Preview: Woodruff’s Mercutio looks a stand-out bet at the Vaal

Preview: Woodruff’s Mercutio looks a stand-out bet at the Vaal

<p>Photo: Geoff Woodruff.</p>
TRAINER Geoff Woodruff&rsquo;s string is bouncing back into form and the Vaal handler has saddled seven winners from only 26 runners in the last 17 days. He could provide punters with a banker in what looks a tricky Pick 6 at the Vaal today.</p>

<p>Woodruff fields Mercutio in the topliner, a MR 84 Divided Handicap over the straight 1400m, and the five-year-old Jet Master gelding looks the only stand-out bet on the card. He is unbeaten over this specialist course and distance with both of those victories coming in January this year. The first was a 1.25-length success over Galliodor (a winner subsequently) and nearly three weeks later, Mercutio kept on strongly to beat The Seals by a short head.</p>
<p>Woodruff then tried him over 2000m on the testing Turffontein track and Mercutio did not stay. He faded to eighth, 15 lengths behind Cashel and was sidelined for a couple of months.</p>
<p>His three subsequent races have been fair, although he has taken to starting slowly, and last time out over 1400m at Turffontein, he finished a never-nearer 3.50-length fifth behind Therealslimshady.</p>
<p>Woodruff will fit blinkers to Mercutio for the first time and they might sharpen the gelding&rsquo;s concentration in the gates. He could be hard to oppose.</p>
<p>Sardine Run will expose any flaws in Woodruff&rsquo;s game plan. Brian Wiid&rsquo;s runner was backed from 10-1 to 4s following a rest last month and ran on to finish third, 4.50 lengths behind Strike Paradise. Providing he does not go flat, he should still hold Infinite Spirit (fourth), who was 1.25 lengths further back and meets him on the same terms, and Regal Runner (4kg better off), who drifted in the betting and ran accordingly.</p>
<p>Sardine Run also likes the course and distance, having won three of his eight starts over the trip and placed in another three, and looks sure to give Mercutio a run for his money.</p>
<p>Logontonews is sliding in the handicap and could well be back on a winning mark in Race 7, a FM 80 Divided Handicap for fillies and mares over 2000m</p>
<p>Although the Dominic Zaki-trained four-year-old has placed in her last three runs, her rating has dropped two points (1kg) since she faded to sixth behind Front (of) House and Happy Spirit in the SA Oaks in May.</p>
<p>This 2000m could be right up her alley because she has been found wanting in the closing stages in her recent efforts over longer trips. Her last effort was in a 2200m race on the inside track where she led for much of the journey before weakening to fourth, four lengths behind Lady Foxtrot. Sweet Chilli (1kg better off) was 3.75 lengths further back with Raven (0.5kg worse off) further behind. She will be equipped with blinkers for the first time and could stay on to win this time.</p>
<p>Any of her six rivals could win if she fluffs her lines again, though.</p>
<p>Advanced Duel takes on a competitive field in Race 5, a MR 73 Divided Handicap over 1400m, but has good form over the course and distance and could defy a penalty. The Dancing Duel five-year-old found Strike Paradise three lengths too good over 1200m at this track last month when Cruising the Blues (4.5kg better off) was seventh, 4.75 lengths further behind. He should confirm the form.</p>
<p>He carries the welterweight of 60kg, though, and several other horses have claims, including Inquest, who won at Turffontein on Saturday and should carry 2kg more than carded, as well as Ring of Destiny, Soingne, Anglo Saxon and recent maiden winner Advance Call.</p>

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