saying that Soho Nolita may have the edge for now.