The 4.05 at Doncaster on Saturday afternoon isn’t being shown on terrestrial TV with Cheltenham hogging much of the limelight. But whilst jumps fans are guessing about race sharpness for many runners I’ll be getting stuck into a very interesting flat handicap!
In a change from much of the action in recent weeks this looks like it won’t be run in heavy ground. Phew! That’s not to say it will be an easy contest to figure out, there are still 16, largely in form runners, set to go to post.
This will be fairly short and sweet as Doncaster is a pretty fair track.
Looking at 7f handicaps run on good to soft or soft ground all draws have a good chance and a fairly even record of both winning and placing. The PRB figures improve slightly as the draw gets higher but the best place strike rate of all the stalls is stall 1 (36.36%) so it’s impossible to narrow the field based on the draw here.
Is the comparative pace data just as fair as the draw data over Doncaster’s 7f on softish ground?
There is more of a pace bias than draw bias. Front runners have performed best of all here, breaking even to level stakes across the selected races. Front runners contribute both the best win strike rate and place strike rate so the data is pretty strong. Win strike rates drop the further back in the field you are and the place strike rate data follows a similar trajectory, although being held up is slightly more favourable for running into a place than being mid division is.
The IV figures are pretty strong for front and prominent runners and pretty weak for those that race in mid division or the rear so there certainly seems to be an advantage the nearer the pace you are.
The pace of the individual race can be just as important, if not more important, so let’s check out the pace map for this race.
So possible contested pace here which could swing things in favour of those held up near the rear. The pace will be in the centre of the pack, which would suggest they’ll come up the middle of the course which should guarantee no strong draw bias.
Earlier this season at Newbury I highlighted some insightful trainer data ahead of Tempus winning a handicap there and looking at how trainers approach Doncaster handicaps will hopefully give us some clues here.
There is some strong data based on handicap runs at Doncaster from the trainers with entries in this race. The major positives are for Roger Teal (Bear Force One), Roger Varian (Musicality), Roger Fell (Presidential), Andrew Balding (Grove Ferry) and Ian Williams (Ejtilaab).
The major negatives are Tim Easterby (True Blue Moon), Kevin Ryan (Queens Sargent), Michael Dods (Get Knotted), Richard Fahey (National League and Zap), David O’Meara (Arbalet and Firmanent) and also to a far lesser extent Ralph Beckett (Tomfre).
Bear Force One
Still lightly raced and seemingly didn’t stay in the Cambridgeshire last time out. He’s otherwise responded well to the application of cheekpieces this season. The previous couple of races had worked out okay and could he get the run of the race here. Did win on good to soft three starts ago but probably wouldn’t want it any softer. Should run well if the ground isn’t bad and trainer Roger Teal is very profitable to follow here in handicaps.
Inconsistent this season but came good on heavy ground last time out at Leicester, winning by two lengths. The handicapper hasn’t got carried away with that victory only raising him 2lbs but he doesn’t appeal strongly as the type to follow up, for all it’s a possibility.
Ran fairly well in a good race last time out at his beloved York but he looks handicapped to the hilt on current form and is unlikely to better his York form here.
Lightly raced and represents Roger Varian who does well in handicaps here. He was slightly below form here over half a furlong shorter at the St Leger meeting but had previously won on soft ground, for all it was just a six runner handicap over 6f and perhaps a 7lb rise for that has found him out. Has a chance but worth taking on with question marks over the handicap mark and the distance.
Returned from a short break in August in good form. He was 5th at Sandown behind two next time out winners (did best of those held up) and followed that up with two good efforts at Ascot. The ground looks fine and the drop back in trip looks a positive as his effort has seemingly flattened out towards the end of each race recently.
He's up 3lbs for his latest effort which makes life harder but Andrew Balding does well in handicaps here and if the drop in trip does indeed bring about further improvement he is entitled to go very close.
Has improved again this season but form seems to have tailed of in the last couple of races without obvious excuses so it looks more a case of having gone off the boil than being handicapped out of this, for all it’s difficult to argue he’s particularly well handicapped anyway.
Won a decent race last time out at Ascot over a furlong shorter but has won over this distance on the all weather. He’s only up 2lbs for that win and drops in grade so isn’t badly handicapped and he’s run well with cut in the ground this season. His last run at this distance at York has worked out well with the winner going on to land a big pot at Ascot and many of those who ran well have run well in defeat again since. Considering he has been within at least two lengths of the winner in his last eight runs at 6f or 7f this consistent runner appears likely to go well again.
On a losing streak of 22 races and is often overbet after running well in defeat. He was three quarters of a length behind Fortamour at York and is now 6lbs better off so he’s well treated on that form but he’s much better on faster surfaces and wouldn’t be one to back with any confidence for win purposes anyway.
He's taken advantage of some slowly run races this season and would most likely not be seen to best effect in a well run race having been well enough beaten off a 1lb lower mark at Ascot in a big field two starts ago. Unproven on softer than good so unlikely to trouble the judge in this contest.
Tends to run his best races at York and he’s not the force of old. He’d have a chance on a going day with conditions in his favour but he’s not one to put a lot of faith in at the moment.
