Gun three-year-olds to renew rivalry at Addington tonight
By Michael Guerin
The harness racing rivalry that could headline coming seasons resumes at Addington tonight with stable confidence one of the protagonists has gone to a new level.
While the Self Assured-Copy That rivalry dominates the current open class landscape and trotting fans hope Bolt For Brilliance returns from injury later this year to resume his rivalry with Muscle Mountain, the future may belong to Don’t Stop Dreaming (below) versus Merlin (above).
The three-year-olds have only met twice with one win apiece.
They clash tonight at 7.35pm in the Garrards Sires' Stakes No 39 3YO Colts and Geldings Mobile pace.
Merlin looks the faster of the pair but Don’t Stop Dreaming maybe the better stayer but while he has only raced once this year after a December setback, Merlin has been on a winning rampage that included the Harness Million and Northern Derby.
Their rivalry has the classic storylines, co-trained by legendary brothers Barry Purdon (Merlin) and Mark (Don’t Stop Dreaming), they are by two of the modern-day great but very different stallions in Art Major and Bettor's Delight, add in North vs South and you get the idea.
As previous heat winners they had to draw the outside two barriers on the front line so there is the usual punter-beware aspects leading up to the $150,000 Group 1 Garrards Sires' Stakes Series Final a week later.
But while Merlin’s co-trainer Scott Phelan admits tactics and intent could win tonight’s race he is also adamant Merlin is better than ever.
“I can’t really explain why but he almost feels like he has grown up this campaign,” says Phelan.
“He has a real attitude about him, nothing colty, just like he knows he is the best.
“His work has been great but he seems stronger and just better.
“It is hard to work out what that means for this week because it is only a lead-up race and tactics will be interesting but I’d imagine at some stage both he and Don’t Stop Dreaming will be up there.”
The TAB has them as virtual co-favourites, with Don't Stop Dreaming opening at $2.10 and going out to $2.30 while Merlin has come in from $3.50 to $2.40.
Phelan says stablemate Sooner The Better is also in the zone for tonight but his second line draw takes away his gate speed weapon.
Tonight’s meeting also contains three Uncut Gems races, which were started as Harness Jewels consolations and are a prime autumn target for those who have yet to hit the big time.
One of the hottest favourites for those is in the Betavet Uncut Gems Geldings and Entires Classic where Anything Goes, already a very promising pacer, is odds-on as he is now trained by the All Stars. That race goes at 8pm, with the Rico Lodge Uncut Gems Mares Classic at 6.44pm, and the NZB Standardbred Uncut Gems Trotters Classic at 9.00pm.