Kembla Grange trainer Michael Tubman is confident that top Sydney hoop Brenton Avdulla is the right jockey to boost the chances of his promising four-year-old Merlin Mustang when they take on a crack field of middle distance gallopers in Saturday’s 2012 Villiers Stakes at Warwick Farm.
Group 1 winning jockey Avdulla has partnered with the Nothin’ Lecia Dane gelding for seven of their 15 career starts to date including three of their five victories, most recently over 1550m at Randwick’s Kensington track back in October.
For their three most recent runs Merlin Mustang has been ridden by both Brendan Ward (twice) and impressive apprentice hoop Sam Clipperton but Avdulla gets the chance to reunite with them this weekend.
After a disappointing ninth when beaten three and a half lengths by Darci Be Good in the Group 3 Hawkesbury Gold Cup (1600m) on November 8 off a five day back-up Merlin Mustang was given a freshen up and they return this Saturday in the $175,000 Group 2 Inglis Villiers Stakes (1600m).
They face a very smart Villiers Stakes field this year too including the defending champ Monton, Gai Waterhouse’s Goulburn Cup winner Kinnersley, three from the stables of Peter Snowden and the first two horses over the line in the Hawkesbury Gold Cup with Darci Be Good (1st) and Isopach (2nd).
But Tubman remains in high spirits heading into the race tipping his horse to improve greatly on their last run and Avdulla to bring out the best in them with his riding style to suit the on-speed nature of Merlin Mustang’s runs.
“We’ve had trouble getting people to try to work him out,” Tubman said.
“They (jockeys) seem to want to hunt him up early when you don’t (have to).
“All you’ve got to do is just to let him find his own rhythm early and if you hunt him all you’re doing is using up petrol you don’t have to.
“Brenton’s got a perfect understanding of him.”
That “perfect understanding” was on display when Avdulla guided Merlin Mustang to an effortless three and a half-length barrier trail win over the 1200m at Warwick Farm on December 14, the perfect lead-up to the Villiers.
Tubman’s confidence also comes from the horse’s credible performance when ninth to Laser Hawk from a horror draw in the Group 1 Rosheill Guineas (200m) back in March when the horse was prepared by Michael Murphy.
“He’s raced horses like Ocean Park and Laser Hawk when he was flat … and he was only being beaten a few lengths,” he said.
“They’ll know he’s in a race on Saturday.”
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