Top Kiwi pacers stepping out at Menangle

By Adam Hamilton

New Zealand’s hopes of winning the Group 1 Chariots Of Fire will be much clearer after Saturday night.

Two of the country’s most exciting pacing talents – Don’t Stop Dreaming and Merlin - step out on a stellar night of racing at Menangle.

Let’s start with Merlin – who will race in Australia as Its Merlin – because he still needs to book his place in Saturday week’s $250,000 Group 1 Chariots Of Fire (1609m).

And, despite his great CV and abundance, is no absolute given based on the quality of opposition Its Merlin will face in his qualifier, the $50,000 Paleface Adios Stakes (1609m).

Its Merlin, a winner of 15 from 21 starts in NZ for Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan, will also have to overcome a wide draw. He’s drawn nine of 12, but will move into seven if the emergencies don’t get runs.

That still leaves Its Merlin to start outside several of his key rivals like brilliant Bathurst pacer Better Be The Best (six , but comes into four), talented Victorian Captain Hammerhead (one) and in-form Queensland raiders For Real Life (seven, into five) and Aardies Flash (eight into six).

Adding further to the depth of the race, the underrated Dougs Platter (10 into eight), well-performed Queenslander Sure Thing Captain (11 into nine) and Group 1-winning Victorian Perfect Class (12 into 10) are also in the talent-crammed field.

With five of the 10 spots already confirmed for the Chariots Of Fire, Its Merlin will need at least a top four, maybe fifth placing, to lock away a start in Australasia’s biggest four-year-old feature.

Purdon and Phelan already have stablemate Sooner The Bettor qualified for the Chariots.

The Mark and Nathan Purdon-trained Don’t Stop Dreaming confirmed his Chariots berth when he brilliantly won the Hondo Grattan Stakes at Menangle last Saturday week.

It came just a week after he turned plenty of heads with a slashing second to Australia’s top pacer, Leap To Fame, in the Group 1 Hunter Cup at Melton.

As promised, Team Purdon has opted to run Don’t Stop Dreaming in the open 2300m free-for-all on Saturday night to top him off for the Chariots Of Fire.

“We didn’t want three weeks between runs,” Mark Purdon said.

Don’t Stop Dreaming has the widest draw (gate nine) in a handy free-for-all, which is lacking star power due to the $100,000 Group 2 Newcastle Mile being run the night before.

Mark Purdon is down to replace Jack Callaghan and take the reins himself on Don’t Stop Dreaming this week.

At Newcastle, Leap To Fame will be out to cement his Miracle Mile berth by winning on Friday night.

Grant Dixon’s superstar has drawn gate seven, but will start from five if the two emergencies don’t gain a start.

Leap To Fame is the standout class runner, but it should still be a solid contest – especially over the mile – with the likes of Cantfindabettorman, Petes Said So, Kanena Provlima and Mach Da Vinci drawn inside him.

There’s also a watch on Hot And Treacherous for new trainer Jason Grimson and rejuvenated veteran Max Delight, despite their wide draws.

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