Doncaster St Leger Day Preview, Tips
It's the last Classic of the season, and this year's St Leger looks a highly competitive event, with the usual combination of questions around stamina and class. The Leger aside, there are some fine supporting events too, including the Portland Handicap and the opening Champagne Stakes.
2.05 Champagne Stakes (Group 2) 7f
A race that has seen the likes of Distant View, Noverre, Trumpet Major and Toronado claim the bubbles in the last fifteen years, and there is a chance that one as good as those might emerge from this select sextet.
The most obvious one is Richard Hannon's Estidhkaar, already as short as 16/1 for the 2000 Guineas next year. He earned that quote when waltzing away with the Superlative Stakes, also a Group 2, over seven-eighths of Newmarket's July course. That four and a half length verdict is the best form in the race, the second having gone on to win a Group 3 since, but there are reasons to think twice before piling in.
Firstly, the Hannon team has been in pretty poor form, without a winner from twenty runners this week (I'm writing this before racing on Friday). That might change by the time this race goes off, and for reasons that will become clear, I'm hoping it does.
The second reservation is the 63 day absence since that G2 win. It might have always been the plan to give him a mid-season break and come back for an autumn campaign, in which case, all fine. But it may be that there's been a small problem for the horse.
At close to even money, those nagging doubts are enough to put me off. But not enough to make me want to back anything else, as I think Estidhkaar looks easily the most likely winner.
Roger Varian will be looking to get his St Leger day off to a flyer ahead of Kingston Hill's bid for Classic glory. Here, he saddles Belardo, impressive winner of a Listed contest over seven last time out, and the Lope De Vega colt looks the one to benefit from any shortcomings in the favourite's preparations.
Of the rest, Glenalmond took a big step forward when only beaten a length in the Gimcrack Stakes; and Aces comes here off the back of a convincing Windsor maiden win.
This is a no bet race for me, and one where I suspect Estidhkaar will win, with Belardo bagging minor honours.
2.40 Portland Handicap (Class 2) 5f 140yds
A wide open, ferociously competitive handicap, and one in which I don't expect to find the winner. But that won't stop me trying!
Portland Handicap Trends
Let's have a look at a few trends, all since 1997 and thanks to the fine work of horseracebase...
14/17 winners were double figure prices, but none was bigger than 20/1
The last three-year-old to win was in 2000, and they're 2/56 since 1997 for a huge loss at level stakes
Four- and five-year-olds have won eleven of the seventeen (65% of the winners from 45% of the runners)
None of the 66 horses drawn in stalls 1-4 has won since 1997, and only six have placed
Only two horses have carried more than 9-06 to victory (none since 2004), from 62 runners (12% winners from 17% runners)
Only two horses rated above 100 have won since 1997, and one of those was rated 101
15/17 winners ran in the past 30 days
That leaves a loose trends shortlist of Out Do, Algar Lad, Chilworth Icon, Bogart and Love Island.
Portland Handicap Form Preview
This is a bit of a specialist trip that suits 'short runners' over six furlongs, being that it's 80 yards shy of that distance. The pace looks to be largely middle to high, with High On Life (drawn 19) the probable 'speed of the speed'. He'll be ably assisted that side by Humidor and See The Sun, and I'll be interested in those playing their cards later in that part of the draw.
That brings in the likes of Chilworth Icon, Smoothtalkinrascal, and probable favourite Muthmir.
Chilworth Icon had dropped from a mark of 103 to 87 before winning for the first time in two years last time out. That was a comfortable success and an elevation to 94 may not be insurmountable for a lad representing the white hot Mick Channon stable (1771110011 since Wednesday, and prior to racing Friday).
He's a trends pick and is drawn on the right side - I think! - so a top offer of 20/1 looks fine, and I've played for a couple of quid.
Smoothtalkinrascal has lots of form in the book to give him every chance, but little of that is in recent times hence a price of 25/1. In fairness, that price also reflects the weight-carrying feat he'd have to defy as top weight, and history suggests that will be hard to overcome. Moreover, his late running style does lend itself to frustration and despair, never more evidently than when just failing after a horror run in the Epsom Dash last year. Pass.
Muthmir has a cast iron profile: he's ostensibly well drawn, progressive, and better than his last run implies. That was a decent enough fifth in the Wokingham Handicap, but he was drawn on the wrong side there, in stall two. The first three home were drawn high, and Muthmir had no cover through the race. If he can get in behind horses - and with the likes of Humidor and High On Life nearby, he should be able to - he looks cast iron for a big run.
His main rival for favouritism is Intrinsic, winner of the Stewards' Cup. He's a very nice colt, and is also progressive, but has fared less well with his starting gate this time - trap six - and I think that could be the difference between victory and defeat.
Obviously there are loads of others with prospects, but I'm happy to have a small each way on Chilworth Icon and a bit on Muthmir to win.
3.15 Park Stakes (Group 2) 7f
The seven furlong Park Stakes currently features the 'dead eight' runners, and if that remains the case when the stalls open we'll have three places to play for.
Favourite is Roger Varian's Aljamaaheer, a horse who has been plying his trade at six furlongs and in Group 1 company this term. Speedy enough to take bronze twice - in the Abernant (G3) and Diamond Jubilee Stakes (G1) - he was no match in the July Cup last time.
Over a furlong further, this former miler (Group 2 winner at that trip) has abundant stamina for the task. Any drying in the ground will be in his favour too, and he's a solid favourite.
Gregorian is the second choice in the betting, and conditions look optimal for Johnny G's Clodovil colt: he won the seven furlong Group 2 Hungerford Stakes on good ground last year. At twice the price of Aljamaaheer, he appeals as marginally better value.
Es Que Love's win record is so abysmal that I am happy to put a line through him almost arbitrarily, and let him beat me if he can. He did win two starts back, but before that it was 22 starts back to his previous win, and that'll break your bank faster than betting 1.01 shots!
Irish raider Ansgar has a very consistent profile at seven furlongs, with two Group 3 wins at that range this year. A rating of 111 is as good as he is, and that leaves him with a few pounds to find with the shorted priced pair.
This looks all about the top two and Gregorian might just shade it under a perfect profile.
3.50 St Leger (Group 1) 1m 6f 132 yards
I previewed this race early last week, and see no reason to waver from my wager now. I've backed Windshear, and I respect Kingston Hill and Snow Sky.