The Portland Handicap was the obvious race to cover for Saturday but it would be very much a case of throwing a few darts at that race and you could feasibly back a horse that is beaten half a length and it could still be unplaced so instead I’m going to cover the 1.15 at Doncaster which gets underway before the ITV cameras begin rolling at Doncaster.
This is a mile handicap for 3yos and above and with twelve runners set to go to post it will hopefully be a lot easier to find the winner than the Portland Handicap later on in the card. Once again I’ll be mostly concentrating on ‘hot form’, a deeper dive into the strength of each horse’s form to date.
Mostly contested group races so far and only wins to date have been on soft ground. Arguably his best run to date was in the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot last year and he hasn’t run particularly well in all three runs this season, all of which were over 10f on softer ground. It would be a surprise if he was competitive here off 102 back at a mile on drying ground.
Started the season off with a surprise 6 length win over course and distance at 20/1 and has raced twice in France since. That win was admittedly impressive but he beat very little that day with thirty-six runs from those in behind since and just six places (no wins). He’s gone up 11lbs for that victory and he probably left his chance of further handicap sucess this season behind with that victory and the inevitable hike in the weights that followed it.
Put together a hat trick of wins on the all weather over the winter but has since found a triple figure rating beyond him. He’s now dropped to a mark of 98, his highest winning rating on turf, but he needs to return to form having been beaten 10 lengths at York last time out off a 5lb higher mark when sent off 100/1. That race was a hot contest to be fair with the 2nd filling the same spot in a Group 2 next time, the 3rd winning a Group 3 on his next start and the 6th winning a handicap easily on his next run. The 8th also franked the form with a 2nd next time but Another Touch was 6 lengths behind even that runner so can’t be considered similarly well handicapped.
Was a half a length behind Another Touch last time out at his beloved York, the first below par run he’s ever put in at that venue. His very best form seems to have come at York but he was 2nd at Meydan earlier this year over this distance off a 1lb higher mark so isn’t hopelessly handicapped at other courses.
He’s also 1lb lower than his 4th at Newcastle in June in a race that has worked out supremely well.
The winner of that race, Sir Busker, has since gone up 19lbs in the ratings, the runner up, Dark Vision, has risen 12lbs. Meanwhile the 3rd, Fifth Position, won his next start and is now 5lbs higher. Firmanent was just 0.75 lengths behind Fifth Position so is on a workable mark having dropped 1lb since then.
His last run is a worry as it was a rare blip but it’s worth noting that was Sean Kirrane’s first ride on the horse and he was ridden more prominently than usual which might help explain things. If none the worse for that effort he could run well here.
Beaten over 8 lengths on his penultimate start and over 16 lengths on his latest run but represents Gosden/Dettori so sure to have some supporters. He won a novice stakes impressively on seasonal debut but a 4 length beating of Mayfair Pompette (struggling in handicaps off 74) in receipt of 6lbs isn’t worthy of a handicap rating of 97 here. He followed that up with another novice win here, over course and distance. On that occasion he was a length ahead of Dreamloper, giving her 12lbs, and she’s since won off 85 which helps explain Magical Morning’s lofty rating.
His first poor run came on rain softened ground at Newmarket in a listed race which gives him an excuse for that and his next flop came on his first try over 10f at Goodwood. He did run like a non stayer that day but didn’t run like a horse ready to strike when back in trip.
This handicap mark isn’t beyond him based on his sole run at this venue and perhaps the return here could revive his fortunes and the drop back in trip should definitely suit but he still needs to prove his well being.
One of two runners for Mark Johnston. He made a belated seasonal debut just a week ago at Kempton, keeping on well in what is likely to turn out to be a strong race. He met some trouble early in the straight and shaped as though he’d definitely improve for the run. He was ridden closer to the pace last year so the fact that he was held up in last at Kempton suggests that run was definitely designed to bring him on.
As is often the case with one from this stable, he had a busy juvenile campaign with nine runs and he was highly tried (less than 5 lengths behind Golden Horde in the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood).
