Zachary: Frankie is quick but dad might need some wizardry to knock me off on Merlin
So can Lincoln Farms’ Frankie Major live with impressive debutant Merlin in Saturday night’s Young Guns heat at Alexandra Park?
Who better to ask then the man who has driven them both, leading Auckland reinsman Zachary Butcher?
“You can never say never but Merlin is one of the nicer early two-year-olds I’ve driven,” Butcher said. “He has the all round game: He can relax, he has gate speed, he can follow, lead up or sit parked.
“You can’t get too carried away because there’ll be a few nice ones who haven’t hit the track yet - Mark (Purdon) will have a couple - but I rate Merlin pretty highly and he looks the best of the ones going round now.”
Butcher says when Merlin won on debut at Auckland a week ago he led and beat his Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan-trained stablemate Sooner The Bettor very easily.
“He’s not as good in front either - he wasn’t giving 100% until he saw the other one coming and then he took off.
“I pulled the hood and he put four or five lengths on them and then he started loafing a bit. I reckon I had another three or four lengths up my sleeve.”
That’s a rap which is hard to overlook but Butcher has liked Frankie Major from the day he first started educating him at Lincoln Farms.
And he wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised when Frankie Major and his father David nearly won first-up on January 21, the judge taking several minutes to find a nose margin in favour of the Tony Herlihy-trained Seve.
“He’s got a great attitude and he’s got unreal speed. He’s run some slick quarters round Pukekohe in a heavy cart.
“On Friday he should cross the one (Hugo Maguire) at the start and if he sits on Merlin’s back who’s to say he can’t swish him up the lane?
“I actually told dad last time Frankie is probably a better follower than a leader but we thought we’d put him in front and see how he went.”
The result was nearly perfect as Frankie kicked clear in the straight and was collared only in the last stride, clocking a 2:02.5 mile rate, two seconds slower than Merlin took in his win.
Frankie Major actually raced under a slight cloud that night, sent out at long odds after a lacklustre workout earlier in the week.
Butcher wasn’t too worried, however, as the horse was coming back from a three week break and was well underdone before the heat.
Critically, the Art Major-Delight Me colt, and his two stablemates Lincon River and Beaudiene Rocknroll, won’t be at their absolute best on Friday night either.
They were all withdrawn from their last assignments when a bug hit the stable and crusty noses appeared everywhere.
“It did knock them back a bit - a couple of my horses had it too - and they just weren’t working as well as they had been.
“It depends where they’re at now but generally in their first run after a virus they’re not quite as sharp. Frankie Major did work well the other day but it’s probably best to drive him with a sit in case he is behind the eight ball.”
Lincoln River and Beaudiene Rocknroll have no option but to take it easy early, drawn one and three on the second row, but co-trainer Ray Green believes that could help in their education.
“Lincoln River’s draw looks awkward but it could turn out good, you just don’t know.
“But Maurice (McKendry) will work it out. He schools young horses beautifully, that’s his forte.”
Lincoln River, a Bettors Delight colt out of the NZ Oaks winner Ideal Belle, actually raced better than his debut sixth looks on paper, when he beat home only early breaker Beaudiene Rocknroll.
“Maurice was pretty pleased with how he went. He said if he’d come out and sat parked he’d have finished a lot closer.”
Beaudiene Rocknroll could be excused for panicking behind the gate when a rival squeezed him up, Green said.
“He just got a bit lost but he’ll learn from that.
“Once again he’s drawn awkwardly so he’ll end up in the back half of the field which makes it hard.
“But so long as he gets round and has a good experience I’ll be happy. If he gets some money that would be great.
“It’s still too early to really get a handle on these babies. They’ve still got a lot to learn, some will keep improving, some won’t cope with the pressure.”
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Unlucky Argyle deserves to be rewarded at Albion Park tonight - just no bad luck please
Ray looking forward to Lincoln Lou and fully oxygenated Frisco Bay at Cambridge on Friday
Why Lincoln Farms had to buy lot 68 - his older brother Lincoln Lou is ready to rock
Our runners this week: How our trainers rate them
Friday night at Cambridge
Race 3: Lincoln Lou
“He’s a beautiful little horse and I’m looking forward to seeing him run. It’s hard to know how good he is, or how far he’ll go, but I guess we’ll find out on Friday. He’s the one to beat from the draw. If he doesn’t win, he won’t be far away.”
Race 5: Commander Lincoln
“I won’t be holding my breath. He tries hard enough but he lacks a bit of high speed.”
Race 8: Onyx Shard
“It’s two and a half months since she last raced, and she didn’t grow as much as I thought she would, but I’m expecting her to go a good race. Her last two trials have been good and she’s pulled up well.”
Race 8: Obadiah Dragon
“He’ll need a good trip from five but he’s not out of it. He went a good race last time at Cambridge and would be as equal a chance as Onxy Shard.”
Race 8: Beaudiene Rocknroll
“It’s heart-in-the-mouth stuff with him until they let them go but he should step away this time. Zac (Butcher) said the gate went particularly slowly before that race and that’s why he got impatient. I thought he did well to recover for third. If he made the front, where he goes best, he’d be hard to beat.”
Race 9: Frisco Bay
“He’s a tidy horse and I’m expecting a big run. We’ve sorted the problem he had with his breathing last season and he’s right in the zone now after a second and a win at the workouts.”
Mark Dux’s comments
Saturday night at Albion Park
Race 5: Argyle
11.02pm NZ time
“It wouldn’t have mattered where he drew this week, he’s in the money, barring bad luck. He’s going terrific and he gets in so well at the ratings.”