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It's St Leger day at Doncaster, and the supporting card looks pretty strong too. Ground closer to soft than good is expected, so looked for those that handle that type of turf.
Incidentally, clicking any of the race times will take you to the card, where you'll also find the magnificent Race Analysis reports and Full Horse Form Filters. They're well worth a little play if you haven't done so already.
2.05 Doncaster: It's the Group 2 Champagne Stakes to get the ball rolling on Leger day, and the ground has already seen two defect, leaving five. One more and we'll be in the dreaded 'win only' territory for placepots, so do keep an eye out close to the off.
Outstrip is market top, and deserves to be after a neck second to Toormore on good to soft ground in the Veuve Cliquot Vintage Stakes (well, he is trained by 'Champagne' Charlie, after all). We know he stays, we know he goes in the ground, and we know he's up to this class. That's a lot to like about his chance.
The thing about this race I can't fathom is why The Grey Gatsby is half the price of Treaty Of Paris when the latter beat him last time. I mean, sure, TGG was very green behind TOP and was closing rapidly at the line. But there's a lot factored into the price of the former, given he's yet to race on a sodden surface and isn't necessarily bred for it. The same comment is true of the latter, and I think they've both got it to do to beat Outstrip.
The one which could be the fly in the ointment is Toormore's trainer, and winner of the last two renewals of this race, Richard Hannon's Anjaal. This fellow has won his last two, including the Group 2 July Stakes last time out, when needing every yard of the six furlongs there to get up. The seventh eighth looks ideal, though I'd be less confident about the ground being plum. Nevertheless, at the prices, he's a value alternative to the favourite. But I think the favourite will win.
A - 4 (Outstrip)
2.40 Doncaster: The Portland Handicap is next, a rare breed of top race run over five and a half furlongs.. Those extra 140 yards are likely to break at least one equine heart late in the play, so it's sensible to favour a nag that gets six, especially given the soft.
I've backed Bogart for this, so let's start with him. He was a winner last time out at York, on fast ground over five furlongs. But his record on good to soft is impressive: two wins and a third, and a close ish eighth in a six furlong Group 2 earlier this season where he led until being run down in the last half furlong.
And that I think is the key to this race: you want a horse that doesn't quite seem to get there over five normally, and doesn't quite last out six normally. Oh, and one that goes in the ground.
Others to fit that bill are Ajjaad and Doc Hay, and perhaps the frustrating Racy as well.
This is a race about which I could write two thousand words and add little value, so I'll just tell you that the pace is spread across the track, and they're likely to split into groups. My advice is to take one high and one low, and look for horses proven in the ground and in big fields.
Thus, my high horse is Racy and my low horse is Bogart. I'll chuck in a middler in Ajjaad to boot. Steps is a worthy favourite too, given a win over this course and a predilection for soft, and given his trainer's stellar current run. [Note, I think I've picked most of them there...!]
A - 2 (Bogart), 4 (Steps), 8 (Doc Hay), 10 (Ajjaad), 15 (Racy)
3.15 Doncaster: The Park Stakes and there's one I really like here at a price. He's Caspar Netscher, and he's simply too big at 16/1. This is a Group 2 over seven softish furlongs. His record in Group 2's reads 311124. His softer than good ground form reads 11042 (0 in 2000 Guineas, and 4 also in Group 1 Prix du Moulin). His form at seven furlongs reads 124, with that 4 coming last time out when he didn't really settle behind Gregorian.
He will need to switch off better to win this, but if he does, I think he has an excellent chance and is a fine price.
The danger is probably Gregorian, who recorded a career best when winning the Hungerford Stakes last time. He loves soft ground and seven looks optimal. He's short enough at 3/1 though, in a race with a bit of depth.
Aljamaheer had been consistent prior to a thumping last time in France, but the stable was under a cloud then, and is flying now. He wouldn't want it too soft, but he's classy.
Viztoria loves the soft, and she ran a blinder behind Sky Lantern in a strong renewal of the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot. That was her last run though, some 85 days ago, and fitness is taken on trust. Moreover, she's never won above Group 3 level and a number of these have. She might win - as might any of them - but she's little value.
Horses like Sirius Prospect and Sovereign Debt have soft ground form, and bits of strong form too. But I don't see why they should be shorter prices than Caspar, and I've bet accordingly.
A - 3 (Caspar Netscher), 4 (Gregorian)
3.50 Doncaster: The St Leger. Probably a moderate St Leger. But a wide open one, all the same. I previewed this race here, and I'm on Excess Knowledge at 16/1 for a little bit, and Secret Number (16/1) and Great Hall (33/1) for bits too.
I think Excess Knowledge will win, and I think Foundry, Libertarian and Secret Number are other likely players.
A - 2 (Excess Knowledge), 3 (Foundry), 8 (Libertarian)
4.25 Doncaster: A mile and a half Class 2 handicap on quite competitive it looks too. Bishop Roko ran a clunker in the Ebor three weeks ago on very soft ground, and he seemed not to get home over that mile and three-quarters. Here, on slightly better turf, and over a quarter mile less terrain, he has a sound chance despite lugging maximum lead.
This is back to his preferred conditions and, with just five runs under his belt, it's likely we've not seen the best of him yet.
David Brown's Guising is another with a chance, and this chap has been pretty consistent all season, winning twice and placing twice more, also from just five runs.
Hanoverian Baron is a lot more exposed than those two, but it well enough suited to today's challenge, and can be forgiven his last three runs (didn't stay in the Ebor, hated the firm ground the two previous starts). He should get much closer this time.
A - 1 (Bishop Roko), 6 (Hanoverian Baron), 9 (Guising)
5.00 Doncaster: Two of the nine original declarations for this mile nursery have sent sick notes leaving seven, and two places to aim at. It will take some getting for these babies, so the distance winners, Fire Fighting and What About Carlo, are immediately marked up.
Fire Fighting comes from the Mark Johnston stamina factory, and he's had six runs already, showing his best form as the range has increased. He also won his mile race on the soft side of good so that's another thing less to worry about.
There are numerous unexposed sorts in this contest, but Fire Fighting sets a robust standard.
What About Carlo has had three runs, winning the last of them, over a mile at Goodwood on good ground. He has a bit more scope than Fire Fighting, but is yet to race with cut in the ground.
Extra Noble gets a ten pounds pull from a dead heat with Fire Fighting at Kempton: how useful that is on a different surface at a different trip remains to be seen but he should have more to come after just two races.
Showpiece is another with a chance. By Kyllachy, he should enjoy a bit of juice in the ground, and he's ready for this step up in distance. I'm not sure he'll see it out as well as some of these, but that's why he's 5/1.
It's a tricky old race, and I think What About Carlo has a fair chance.
A - 1 (Fire Fighting), 5 (What About Carlo)
B - 2 (Showpiece), 4 (Extra Noble)
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