He’s run at Doncaster before, finishing a nose behind Lazuli in a 3 runner conditions race. That runner has scored easily at listed level this season whilst Brad The Brief, 1.75 lengths back in 3rd, has also won a listed race this season. He looks well enough handicapped to win a race this season and is likely to be seen to better effect ridden closer to the pace this time.
Returned in good form this season after losing his way last year. His 2nd to Alternative Fact at Haydock in July off a 5lb lower mark has been well enough advertised since with every runner from the first 6 who has run since at least placing subsequently.
He’s not the most straight forward though, has shown his best form on softer ground and is having his first run for Kevin Frost having left Alan King since his last run. He’ll be of more interest later in the season back on softer ground.
The most lightly raced contender in this field, he was a fairly warm order dropping back to a mile last time out at Sandown and ran well enough in 3rd, beaten less than a length. He raced a bit wider than ideal on that occasion but didn’t seem to have any obvious excuses. Grove Ferry, 5th that day, has since finished 3rd but did look as though he’d improve for the run at Sandown and a similar comment applies to Raaeq (a head in front of Matthew Flinders last time) who won comfortably on Friday with the better ground suiting when successful.
He’s up 2lbs and entitled to be competitive once again with the form of his last race beginning to work out well but both of the runners who have boosted the form were entitled to improve a fair bit on their next starts. He is clearly not badly handicapped but I do have a feeling he is only fairly handicapped. It's not a shock that he's the early favourite but he doesn't look a value play.
He’s been fairly consistent all season, running as though this mile trip is his optimum when not quite getting home in four attempts over further. His mile form stands up pretty well, he lost a class 2 handicap to Tempus in the stewards’ room in August and Tempus has come out and won again since. His limitations were slightly exposed on his next start in a big field of unexposed 3yos at York when 6th, 4.25 lengths behind La Trinidad who reopposes here.
He’d be perfectly entitled to finish around 3rd or 4th here but no reason why he should reverse the form with La Trinidad and vulnerable for win purposes once again racing 7lbs higher than his last win.
Diocles Of Rome
Bit of an eyecatcher here over a furlong shorter last time out on seasonal debut in a decent race, being outpaced when a slow early gallop lifted before staying on really well late on. The winner, just 0.75 lengths in front of him that day, finished a close 2nd next time off a 2lb higher mark.
Ghlayoon, 2nd in that race, was a better than the bare result 3rd on Friday and Breanski (6th) finished 3rd here this week when probably inconvenienced by a drop back in trip on that occasion. So whilst this race hasn’t thrown up subsequent winners yet, those that have run have each emerged as pretty much the best horse in their respective races.
This is his first run over a mile in over 2 years and it’s impossible to say if all his improvement since has come because he dropped back in trip or because he was gelded ahead of that drop back in trip. On the face of it he shaped as if needing further last time but the early gallop was steady that day and given he can be keen in his races he’d be a safer bet in a well run 7f.
Other than his recent close 5th here he previously won by 2 lengths at Doncaster so clearly goes well at the track.
After winning on his sole appearance at this track, over 2f further, he’s largely struggled.. He’s been tried over 12f this season (failed to stay) and now has his first run over a mile in 13 months.
The winner of his last race, when he was beaten over 5 lengths into 5th, has remarkably since won a Group 1 (Audarya). It would be best not to take that literally and instead look what the rest of the field have done since. The 3rd, What’s The Story, ran okay back at his favoured York whilst the 4th, Dark Jedi, has finished runner up in two good races since. Sandret was 2.5 lengths behind Dark Jedi though and arguably the best gauge of his handicap mark is Cockalorum who was a short head behind him and has run twice since. Cockalorum finished 4th on both subsequent starts running pretty well in a big York handicap before not being quite in the same form next time out.
Sandret’s last run was a fairly good one, certainly better than it looked, and a 2lb drop gives him half a chance of being competitive at a price (around 16/1 at the time of writing). His last run at a mile was off a 5lb lower mark and he was beaten on the nod by a nose by Romola who has since rated a stone higher so he’s certainly not a no hoper, but he’ll need a strong pace to aim at.
