As we move towards the jumps season the quality of Saturday flat recent declines, and we start seeing live weekend racing from Cheltenham once again.
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There is still pretty good racing from Doncaster though on Saturday, including Group 1 action, and it’s worth noting that seven of the eight races at Doncaster on Saturday will be run on the straight course. This must therefore be the ideal opportunity to investigate potential draw and pace biases at Doncaster on softer ground, which tends to dominate conditions at this time of year.
Doncaster Straight Course Draw Bias On Softer Ground
On straight courses you don’t tend to see draw biases change over different distances so we can look at a collection of distances together to get as much data as possible at courses such as Doncaster.
Overall across these distances there seems very little between the data for each draw type. The win percentages and place percentages are all pretty similar whilst the PRB figures suggest high is maybe slightly better with a PRB of 0.52 compared to 0.49 for both low and middle.
This data probably means one of two things. The first is that there is simply no real draw bias at Doncaster and you can have a pretty much even chance whichever part of the course you race on.
The second possibility is that at different points in the year there can be varying biases in the course and sometimes it’s better to be drawn a bit lower, and sometimes it’s better to be drawn higher. This can be the case at Ascot and is probably the case here too.
At the Lincoln meeting in 2021 for example, a high draw seemed very important. At this meeting in 2020 a low draw seemed an advantage.
If betting before a meeting begins, going for something towards the middle might be the safest option as you’ll never be too far away from favoured part of the course (if there is one). If possible it could be best to hold bets until a few races have developed. Even then though, the jockeys can suddenly explore a different part of the track and decide that is the favoured side.
Doncaster Straight Course Pace Bias On Softer Ground
Is the pace bias going to be any easier to predict? Front runners tend to be favoured more over shorter trips so it’s a good idea to look at each straight course distance separately this time.
This shows why it is good to compare both win and place percentages. Amazingly from the above sample, which is for biggish fields on good or worse ground, no front runners have won which obviously gives them a 0% win strike rate. That’s pretty rare for the minimum distance! However the best place percentage of these run styles belongs to none other than front runners - they have a 25% place strike rate.
Prominent run styles here over the minimum dominant in terms of win percentages and provide by far more winners than any other run type. They are also only just behind front runners in terms of place percentage so it seems being close to the pace is definitely an advantage, as it is at most courses over 5f. But being right on the pace in bigger fields must leave you vulnerable here in the final furlong handing the advantage, as far as winning is concerned, to the prominent racers.
Given an advantage for prominent racers and front runners you’d expect mid division to perform better than held up but although it’s close, held up actually edges mid division. It’s certainly not the case that it’s impossible to come from way off the pace here over 5f and granted a decent early gallop and good form it would be unwise to be completely put off those that are patiently ridden but it’s definitely worth marking up those that race prominently in many races over this trip.
The prominent racer bias doesn’t lend itself to all sprint trips here, over 6f the pendulum swings firmly in favour of front runners, despite the large field sizes in the sample.
Front runners impressively dominate and produce very healthy win and each way profits. There is no reason I can think of why they should be more effective over 6f than 5f but it simply seems to be the case.
Prominent racers actually fare worst of all now but only marginally worse than mid division or held up. This again suggests that just because there is an advantage towards either front runners or prominent racers, it is not a huge disadvantage to be held up.
So just as was the case with 5f, don’t rule out anything based on run style but do mark up the chances of a certain run style, this time front runners.
Over 7f we are seeing a much fairer spread of results, in fact a remarkably even spread!
There is barely 1.5% between the win percentages and less than 3% between the place percentages.
It’s impossible to say any run style is either advantaged or disadvantaged over 7f at Doncaster away from fast ground. The main takeaway here could be to upgrade those that race in mid division or are held up that ran well enough last time out at a pace favouring track as they are likely to improve on that run this time around, assuming other conditions are in their favour.
Over 5f we saw a slightly confusing win percentage and place percentage combination for front runners and it happens again over a mile.
The win percentages would have you believe that front running is the best run style over a mile here whereas the place percentages suggest it is the worst. There are a couple of things to consider with this.
A relatively small sample size means more emphasis should be put on the place data rather than win data, whilst still respecting the win data. On top of that we should also be looking at the trajectory of data for the other run styles.
The win percentages are pretty even for the other three run styles whilst the place percentages are also pretty even, but improve for those held up. Given the best place percentage is for held up and the worst place percentage is for front runners that seems to suggest the further off the pace you are the better. It’s worth noting though that there aren’t great jumps in the figures from one run style to another so just like the 7f distance this looks a pretty fair distance but preference begins to go towards the hold up performers, whereas it was with front runners over 6f and prominent racers over 5f.
Overall, it is no surprise that the shorter distances favour those nearer the pace, that’s a common theme in racing, but those that race nearer the rear still have a fair record over the shorter trips and that record improves dramatically over a little further suggesting Doncaster is a track that favours patience more than many others.
4.20 Doncaster - Virgin Bet Handicap Preview
This 5f handicap is comfortably the most interesting race on the card for me. A turn out of 15 runners is slightly disappointing from an each way perspective but as is often the case these days, most bookies are offering 4 places on this race as standard and a couple are even offering 5 places which gives the each way betting a more appealing feel.
