Merlin set for big start to 2023
By Michael Guerin
Champion trainer Barry Purdon has no regrets about allowing Merlin miss the final Group 1 of last season and the decision could be set to pay a big dividend.
Purdon and training partner Scott Phelan let their stable star bypass the $100,000 Ace Of Spades at the Grand Prix meeting at Addington on December 4, realising the three-year-old features for the new season would roll around before long.
“He needed to have a break after the Sires’ Stakes in November otherwise he wasn’t going to get one,” says Purdon.
“So we did the right thing by the horse and missed that one race and that means he could have a break and come back up here for the good early three-year-old races.”
They start with the Harness Million at Alexandra Park on February 17 and lead into the Northern Derby in March.
Merlin, who has won eight of his nine starts, is already on the front foot for the Million as his arch rival Don’t Stop Dreaming is out of the race as he is being given longer to recover from his juvenile season.
That saw Merlin shorten into $2.70 favourite for the Million and $3.50 for the Northern Derby and Purdon hopes to get a race into him the week before the Million.
“He will be back trialing in three weeks then we hope to get a race and straight into the Million and I think we can have him spot on by then.
“He is a naturally fit horse and I am sure he will go with what he did at two as a three-year-old.
“He has all the attributes to. He is strong, he has a lovely attitude and he really wants to be there.
“And of course he is fast.”
Purdon suggests punters also follow Sooner The Better, who raced well against the likes of Merlin and Seve last season and won fresh up at Alexandra Park on New Year’s Eve.
The stable’s high-class filly Advance Party has recovered from the virus that was behind her failure at Addington on Show Day and is also back in work so will be ready for the Northern Oaks at Alexandra Park in March.