Had no chance behind Raaeq last time at Ascot and difficult to say if that horse franked the form or let it down on Saturday in the Balmoral Handicap, finishing 5th off a 6lb higher mark. Breanksi did finish best of the rest though to record his seventh 2nd or 3rd place finish in his last nine runs. He tends to run well here with two wins from five starts (four starts at this distance) and he beat Presidential (re opposes here) by a quarter of a length in receipt of 1lb in his last course win just over a year ago. Breanski is just 1lb above that winning mark now and is another who looks likely to run very well, for all he isn’t the easiest to win with.
Another who goes well at Doncaster, his career form figures here read 143521. He won here over course and distance in June on similar ground to this off a 1lb higher mark and the next two runs of each of the next five runners home produced form figures of 2122224335 so that was a pretty solid race even if only one of the protagonists came out and won shortly after.
He's not completely consistent generally but he is consistent here. His worst form figure came on his run on the fastest ground he has encountered at this course and even finishing 5th in that race off a 1lb higher mark was far from a disgrace as that race worked out particularly well. With everything seemingly in his favour he’s a strong candidate for the shortlist representing a trainer with a very good record in handicaps here.
Generally at his best when the mud is flying, he’s been difficult to catch right this season and is very difficult to make a case for based on his last couple of runs. First time blinkers are another question mark and although they could spark a revival in form, it seems more likely they’ll just make him underperform further as the sire’s strike rate with horses in this headgear combination is half what it is across all races.
Difficult to win with, this horse is now on a losing run that dates back over two years. He has been very consistent this season, and has finished 2nd on his last three starts, but this is a step up in class and a much tougher race than those contests. He was 4 lengths behind Presidential here earlier in the season and is only 3lbs better off so he has work to do.
True Blue Moon
He's had an okay season, picking up a win on his penultima start off a 3lb lower mark. He’s generally run better on faster ground this season but he was a close up 4th at Haydock three starts ago and the 1st, 3rd and 6th have all won since and the 2nd filled that runner up spot again on his next start so he wouldn’t be out of it on that form, for all he is 3lbs higher here. His latest run was less promising and he’s probably up against it in this company off this mark but not a hopeless cause.
This is one I gave a good write up for at the St Leger meeting at a big price in what looked like it would be a hot 3yo handicap. He was 3rd that day and better than the bare result, not only because he found trouble in running but also because the ground would have been plenty fast enough that day. What is most disappointing is that race has failed to produce a top 2 finish from nine subsequent runs.
After a below par follow up on ground that should have suited, connections reached for the visor (retained here) and it seemed to help as he ran on into 3rd from a compromising position against two rivals that were up with the pace at Musselburgh. That run against a pace bias was arguably a career best and he’s now down to a mark he won a nursery off last season. He really seems to be crying out for another furlong now though. He’ll probably find a couple too good here but would be of huge interest if finding a mile handicap on soft ground before the season finishes.
A race where no winner would be a shock result and many have a very good chance of placing at the very least. Musicality will be on plenty of shortlists but I’m going to go with a longlist of:
Bear Force One
The first and last names on that list aren’t going to make my shortlist. Bear Force One is certainly decent value at around 16/1 but I’m hopeful Ejtilaab will compete for the lead. Plus winter ground, even winter ground that’s not terrible, might compromise his chance. National League should run on well late in the race but I’m not convinced he’s currently well enough handicapped to win at this trip.
So the most solid quartet should be Grove Ferry, Fortamour, Breanski and Presidential. The most compromised, should Bear Force One and Ejtilaab not go a good gallop here, is likely to be Grove Ferry who is dropping back in trip. He’s also drawn very low, and therefore furthest from the pace, which isn’t ideal. He’s therefore passed over for win purposes, although he should run very well.
Breanski is really solid and will run his usual race but he’s been beaten fair and square all season and is a runner would strongly appeal as a place only bet or one to consider for forecasts and tricasts.
So that leaves Fortamour and Presidential. Fortamour has more room to progress and comes here off the back of a very good run so doesn’t really have too many questions to answer. His good runs in softer ground did come over 6f though and this sort of ground over 7f will be a slightly new test for him. Plus in stall 14 he’s drawn a little further from the likely pace than is ideal.
Presidential on the other hand has thrown in plenty of poor runs recently (well beaten in three of his last five starts) but he’s yet to fail to give his running at this course and was a fair bit better than the bare result when not beaten too far at Newmarket last time out. The recent form of both Fortamour and Presidential is very much built into their respective prices and Presidential looks the better value bet and a good each way bet at an early 18/1. The fact that Roger Fell not only has a very good handicap record here but has also saddled two winners, three places and close 4th from his last eight runners at the time of writing just sweetens the pot a little further.
I’ll also be interested in covering the shortlist of four horses in various forecasts and tricasts. Backing four runners that are likely to be nearer the rear than the front early on is perhaps not the best strategy given the pace data highlighted earlier so confidence and stakes will be kept pretty low but hopefully Bear Force One and Ejtilaab will produce a contested pace which would make things look a lot rosier for those that will be held up.
**EDIT** It looked very difficult to make up pace on the straight course at Doncaster on Friday but they didn't have any big fields like this so it should be a little easier to come from slightly further back than it was in some of the smaller fields on Friday. Presidential has often raced more in mid division than right at the back of the field so he should still be able to get involved assuming he breaks on terms.