Originally written by CODY WINNELL
VETERAN Casterton-trained steeplechaser, Lazza, has developed into somewhat of a legend in recent seasons.
Tomorrow, he attempts to cap a rare feat when he lines up in the Frank Andrews Memorial Steeplechase at his home track.
Lazza is shooting for his 10th hometown victory. It would be an amazing achievement and form scholars rate his chances highly.
The 10-year-old, which turns 11 in less than two weeks, is trained by Joey Smith who has looked after the gelding since its career began.
The son of Shantaroun, a USA-born sire, Lazza was a late maturer.
He raced for the first time as a four-year-old in 2000 when he debuted over 1200m in a Mt Gambier maiden. He ran an unflattering ninth of 14.
At his next five starts on the flat he finished no higher than 10th.
Smith decided to hunt Lazza with the Penola Hunt Club. An unconventional move for racehorses.
When Lazza came back he raced at Stawell over 2000m and showed unaccustomed dash. He led the field with Allan Peterson in the saddle right up to the 200m mark, before compounding to once again finish well behind the placings.
However, despite finishing well back the run excited all connected with the horse.
Four starts later Lazza broke his maiden duck, winning a 3100m hurdle at Hamilton with Howard Jenkins in the saddle.
He started 14-1, the shortest price punters had swallowed in the gelding’s career to date.
Following that win Lazza went to the paddock for a nine-month spell. He resumed over 1400m at Warrnambool when ridden by a young Clare Lindop. As usual, short races were not his caper and he came in 13th place out of 14.
He was quickly up in distance but still took nine runs to find the post first again.
That second win was special as it was the gelding’s first at Casterton when ridden by top jumps jockey, Craig Durden.
Lazza’s next campaign started over 1580m on the flat and again he finished well back.
However, second-up, at Casterton, Lazza would break his maiden status on the flat by winning an 1800m event for jockey Kane Post. Nobody was carried away with the win, though, as Lazza failed hopelessly next time out at Mortlake.
Quickly Lazza was developing into a leading obstacle performer.
His next win at Casterton was in June 2002 when he won a 3000m hurdle for jumps jockey cum trainer, Ciaron Maher.
One year later he would win again, this time at Murray Bridge.
That win was the first for jockey Brad McLean aboard Lazza.
He rode it next time out at Casterton over 3800m and it won again.
Lazza had hit peak form and recorded two wins at Hamilton and another at Casterton in his next 10 starts.
In 2004 he won again at Casterton in impressive fashion, to use an old cliche, like a fine wine he was (seemingly) maturing with age.
This year Lazza took a bit longer to come than usual but has again returned to winning form.
Two starts back he won in excellent fashion (again) at Casterton.
Punters who read the formguide tomorrow will notice his last start at Warrnambool when he failed to finish.
Durden was aboard the gelding and Smith explained why Lazza was pulled up.
“He doesn’t like the new modular fences. It’s as simple as that. He’ll tell you when he doesn’t like something.”
Those strong communication lines between horse and trainer will come in handy even more so in coming years, with Lazza sure to let Smith know when he wants to retire.
“He’ll tell me. Until he does, we’ll keep going around Casterton.”
Smith admits Lazza has more than likely run his last race over the fences at other venues but he still has many more races at his home track, where steeplechases are run over live hedges.
The new modular fences mean horses don’t have to be as good a jumper as was once needed, instead, just needing the ability to run fast and hop over shallow obstacles.
Smith said Lazza worked very well on Tuesday morning and was cherry ripe for tomorrow’s big assignment.
A win would be victory number 10 from 27 starts, which have also to date boasted three seconds and two thirds.
Lazza has been handicapped 66kg but will carry 64.5kg with the claim for apprentice jockey, Thomas Logan.
Logan is Smith’s nephew, even more reason why the crowd will roar if Lazza is looming up coming around the final bend.
The steeplechase is race three over 3800m and is scheduled to go at 1.45pm.
Lifetime record: 69 starts, 13 wins, 9 placings.
Track: 26 starts, 9 wins, 5 placings.
Colour: Bay or brown.
Silks: White and purple diamonds, white cap.