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Merchant Navy set to sail into classic contention

Merchant Navy ridden by Luke Nolen wins the ANZAC Day Stakes at Flemington Racecourse on April 25, 2017. Sarah Ebbett/Racing Photos via Getty Images

Saturday's Best

Caulfield Race 4 No.2 Merchant Navy (Mark Zahra) - $2.90

At the end of last season, for me, there were two colts from the Melbourne-trained brigade that stood out going into their three-year-old season: Current Caulfield Guineas favourite Royal Symphony and Merchant Navy; and now we get to see how that theory goes when the latter tackles the McNeil first-up.

Merchant Navy is a beautifully bred son of Fastnet Rock from multiple stakes-winning sprinting mare Legally Bay, and his unbeaten juvenile campaign saw him win in relatively easy fashion each start -- improving from one to the next as he stepped up in grade.

Trainer Ciaron Maher has given him a jumpout to prepare for this assignment -- he looked sensational -- and the stable has made it known they have big ambitions for him during the spring, with the Golden Rose, Caulfield Guineas and possibly the Cox Plate all pencilled in.

There should be decent speed on here, so expect Mark Zahra, from the good gate, to look to have him midfield settling and attempt to get on the back of something to bring him into the race.

I'd be surprised if he doesn't end up being the best galloper out of this race -- with all due respect to the likes of Trekking, Hualalai, and Kobayashi -- and accordingly I find it very difficult to go against him.

Around The Grounds

Caulfield Race 5 No.2 Fuhryk (Craig Williams) - $3.10

Fuhryk has done a fantastic job in her nine-start career, winning five races, including two at stakes level, and she arguably should have won a couple more.

I reckon she is primed to take a big leap this time in, as the mares' sprinting ranks in Melbourne are fairly thin at the top level and there's a heap of mares-only group sprint races littered through the Spring Carnival that will suit her. Perhaps a crack at a race like the Manikato, pending which opposition heads there, could be on the agenda, I think she potentially can get to that sort of level.

If she is going to advance to those types of races then she needs to be performing well here: she loves the 1200m, the distance at which all five of her wins have come at; she's one for one at Caulfield in what was possibly her best win to date; and she's shown she's good fresh.

She is set to get the gun run here with Craig Williams aboard, and with stablemate Sullivan Bay steaming along in front there should be enough pace on for her to settle maybe better than midfield before storming home over the top.

Caulfield Race 7 No.2 Le Romain (Ben Melham) - $5.50

A Group 3 win carrying 61kg, a Group 1 victory over Chautauqua at weight for age, a second to Winx at weight for age, and a very narrow Group 1 loss to Tivaci at the end of his prep: they were the four starts Le Romain had in the autumn at the distance range of 1300m-1500m, and in my mind those performances make him the second-best galloper in the land, behind the wonder mare, over the 1400 metres that he tackles here in the Memsie Stakes.

The Newcastle-based gelding had no luck first up, when poorly ridden and wide most of the way in the Missile Stakes before being run down late by his promising stablemate Invincible Gem, but that would have blown some cobwebs out and clearly Kris Lees has targeted this race, which now holds a $1 million purse, as the perfect early spring target for the son of Hard Spun.

I think he's got that spot on and, after drawing nicely, he should get every chance to prove his trainer right and show that he is indeed one of the strongest candidates for the title of the nation's best ... outside of that fairly handy Sydney mare.

Randwick Race 5 No.5 Nieta (Brenton Avdulla) - $3.40

John Thompson's talented sprinting mare is yet to win a black-type race, but the Concorde Stakes looks to be set up perfectly for her to claim her first Group race win.

Nieta faces some top-class opposition among her five rivals, with Redzel and Spieth both looking for Everest slots, but I think she has some key factors in her favour. The 1000m trip probably suits her the most (she is four from five at that distance), she gets some weight from both her key rivals, and she absolutely flies fresh.

I can also see her getting the perfect trail in running: Super Too should lead and Redzel will either sit outside her or perhaps just off her from barrier 6, while Nieta is drawn 5 so she can look to sit directly behind the Doomben 10,000 winner and get on to his tail once they turn for home; I can see her outsprinting Redzel given she receives 6kg off him and has a better turn of foot, then all she needs to do is hold off Spieth who will no doubt be flying home late.

All we need now is for that all to work out exactly like that; OK that is easier said than done, but I'm willing to take the risk that I'm spot on here.

Doomben Race 6 No.15 Rancho Montoya (Robbie Fraad) - $3.60

I've got a lot of time for this three-year-old son of High Chaparral, even if he has burnt me at his past two starts from a punting perspective.

The fact is he's been dying to get to a mile, and probably beyond, since his comprehensive debut victory; he's still also got a lot to learn about the racing caper, and that greenness probably cost him victory last start when he loomed to win but hung out under pressure.

He does tackle older horses in his first attempt at 1600m, but that's somewhat offset by the weight relief and a good draw. There's speed here, but I wouldn't want to see him much worse than midfield once they settle.

If he gets the breaks when he needs them, he will be very strong late and a win may well see connections give thought to a race like the Spring Champion Stakes in Sydney; I think he is potentially good enough to warrant a start in such a race.

Over The Odds

Caulfield Race 8 No.8 Montoya's Secret (Ben Thompson) (a) - $9

Montoya's Secret was no hope first-up given the way the Lawrence Stakes was run, and her effort to finish within 3 or 4 lengths of horses of the calibre of Black Heart Bart and Humidor wasn't a bad run at all even if it reads that she ran 10th of 11 starters.

She lines up now in the Heatherlie Stakes, and it's a completely different assignment to that first-up run. For starters, it's a big drop in grade; secondly she gets to a much more suitable trip; thirdly it's a race featuring mostly stayers, and she should be able to take a much more forward position from a good draw; and finally she's not badly in being a Group 1 winner on the limit even if she is a four-year-old mare.

This just shapes as a really appropriate second up-mission, and you imagine she'll be finding this right up her alley if connections harbour any Caulfield Cup ambitions for her.

Quaddie Selections

Randwick

Leg 1 - 1,5

Leg 2 - 11

Leg 3 - 1,3,7

Leg 4 - 3,7,8,10,11

($100 = 333.33 percent)

Caulfield

Leg 1 - 2,3,4,7,8,9,10,11

Leg 2 - 2,3,5,8

Leg 3 - 3,6,7,8

Leg 4 - 2,7,13

($100 = 26.04 percent)

Doomben

Leg 1 - 9,15

Leg 2 - 3,4,6,9,10,12

Leg 3 - 1,2,8,11

Leg 4 - 5,8,11

($100 = 69.44 percent)

TAB Big Bets and Early Market Movers

Randwick Race 2 - Up 'N' Rolling $2.30 - $2 ($1,000 @ $2.10)

Race 4 - Schedule $8 - $6 ($4,000 @ $8, $2,500 @ $7)

Race 5 - Spieth $3.50 - $2.70 ($1,000 @ $3.50, $1,000 @ $3, $2,000 @ $2.60)

Race 7 - Winx $1.08 - $1.06 ($63,000 @ $1.06)

Race 8 - Tom Melbourne $8 - $6 ($400 @ $7.50, $400 @ $6)

Caulfield

Race 3 - Saint Valorem $26 - $19 ($1,000 e/w @ $26/$6.65, $1,000 @ $21)

Race 4 - Merchant Navy $3.10 - $2.90 ($2,000 @ $3.10)

Race 5 - Fuhryk $4 - $3.10 ($1,000 @ $4, $2,000 @ $3.20, $800 @ $3.10)

Race 7 - Hey Doc $7 - $6 ($1000 @ $6)