An improved performer at 3 having shown very little last year as a juvenile. He won comfortably over 8.5f on his seasonal debut and the horse to get closest to him on that day and have run since was Phoenix Approach who won two runs later. He followed that win up with an easy 5 length win here at Doncaster (7f), a victory that saw him rise 12lbs in the handicap. The 3rd from that race has won twice since but there have been a fair few poor efforts too.
He remained at 7f at York on his next two starts, presumably finding good to soft ground too testing on the first of those when fairly well beaten before getting within 2 lengths of Brunch back on faster ground.
Brunch, Black Caspian and La Trinidad all met again next time out at York over a mile, finishing in the exact same placings as they did over 7f previously. Jumaira Bay ran to form next time winning a maiden (2nd in that maiden came out and won by 8 lengths) so the form of these runners stacks up. Even the 7th , 8th ,and 9th have both come out and placed.
You could argue that the form of La Trinidad took a few knocks on Thursday. Jumaira Bay and Black Caspian both ran relatively poorly but Jumaira Bay was sporting first time headgear that looked likely to not suit and all of Black Caspian’s best form has been at York. Also Eastern World, who was 2.5 lengths behind La Trinidad over a mile at York, ran poorly but he too had first time headgear on and was dropping back a furlong so it’s understandable he didn’t run to form. It’s fair to say this isn’t ideal for La Trinidad but with the valid excuses it’s not a major concern either.
La Trinidad was the one to take out of the mile handicap won by Brunch at York. He was held up in last and denied a run from 2.5f out to 1.5f out but he flew once in the clear and is probably unlucky not to be unbeaten over further than 7f this season. He’s up 4lbs for that effort and it would be no surprise to see similar hold up tactics employed again, but probably with more success over this straight mile in a smaller field.
Draw and Pace
With only 12 runners here the draw isn’t going to completely make or break any of them.
All metrics point towards a middle draw being advantaged but a low draw not being far off. High drawn runners have performed really poorly on good ground over a mile in this sort of field size. Jockeys seem to have preferred to go near side in a lot of races this week when possible but you get similar data regarding high being a disadvantage on both good to firm ground and good to soft ground so I’m inclined to think a middle draw is definitely going to be ideal.
A few runners in this race are going to want a decent pace to aim at so let’s check out a pace map.
There is every chance Teston and Overwrite take each other on up front. There is also a good chance that Misty Grey is ridden much closer to the pace this time, he led on three of his final five runs last season, but you’d assume Mark Johnston wouldn’t want both his runners cutting each other’s throats. Magical Morning’s best form has also come when on or near the pace so expect to see him close up.
With most of the pace drawn central they’ll almost certainly elect to come up the centre of the track.
You could make some sort of case for many. Magical Morning has too many question marks and I expected much bigger than 7/2 on him so he looks no value at all. I respect Matthew Flinders but also suspect he isn’t as well handicapped as many think he is so I’m going to put a line through him too. If Matthew Flinders is successful be sure to put First Winter and Zegalo into your tracker as both were close up in his last race.
There are some trip question marks over Diocles Of Rome and Sandret. Don’t be surprised if the latter massively outruns his odds but in a race with some solid contenders both are too risky. Diocles will remain of interest over 7f.
Overwrite is very much exposed and very vulnerable for win purposes. His stable mate Misty Grey was ridden to pick up the pieces last time and whilst he’s of some interest, this may be too strong a race for him. Look out for that runner in a slightly less competitive contest or if his Kempton run begins to work out.
That leaves La Trinidad and Firmanent as most interesting. Firmanent needs to bounce back from a rare poor run but reverting to hold up tactics here should help. The very early 25/1 offered on him looked far too big and even the 20/1 available at the time of writing looks a mistake.
Firmanent finishes 2nd twice as often as he wins though and he’s never won a handicap away from York so whilst he is likely to run well in defeat, it is La Trinadad who is drawn in the centre stall who gets the vote. He hasn’t run a bad race on ground that is good or better this season, those runs have all worked out pretty well and he should probably be undefeated at this distance this season. He has a course win to his name and should definitely rate higher this season. At an early 11/2 he looks a very fair each way bet in this contest.