Merlin vying to go five from five tonight

By Michael Guerin

Pacing’s pocket rocket is both bigger and stronger for his return to racing at Alexandra Park tonight and Merlin is going to need to be as a mammoth back-end to the season looms.

Merlin is unbeaten in four starts including winning the Group 2 Cardigan Bay Stakes at Alexandra Park in March but with the harness racing season now based on the calendar year the early-season juveniles have to prove themselves all over again, starting with the first race meeting of spring tonight.

Merlin suggested that won’t be an issue as he came from last to beat some of his race rivals tonight at the Pukekohe trials last Friday, showing his trademark dazzling speed for driver Zachary Butcher.

Co-trainer Barry Purdon says while that was pleasing just as importantly Merlin has developed from last campaign which will be needed with the Harness Million at Addington just six weeks away and other major races to follow.

“We are really happy with him and he is ready to go this week,” says Purdon.

“It is a tricky draw but he is ready to be driven however Zac wants.”

Purdon and training partner Scott Phelan have three in the six-horse race which for such a small field contains plenty of depth, with Son Of Mac impressing when chasing Merlin home last Friday.

The stable has 12 runners tonight, a huge number for them this early in the spring with Major Perry and Montana D J other big winning hopes.

“Major Perry is really well and working like he can win so he is our best hope of the night alongside Merlin.

“We have both Ultimate Missile and Montana D J in race 6 and while Ultimate Missile is fitter Montana D J might be slightly the better chance.”

Son Of Patrick (R8, No.6) returns from an Australian campaign but is expected to need a run in a good field headlined by Temporale, who isn’t that badly off starting from 45m behind with plenty of his rivals also facing handicaps.

Purdon and Phelan also have two juvenile trotters making their debuts tonight in Halberg and Southern Diamond (race 3) with the latter in particular impressive at the trials last Friday.

While they have plenty of time for juvenile pacing fillies Advance Party and Lightning Baby (race five) they meet race-hardened and classy rivals in Kahlua Flybye and Forever Me.

Tonight’s other highlight on a really good programme will be Old Town Road trying to overcome a 30m handicap in the main pace, which he will be short odds to do.

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