Michael Murphy has selected a Listed event against older horses on Saturday as a better Derby lead-up than the Randwick Guineas for improving stayer Merlin Mustang.
Merlin Mustang, a last-start city winner over 1800m, will line up in Saturday’s Randwick City Stakes (2000m) in what will be the Gundagai-based Murphy’s first stakes runner as a trainer.
Murphy will also be an interested spectator of the Randwick Guineas as he plans for Merlin Mustang to join in in the second leg of the three-year-old triple crown in the Rosehill Guineas (2000m) two weeks later.
“That Randwick Guineas is going to be really interesting,” Murphy said.
“Especially to see how horses like Laser Hawk and Said Com fare because we’ve raced them before. Then there’s all the other horses that are heading towards the Derby as well.
“Providing our horse performs well on Saturday he’ll go into the Rosehill Guineas next and then we’ll be mixing it with them.”
Merlin Mustang has come on in leaps and bounds this campaign, winning three straight at Kembla before heading to Sydney where he finished third to Laser Hawk and Said Com over 1500m at Rosehill on February 25.
He backed up a week later to win over 1800m against older horses at the same track on heavy ground.
“At this stage the 1600 metres (of the Guineas) didn’t suit him with the Derby in mind,” Murphy said.
“He initially wasn’t in at the right time (for an autumn campaign) so we had to juggle things and gave him a little bit of a break in the paddock before his run over 1500 metres in Sydney just to get back in sync.
“Saturday is a hard race against seasoned older horses but it’s over 2000 metres and it fits in well with the Rosehill Guineas where he’ll get back to his own age.”
A field of 14 was declared on Wednesday for the Randwick City Stakes which includes the well-performed Hawk Island and Group One winners Fiumicino, Herculian Prince and Dealer Principal.
Fellow three-year-old On Every Level, who finished second to Merlin Mustang last start, is another Australian Derby nomination entered for the event.
Murphy is looking forward to the challenge of preparing Merlin Mustang for major autumn carnival assignments.
“He’s going really good and each challenge we’ve thrown at him, he’s risen to it,” he said.
“He has got the ability to lead but on the weekend with Herculian Prince there and likely to go forward, I don’t think it would be a problem for him to take a sit.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Murphy has had Merlin Mustang stabled at Kembla Grange to prepare for Saturday’s assignment.