Plenty of intrigue around Cambridge's Flying Miles

By Michael Guerin

The best horses in tonight’s $60,000 McMillan Equine Feeds Pacers Flying Mile at Cambridge may not prove to be the best bets.

Because while the likes of Don’t Stop Dreaming and Merlin can undoubtedly win what is the final lead-up to next week’s $1m Race by Grins their connections admit the mega race looms large on the horizon.

Tonight’s pacing feature, and to a lesser extent the Smith and McKenzie Steak House Trotters Flying Mile, are both lead-ups to the far richer slot races just eight days later.

To give that perspective, tonight’s pacing stake is only 6 per cent of next week’s total stake while tonight’s $60,000 trot is only worth 10 per cent of next week’s TAB Trot, the richest trot race ever run in the Southern Hemisphere.

The trainers and drivers involved would still love to win tonight but the reality is a major pacing mile race, particularly at Cambridge, tends to be dominated by draws and field position, even if this race last year was a rare exception.

Last-start Miracle Mile runner-up Sooner The Bettor has drawn the ace tonight and has the gate speed to use it while Old Town Road is also fast early from barrier 3.

Maybe more importantly others with gate speed and good draws include Alta Wiseguy (2) and Republican Party (4) and neither are in next week’s $1m race so they can afford to roll the dice more tonight without worrying about what it takes out of them for the next few days.

Co-trainers Scott Phelan and Barry Purdon have three in tonight’s race and the Race by Grins and Phelan’s attitude sums up the realities of tonight’s race.

“We think Sooner The Bettor could hold up if Tony (Herlihy, driver) wants to so we will tell him that is entirely up to him,” explains Phelan.

“And the three outside him all have gate speed too so I think that makes it harder on all of us drawn wider.

“So while things can change behind the gate, I can see both Mach Shard (5) and Merlin (6) not rushing out early and letting those inside sort themselves out and then see what happens.”

Co-trainer Mark Purdon has the same attitude with Don’t Stop Dreaming (7) who he says he’d rather see driven conservatively over the first 400m and then hitting the line hard late than rushing early and peaking on his run at the 200m.

Tactics can always change behind the gate and an early burn can leave leaders exposed, as it did in this race last year, but it would be wise for punters not to go silly on Merlin or Don’t Stop Dreaming tonight because while one of them might win this could be a finicky race.

Maybe smarter plays would be Sooner The Better, Old Town Road or Republican Party, especially the latter pair who opened $7.50 and $10 respectively and have already claimed the scalps of Akuta and Copy That in the past.

While the main pace could be draw dominated the open trot tonight won’t be as it only has five starters and two of them, Oscar Bonavena and Queen Elida, are lengths better than their rivals, whose trainers have been smart enough to start them anyway and get easy money for running the placings.

Oscar Bonavena was found to be tied up after he raced well below his best last start but has worked pleasingly this week and is likely to jog to the front and then just as likely hand that lead to returning ex-pat mare Queen Elida.

In a drag race up the Cambridge straight the best version of Oscar would be favoured to just get home over the top of Queen Elida.

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