PETRUS and Tom Marquand Win the Unibet Spring Mile Handicap for trainer Brian Meehan Doncaster Racecourse 30th March 2019. Sod's Law couldn't cope with the fast ground. Pic Louise Pollard/

Spirit Has The Hot Form At Doncaster

It’s great to see some bigger fields at Doncaster this week after declining field sizes at this meeting in recent years. For those who like a ‘difficult’ handicap to solve there won’t be many tougher races than Wednesday’s 3.45pm, which will be live on ITV3.

The main angle I like to use when looking at a race (other than evaluating the ‘shape’ of a race which is a must for everyone) is the strength of the form of each runner. The Hot Form Report is a great way of finding runners with strong form and we can also use the Future Form button on each race result page to find out how races have worked out since they were run.

The Runners

Sky Defender

Sky Defender has an extremely consistent profile having finished outside the first 4 in just one of seven starts since the resumption of racing. That’s despite racing in some of the most competitive handicaps this season. The bad news is he’s been beaten off this mark in 4 consecutive handicaps and in his last 6 starts he’s only finished ahead of one subsequent winner from the top 10 finishers in his races which is quite a damning stat. His overall profile suggests he’s more than capable of placing but there isn’t much to suggest he’s well enough handicapped to win again.


Pivoine hasn’t shown much form this season, beating just four runners from a possible twenty-nine. He has an obvious chance based on much of last season’s form, including a win in the John Smith’s Handicap off a 4lb higher mark but his form this season is a big concern and he hasn’t won away from York in his last eighteen runs. Faster ground would probably suit better too.

Dubai Horizon

He’s largely been campaigned over further this year and has shown very little in two runs in the UK over 14f after being in decent form in Meydan. He won in similar conditions over this distance at Sandown 2 years ago off this mark and made an okay reappearance in the Cambridgeshire after a 373 day break a year ago. Last year’s Cambridgeshire was an extremely hot renewal, of the first seventeen runners home, ten have won since and two haven’t raced since. He definitely has a chance based on much of his form but current well being has to be taken on trust.

Fox Power

He has some decent form in the book and largely ran well in defeat on the all weather over the winter. He often got the run of the race in those contests though and his turf form is yet to quite match his efforts on artificial surfaces. He made a slightly underwhelming return in the Hunt Cup and this step up in trip doesn’t look an obvious move so it’s fair to say he’s one of the less likely winners.


He’s clearly talented but he’s been expensive to follow this season. He’s been favourite or close to favouritism on his last eight runs and has been defeated in the last four of those. The closest he has got to winning this season was in the Investec Handicap at Epsom and although he didn’t get the run of the race he was still beaten over 4 lengths. Only one of the top 10 finishers in that race has come out and won and he seemed to benefit massively from a wind op. He’s clearly well thought of but that is leading him to being massively overbet and whilst he might well win, he’s once again a shorter price than the formbook entitles him to be.


This runner has a similar profile to Caradoc. He had a good strike rate last season and hasn’t yet won this season whilst probably being better than the bare results in his races. He made a perfectly satisfactory seasonal debut in a race where every other runner in the first 6 has at least placed since. He followed that up with another good effort at Goodwood when slightly better than the bare result but no subsequent winners finished in the top 10 in that contest. He was well held last time out when the ground probably went against him at York. Just like Caradoc his profile is determining his price rather than his form and he’s another that might be an underpriced winner of this race but is probably best left alone.

Rise Hall

Still relatively lightly raced and he was progressive last season, running well in several decent handicaps. He’s been well below par on his last three runs, including both runs this season. That’s left him well handicapped on last season’s form but it’s a leap to back him to return to form.


Underwhelming form in two runs this season after 394 days on the sidelines. He’d be of extreme interest on much of his 2019 form, particularly his Epsom effort behind Mountain Angel.

Aasheq Form

Aasheq Form

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The 1st and 4th both won their next starts and the 2nd won within two runs but Aasheq hasn’t quite been able to re produce that form since. It’s perhaps worth noting that his best form has been when ridden handy and he’s largely been held up since that run. Keep this horse in mind for an in running back if he gets a prominent position.


The big unknown in this race and one of three 3yos. He won easily at Chelmsford on debut last year as a 2yo but has been regressive since. He was 4th in a Group 3 on his seasonal debut which doesn’t sound a bad run but he was sent off 15/8f for that race. The smart Pyledriver was 2nd that day but the 3rd has been beaten in handicaps off 98 twice since suggesting that Hypothetical’s mark of 97 is no gift. He was way below form on his turf debut on soft at Royal Ascot and even if translating his all weather form to turf on slightly faster ground here he’ll still have to improve. That’s possible from a thrice raced John Gosden runner but the combination of Gosden/Dettori ensures he’s shorter than he should be.

Data Protection

Been in good form since his wind op after being beaten by Sky Defender. He’s 8lbs higher now though and all six subsequent runners in the two races he has won have been unplaced since. It’s worth noting that he has faced Sky Defender since the gelding operation and in receipt of 19lbs he beat that runner by a neck. Data Protection is now 4lbs worse off so has his work cut out to beat Sky Defender again.


A creditable 7th in the 2000 Guineas behind Kameko, beaten 12 lengths in June. Well beaten on handicap debut (soft) in the hot Britannia Handicap and put in a much more measurable run at Glorious Goodwood when a staying on 5th over this sort of trip behind Junkanoo. He was only beaten 2.5 lengths and to the naked eye he looks a real contender here. However looking at the Future Form of that Goodwood race shows that the race has worked out terribly.

Starcat Form

He’s entitled to improve with the extra experience and in this bigger field but he certainly needs to.


Habitual front runner, campaigned over further for the past two years. He’s at his best when able to dominate small fields (three wins have come in fields of 5, 6 and 8) and this step back in distance doesn’t look an obvious move off a near career high mark.

