Clinching the Rising Stars series would be a welcome birthday present for apprentice jockey Beau Mertens.
Mertens, who turned 19 on Friday, heads to Flemington on Saturday with four rides including Khutulun in the Rising Stars Final (1800m).
The race is the culmination of a series for apprentice riders conducted throughout regional and country Victoria during the season – with the final on the city stage.
Apprentices earn points based on results in the respective races in the series and Mertens heads into the final event with 42 points, three ahead of Harry Coffey who is not riding in the final.
It means only Brandon Stockdale can overhaul Mertens, with 12 points on offer for a win in Saturday’s race and six for second.
Stockdale rides Melaleuca, who like Khutulun is at $21.
The apprentice who secures the most points in the series receives a $6000 retail voucher.
“I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a couple of wins along the way and get a few placings in the series at some of the country meetings,” Mertens said.
“I’ve hit the lead at the right time and hopefully I can hold on to the lead and get the win tomorrow.”
Mertens, son of now-retired Group One-winning jockey Peter Mertens, was allowed to ride in town for the first time in the corresponding race at Flemington last year, a few days before his 18th birthday, finishing fourth overall in the series.
“It would be good to get it (this year) and tick off another goal,” Mertens said.
Mertens, who is indentured to Mick Kent, has been happy with how things have progressed in the past few months since he rode his first city winner in late April at Sandown.
He has ridden six more including a recent double at a Sandown midweek meeting.
Peter Mertens obviously watches his son’s rides closely and says he has “improved a heap” in the past three months.
“It makes me proud, very proud,” he said.
Peter Mertens reviews Beau’s rides with him regularly, letting him know where he could have made better decisions and also acknowledging the good rides as the apprentice continues to hone his craft.
“To me, I can see the faults he’s making so it can be frustrating but when he rides a really good race it makes you proud,” he said.
“He rode his first city double a couple of weeks ago so that was really good for him. And once you start doing those things, people take more notice of you.”