The biggest threat to Lazarus, the current champion of Australasian harness racing, lies within his own stable.
This will not shock most fans, the depth of the All Stars stable is at an all-time high and the result of the Gr.1 $250,000 Trillian Trust Auckland Cup at Alexandra Park today (Sunday) only solidifies the point.
Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen provided the top three finishers with boom four-year-old and race favourite Vincent defeating Titan Banner and Heaven Rocks in the 3200m stand-start feature.
While Lazarus has dominated most open class features this season including his powerful and relentless thrashings of rivals in the New Zealand Cup and Inter Dominion, his stablemate Vincent is well on the way to being his nemesis.
His winning effort in the Auckland Cup, his first foray into the Grand Circuit level of elite pacing, clearly underlines the enormous talent that fits into his hulking frame.
It’s a lethal combination.
Stepping safely and landing behind Titan Banner soon after the start, Vincent travelled comfortably while outsider Northview Hustler challenged hard for the lead and eventually found it before releasing both Titan Banner and Vincent again.
Rasmussen positioned Vincent in the lead role passing the 2100m mark.
The lead time was covered in a moderate 2:04.9.
With Vincent dictating terms, Heaven Rocks and Tim Williams whistled around the field before parking outside of his stablemate with 1200m remaining.
The first half of the final mile was covered in splits of 32.7 and 32.7 seconds.
Entering the back straight, Vincent was tested by Heaven Rocks who raced keenly albeit pacing like a startled giraffe.
Heaven Rocks actually headed Vincent coming off the back straight before pacing very awkwardly, the back straight quarter was covered in 27.4 seconds.
But Rasmussen wasn’t perturbed and allowed Vincent to pace comfortably within himself before releasing the shackles in the straight, the margin soon expanded and the highly decorated pacer scored easily by 1.5 lengths from Titan Banner who used inside runs while Heaven Rocks was a further head away in third.
The final quarter was covered in 27 seconds.
The overall time was 4:04.7 – a winning mile rate of 2:03.0.
“That was a professional effort, he stepped away safely and travelled really well and felt terrific in the straight when challenged. He’s a very good horse.” Winning driver Natalie Rasmussen declared.
It was Rasmussen’s maiden victory in the North Island feature.
The victory of Vincent also provided his champion sire Art Major with his first Auckland Cup winner.
The All Stars stable have now won the Auckland Cup on six occasions and have recorded back to back victories following the success of Dream About Me last year.
Other winners include Sharp And Telford, Young Rufus, Auckland Reactor and Have Faith In Me.
With four legs now complete in the Australian Pacing Gold Grand Circuit, the All Stars stable has won three legs (New Zealand Cup, Inter Dominion and Auckland Cup) while Lennytheshark won the opening leg of the 2017/18 series, the Victoria Cup.
The next leg of the APG Grand Circuit takes place on January 19 at Gloucester Park with the running of the Gr.1 $450,000 TABtouch WA Pacing Cup, an event that will feature Lazarus.
Collectively, the combination of Purdon and Rasmussen have either trained or driven in excess of 50 Grand Circuit winners!