Tonight's $200,000 Harness Million shaping up as a beauty
By Michael Guerin
The second line is not usually where punters should go for shopping for a big-race winner at Cambridge.
But the evenness of tonight’s $200,000 Harness Million at Cambridge suggest the stars drawn there could still get a fair crack at the first six-figure stake of the harness season.
The Harness Million, transferred from a flood-damaged Alexandra Park, shapes as a beauty not only because of the even nature of the field but the fact the two favourites Merlin and Sherlock have drawn the second line.
That could embolden several of the drivers on the front line to head forward early and keep running, which in itself could set up pressure over the first 600m and create two mini races: the early one to the marker pegs and the race proper once the second line horses move to get closer.
That lead time over the first 600m will be crucial. It the leaders break 42 seconds for that opening section it aids those back in the field, if one of the front line horses can jump to an easier lead then in a 43-second or slower those further back find themselves in a trickier position. That was the case in the lead-up last week when Son Of Mac led and controlled the race, nobody moved and he didn’t have to break any records to easily hold out Merlin.
But with three All Stars horses joining in tonight, all last week’s runners fitter and $200,000 on the line, not to mention the step up to 2200m, things shouldn’t be as tame tonight.
Steve Telfer, in for a huge weekend with runners in major races at Cambridge, Newcastle and Menangle before the sales start on Sunday, is just one trainer who wants his charge, Alta Meteor involved early.
"Our horse is really well and the first plan with him will be to try and lead but a few others may be thinking the same thing,” says Telfer.
“If he races well this week he is off to the NSW Derby heats next week so we expect him to go well as he needed last week’s race and will improve.”
Those sentiments are also shared by the trainers of Son Of Mac, Charlie Brown and Merlin, with Barry Purdon saying the latter has come on since last Thursday and they are hoping for a genuine tempo.
“He worked well on Wednesday morning and is definitely better than last week, and he will need to be,” says Purdon.
Sherlock was the huge late season improver last term and won well at the Pukekohe workouts last weekend but barrier 1 on the second line means he will likely need both a strong tempo and some luck but he did trial very well at Pukekohe last weekend while Son Of Mac can clearly win if he can secure the perfect run again.
Luck shouldn’t be a factor for Millwood Nike, who has had the recent trials grounding to remain unbeaten in an underwhelming $150,000 fillies' pace but tonight’s main trot for the mares is a beauty, a tricky big-field handicap with the two favourites off the 40m backmark.
While Resolve and Double Delight have won similar races lately here off similar handicaps the big difference tonight if the capacity field, meaning more horses between them and the front of the field, and perhaps more importantly, the marker pegs.
How to punt Harness Million night
Anchor: Millwood Nike (R7, No.6): Unbeaten for a reason so worth adding to your multis for the 15 per cent.
Next best: Merlin (R6, No.11): Best horse in this field and while luck will be a factor the fixed odds quote very fair.
The value: Crusader (R1, No.1): First time has drawn inside barrier 6 in two months. Can go a big race from lead or trail as marker pegs suit.