Mayfair Sprit

Boasts an impressive 50% strike rate on turf compared to just 14% on the all weather. He was a big drifter last time out (went from 5/2 to 13/2) but ran just okay in third on very fast ground on his first try at 12f against two rivals who got the run of the race. He’s perhaps better judged on his previous effort when victorious at Windsor over 11.5f. That race was particularly hot form with the 3rd, 4th and 6th all winning since.

Mayfair Spirit Form

He’s twice a winner on good to soft ground but that Windsor run came on good to firm so he’s versatile with regards to underfoot conditions and given that he’s generally held up and proven over slightly further he’d be ideally served by a good gallop here.

Strait Of Hormuz

The final 3yo in the field and one who has been in good, consistent form this season. He won on his reappearance over a mile at Haydock in what was certainly a hot race with each of the four horses that followed him home all winning since.

Straight Of Hormuz Form

He shaped as though he’d get further that day which is no surprise given he is by Derby winner Sir Percy. He again shaped as though wanting further than a mile on his next start at Ascot when not seen to best effect off a slow gallop and he duly showed improved form next time out at Chester over this trip. He shaped well in 2nd, fairly well placed off another slow gallop but it’s a concern that the nearest seven runners to him that have run since from that race have all failed to place. He’s an interesting runner and gets the handy weight for age allowance from his elders but he arguably achieved less last time out than it initially seemed. However his previous strong run at Haydock shouldn’t be forgotten, for all he is now on a 7lb higher mark.

Pace and Draw

Doncaster is generally considered one of the fairer tracks and that is certainly backed up by the draw data over this trip on good ground:

Doncaster 10f Draw Stats

There is almost nothing in the win, place and PRB data so no concerns over the draw for any runner here.

So how about the pace of the race?

Doncaster Pace Map

First of all, Doncaster as a course is very fair and one that tends to suit hold up horses over this trip on this ground. The place data is more useful than the win data here and runners from mid division have the best place strike rate, but there is very little between prominent, mid division and held up. The main takeaway is you don’t really want to be forcing the pace.

On fair tracks the pace of the individual race is likely to have the biggest say on the outcome and whilst the pace map is pointing towards lone pace from Groveman, it would be no surprise to see Sky Defender or Fox Power dispute that lead. Either way it certainly seems as though those nearer the rear won’t be disadvantaged.


No real course bias to rule many out, although you probably won’t want to be on the pace.

In terms of form there are many in with chances in this race, at least half the field, but many of those are too short on what they have achieved so far and/or have been running in races that have worked out poorly. This does look a hot race so any runner that has recently beaten other well handicapped horses should be favoured.

There is every chance Strait Of Hormuz improves for this trip at a more conventional track than Chester and it’s not his fault those behind him let the form down last time, although it’s a worry that horses that got very close to him didn’t run well on their next starts. He gets weight from his elders here and looks by far the best of the 3yos.

There has to be a feeling that Mayfair Spirit has been very much underestimated here though. If he came here off the back of his Windsor win he’d be half the current odds of 12/1 and he still very much ran as if in form last time out.

And if in running backing is your game check out what position Aasheq takes up early on. If he's racing prominently it might be a sign that a big run is on the cards at a price.

7 replies
  1. Russ
    Russ says:

    Quality appraisal of the race, Sam. Purposely posting before the result is known as it’s the presentation and theory that counts rather than providing the winner. Difficult race but you’ve unpicked it very well.


    • samdarby
      samdarby says:

      Thanks Russ, wrong winner for my own pocket but I think I got the general jist of it right (and the value loser!)

      • russsmithgg
        russsmithgg says:

        Yes your analysis proved to be excellent in terms of prediction too, Sam! My Twitter tips started in style but have nosedived of late!

        I was interested in your reply to Dave. I also ignore “franked” form where the boost came from a horse who didn’t give it’s running. Therein lies the danger of a superficial check on ‘R W% P%”. Always best to open a race up properly and see where the subsequent form boosts came from positionally.

        Good work, Sam.


        • samdarby
          samdarby says:

          Completely agree, the Future Form button on the results page is a real time saver when it comes to checking where the franked form came from.

  2. brogan
    brogan says:

    Hi Sam,
    An excellent and very informative race review and a cracking result, too!!
    As far as assessing the strength of the form of a particular race is concerned, I presume you would place greater emphasis on winning form from the first half dozen runners than from the “also rans”. would that be the case?

    • samdarby
      samdarby says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks, not quite the result I wanted but it was nice to be generally correct about a lot of it.

      In terms of assessing strength of form, the best way I can phrase it would be “proximity to those that have run well since excluding those who didn’t give their running”.

      So if a race is working out well I’d be more interested in a 7th that was only beaten 2 lengths than a 3rd that was beaten 5 lengths.

      And if a runner clearly didn’t give it’s running and came about 8th, beaten 10 lengths, but then won next time, I wouldn’t really consider that franking the form, for all it will count towards hot form data.

      And it’s always worth upgrading/downgrading runners based on any biases. If the hot form came at a track that favours low draws and prominent racers, I’d probably be more interested in a high drawn hold up horse that finished a length or two behind a low drawn front runner.

      I’ll try and get a blog written on the subject in the next few weeks as it will compliment my guide to betting on 3yo handicaps blog well, since that uses the same method of finding future winners/well handicapped runners.

  3. Ian
    Ian says:

    Quality analysis yet again and I backed both Mayfair Spirit (e/w) and Strait of Hormuz (Win). Good result again from what was imo a difficult race from a betting perspective. The method you use is very instructive. Have to go with you tomorrow, although should we draw a blank there would be not a word of criticism from me! Looking forward to more articles!




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