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Merlin Mustang in frame for Stradbroke
Mathew Toogood
18:25 AEST Sat Jan 5 2013

A Queensland winter campaign and shot at the Stradbroke Handicap looms for Merlin Mustang after he defied his Warwick Farm rivals on Saturday.

Merlin Mustang dropped back from the Villiers Stakes distance of 1600m in the Tab.com.au Handicap (1400m) and controlled the speed to prove too strong for comeback galloper Foreteller.

Trainer Mick Tubman wasn't at Warwick Farm but the Group One Stradbroke Handicap (1400m) was named as a winter target for Merlin Mustang.

His jockey Brenton Avdulla, however, believes the on-pace gelding is at his best over 1600m to 2000m.

"I'm not sure about the Stradbroke but definitely anything over a mile-plus he can be competitive in Group company," Avdulla said.

"He can get through the wet so that won't dampen his chances in Queensland during winter."

It was Avdulla's third win on Merlin Mustang ($7) and he was able to roll along at a tempo that suited him after being taken out of his comfort zone when a gallant fifth in the Villiers on December 22.

"I just kept improving the tempo and I knew at the top of the straight he was going to try his guts out for me and that's what he did," Avdulla said.

He defeated Foreteller ($17) by a length with half a length to Thumbtacks ($7) third.

The run of Foreteller, having his first start since fracturing a splint bone in the Doomben Cup in May, pleased trainer Chris Waller

"He's probably a sneaky Ranvet Stakes horse if we had him right. We might try to find a way to a race like that," Waller said.

Forty minutes before Merlin Mustang's victory, talented three-year-old Sessions broke the 1000m course record when he powered home from back in the field in the Onemorenomore First Crop Handicap.

His time of 56.23secs bettered Impaler's previous mark of 56.25secs set in 2005.

"Today's effort was outstanding because he was three lengths further back than I wanted," trainer Peter Snowden said.

"He was very good late. His sectionals would have been very good."

The meeting also featured an exhibition gallop from joint Magic Millions favourite Assail in her final tune-up for next Saturday's $2 million race.

She worked over 600m beating stablemate The Last General, clocking 33.80secs and received the thumbs up from jockey Craig Williams and trainer Clarry Conners.

Williams, who'll ride Assail in the Gold Coast race, came to Sydney from Melbourne just for the gallop.


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