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The recent suspension of Luke Nolen could help Craig Williams in his bid for a sixth Melbourne jockeys’ premiership.

Nolen received an eight-meeting suspension at Caulfield on Saturday paving the way for Williams to ride Smokin’ Bella in the Le Pine Funerals Handicap (1400m) at Sandown on Wednesday.

The Ciaron Maher-trained mare is chasing a third-straight win this campaign having been ridden to success in each of her two wins by Nolen.

Smokin’ Bella won in benchmark 64 grade at Bendigo when she resumed in May before rising to benchmark 70 company when successful at Bendigo last month.

She steps up to benchmark 78 grade on Wednesday.

“Luke obviously knows the horse very well but we’re not losing anything with Craig taking the ride,” Maher said.

“It’s a nice progressive race for her. She’s drawn a little bit wide but she’s been getting back a fraction and when fillies and mares get in form they usually hold it.

“She seems in a really good spot at the moment and she’s had some nice spacing between her runs so hopefully she can put another one on the board.”

Smokin’ Bella has been posted the $3.70 early favourite for Wednesday’s race.

With four metropolitan meetings remaining for the season, Williams trails apprentice Beau Mertens by one win, 71 to 72, in his bid for a sixth premiership.

Williams has a full book of eight rides on Wednesday with Mertens booked in seven races.

On paper Williams looks to have the stronger book.

Besides Smokin’ Bella, he is also engaged for $4 favourite Holy Blade in the Yarramalong Racing Club Handicap with his longest priced runner Ayers Rock ($7.50) in the Ladbrokes Odds Boost Handicap.

Mertens is also booked on two early favourites – Booradley ($4.60) in the Resimax Group Handicap and Cismontane ($3.80) in the Chef’s Hat Handicap – but also has two runners at double figure odds.

Bookmakers have Williams favourite at $1.60 against Mertens at $2.35 to win the premiership.

 
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