Glenys and Phil Kennard with Mark Purdon after one of Lazarus' New Zealand Cup triumphs. Photo: Race Images.
The decision to part with the pacer of a generation was “incredibly hard” for the man that selected him as a yearling and raced him to dizzying heights over four seasons.
But ultimately, Phil Kennard says, he felt an obligation to give Lazarus the chance to be a trail-blazer for the New Zealand breed.
“The opportunity being given to ‘Laz’ to be a great stallion and return to New Zealand is some solace,” he said.
Last month, Lazarus’ new owners, Taylor Made Stallions in Kentucky, opened communications with Kennard, his wife Glenys and fellow co-owners Trevor Casey and Kevin Riseley and trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen about what they envisioned for New Zealand’s richest ever pacer.
“They had a vision and they spent a lot of time talking with us about what that was,” said Kennard.
It was an idea that held merit – and more money – and subsequently leap-frogged a proposal put to the owners by Alabar Stud that would see the horse race on here for another season.
“That (Alabar) was our first option and we were definitely in their camp to start with,” said Kennard
“Then the other thing came as a bolt out of the blue.
“Once we started talking to Mark and Natalie, and there was a lot of discussion, they really said to us that he was probably only up for a fairly limited season ahead.
“He would be lightly-raced and then retired.”
The intense physical demands of racing at the highest level may well have taken a toll on Lazarus’ body and, despite him getting a clean bill of health last month, there was a nagging belief with his trainers that the ride may soon be over on the track.
So, Taylor Made’s plans for a micro-campaign in North America later this year, that could be as little as four races before retirement, suddenly seemed to fit in nicely when partnered with the shuttle stallion idea.
But for the Kennards especially, the decision would come at great cost on multiple levels.
“The major thing for us was that we always wanted him to try and join history and have a go at the three-peat in the New Zealand Cup in November.”
Beyond that, there is also the obligation they felt to the public.
After all, Lazarus is arguably the best standardbred any young fan has seen and one of the all-time greats for those with a few more years in the memory bank.
“He was a horse that was enjoyed by any and all harness racing enthusiasts.
“Wherever he went, he drew people to the track; I remember at the Hunter Cup in Melbourne earlier this year they had to stop people from going down the walkways at Melton to get a look at him.
“They had to queue and they were lining up two or three-deep to see him.
“Even if only ten or a dozen extra people were coming to the track to see him, that was important to us so to see scenes like that was amazing.”
For the Kennards, Lazarus’ departure follows Smolda’s retirement and Heaven Rocks’ sale to America in the past year.
It means they will now look to the next wave of horses to carry the torch and that is, of course, headlined by star four-year-old Ultimate Machete.
“We’ve got him on the way back from injury, as well as Thefixer and then there are a couple of nice rising four-year-olds that had a few health issues this season in The Devils Own and Spankem.
“So, there is a reasonable base of a team there, but it certainly doesn’t go anywhere near replacing the three names we’ve lost in the last year.“
Selling what is likely to be the best horse you’ll ever race ahead of a third New Zealand Cup attempt can’t have been easy.
“It’s a pain that hasn’t gone away yet,” said Kennard, pangs of regret evident in his voice.
“But, as Mark said, the opportunity for the horse, and the deal put in front of us, it’s a massive thing for him and the industry.
“To have a horse go in this direction and look to become the first New Zealand-born shuttle sire that has raced in North America, that’s very exciting.”
Christian Cullen stood one season in North America, in 2009, but as he was 15-years-old and nine years retired with no track profile in the Northern Hemisphere, he only got a limited book and left 26 foals.