Merlin to miss Group 1 Sires' Stakes Final
By Michael Guerin
One of the potentially great rivalries of New Zealand harness racing in coming seasons is back on ice before it really got going again.
Two-time Harness Million and Great Northern Derby winner Merlin has been sidelined with a hoof abscess and will Friday night’s $150,000 Group 1 Garrards Sires’ Stakes Final at Addington.
That was to have been his fourth career clash with Don’t Stop Dreaming after the southern colt took a 2-1 advantage in their personal battle with an easy win at Addington last Friday.
The pair are clearly the best of their crop and were setting up an interesting north-south rivalry for the rest of this season and even further into their careers but Merlin is now heading home to Auckland.
“He had an abscess burst out just above his hoof on the weekend,” reveals co-trainer Scott Phelan.
“He is quite sore on it and while it shouldn’t be a issue for too long he if definitely out of Friday.”
Phelan says the issue is unlikely to cost Merlin his shot at the rich Queensland carnival over the winter where he has already been invited to the new glamour race the Rising Sun for three and four-year-olds as well as targeting the Queensland Derby.
“He was going to have a week off after this race anyway so he will do that now instead and usually abscesses heal pretty quickly once they burst out.
“It is just bad timing with this week being a Group 1.”
Merlin’s withdrawal has seen Don’t Stop Dreaming move from $1.80 to $1.40 in the TAB’s pre-draw market, having been as long as $2.20 in the futures market last Friday.
He was dazzling in his Sires’ Stakes heat win last Friday with driver Natalie Rasmussen making the decision to launch Don’t Stop Dreaming early after almost all the drivers drawn inside her went into neutral straight after the start.
Her aggression coupled with the tactics of those inside created the illusion of a false start as a handful of those of the front line appeared to be under restraint for much of the first 400m.
That left Merlin with nowhere to go and he ended up trapped back in the field and while he later got an adequate drag into the race the winner was so decisive he now deserves his 2-1 lead into their personal rivalry.
“I don’t think the abscess was a factor last Friday, I think it was more the way the race panned out,” suggests Phelan.
The two outstanding three-year-olds are now unlikely to meet until October or even November before the New Zealand Derby in December.
Friday night’s Addington meeting also hosts the $90,000 Hydroflow County Cups Final and the Welcome Stakes.
The harness racing Group 1 circuit then returns north for the following two Fridays which will host the Roy Purdon Memorial, Anzac Cup and two Sires’ Stakes races on May 19 followed by the Auckland Cup and Rowe Cup the following week.
Muscle Mountain, who is likely to miss the Anzac Cup, is the $1.30 futures favourite for the Rowe Cup but bookies can’t make up their minds for the Auckland Cup with Copy That and Self Assured equal $2.60 favourites.
Talented intermediate grade pacer Anything Goes shortened from $100 to $15 for November’s New Zealand Trotting Cup after his effortless win at Addington last Friday.
In what was his first start for the All Stars stable after being sold to North American owners Gordon Banks and Marc Hanover, who have purchased so many good New Zealand horses over the years including Auckland Cup winner Amazing Dream, who won the US$328,000 Matchmaker Final at Yonkers in New York for them two weeks ago.