There looks to be at least 4 front runners in this and they are Indian Sounds, El Astronaute, Dakota Gold and Copper Knight. The first three of those are drawn relatively close together in the lower numbers and Copper Knight should give the higher numbers a good tow.
The pace data here over 5f suggests that prominent racers should be marked up but it’s worth remembering that the more patiently ridden runners do go well here too and with a likely contested speed they could end up just as advantaged as those nearer the pace, if not more so.
I’m going to declare early that I think those nearer the head of the betting could dominate this. If picking a bit of ‘each way value’ at double figure prices I’d suggest that Zim Baby (25/1) is overpriced and will enjoy the ground and a thorough test at this trip. He was 3rd in a listed contest here 12 months ago and although he hasn’t got his head in front this term he was beaten just a nose on soft ground at Ripon off a 1lb higher mark earlier this season and he’s run as if in form on his last three starts, all of which came on ground that would have been too fast. The bookies have him beating just one home, he’ll do much better than that.
Other than that I’d expect Sunday Sovereign to run well as he enjoys this sort of ground and did well to get as close as he did last time out at Catterick given he came from off the pace and the other four who finished around him raced closer to the pace. He doesn’t hold too many secrets from the handicapper though and is ‘only’ 9/1.
He was behind Zargun on that occasion, who opposes here. Based on weight for distance Sunday Sovereign should pretty much dead heat with Zargun here but given the pace favouring profile of Catterick compared to Doncaster I’d expect Sunday Sovereign to finish ahead of Zargun this time around.
Another who should finish ahead of Zargun is Illusionist. Illusionist beat Zargun at York a couple of weeks ago by a neck and is also 3lbs better off here thanks to Zargun franking that form since. Again, Zargun also loses out on the fact that he very much got the run of the race at York whereas Illusionist didn’t. So that’s two I have finishing ahead of the relatively short priced Zargun.
On the subject of that Illusionist win at York, it really is a performance worth watching if you have that option and haven’t seen it already. Not only did nothing else come from off the pace in that race, nothing made any inroads off the pace all day at York. His performance, when coming from last to first, really should be marked up significantly.
Then there is the strength of that race. Zargun, the runner up, won next time out whilst the 4th finished a fair 3rd next time. This, in combination with how well he did to come from last to win, suggests a 5lb rise is very lenient. He now runs off 89 and he was beaten a short head last season off this mark by Live In The Moment - that runner has subsequently rated 15lbs higher.
For a horse that so clearly wants softer ground, Illusionist hasn’t run on it that many times which still leaves him unexposed in such conditions. His form figures on good to soft or worse read 5620311. That in itself doesn’t look overly impressive but the 5th came in a listed race at Royal Ascot, the 6th came in a 21 runner handicap at Royal Ascot and the 0 came in last season’s Ayr Silver Cup when he didn’t quite seem ready for 6f. He’s won both runs on softish ground this season and his form figures in fields of 20 or less in softish ground are 2311.
Illusionist is clearly one I am very interested in at around 7/1, as you’ll be able to tell, and another is Boundless Power, who is a slightly shorter price. He was a winner last time out in heavy ground at Ascot and before that found only subsequent Group 3 winner Hurricane Ivor too good in the Portland here. He’s 4lbs higher than that win and 7lbs higher than his Portland run but since being gelded in April he has produced form figures of 12121 over 5f with cut in the ground so he’s clearly a major player here.
Pretty much every horse that ran well has since franked the form, even the winner, who hasn’t won again since, has run well enough in group company. Boundless Power bumped into plenty of improvers that day and this came on good ground, not soft ground. He is 6lbs higher this time around but this race is unlikely to be as strong as that Ascot race was and conditions will suit more here too so he’s certainly entitled to go close.
Raasel is the unexposed one in the line up, from the same yard as Boundless Power. With these two runners, Mick Appleby has the first two in the betting so it will be interesting to see which direction they each go in the betting.
A 201 day break seemed to do the trick for Raasel as he’s won three on the bounce since, all relatively comfortably and certainly more comfortable than the winning distances suggest. Those races did lack strength in depth though so whilst it’s impossible to say he doesn’t have more left in the tank, it’s also difficult to prove he’s necessarily ahead of his mark of 81, having gone up a total of 8lbs for his hat trick of wins. He’ll certainly need to be as he’s actually racing off 85 here, 7lbs higher than his last win, due to the fact that he’s 4lbs out of the handicap. It’s easy to understand why connections are taking that chance with the prize money on offer but as a punter I hate backing horses that are out of the handicap , certainly by this much, and I feel the bookies don’t fully account for that with their prices. Had he been raised 7lbs for his last win I think he’d be a bigger price here despite the fact that he’s still running from a 7lb higher mark.
I was already willing to chance Illusionist and Boundless Power against Raasel even off his correct mark. I realise Adam Farragher takes off ‘the handy 5lbs’ as they say but that’s what apprentices do anyway and his lowest riding weight in the past 12 months is 7-10, 4lbs lower than the weight Raasel should carry here so it will be interesting to see if he can shave an extra 1lb off that to use his full claim.
Either way my two against the field are ILLUSIONIST and Boundless Power, with slight preference for the former because he’s had fewer chances in ideal conditions and did extremely well to win a warm race last time out. I’ll probably have a small saver on Boundless Power, who I think is almost certain to be in the first four, and I’ll be very interested in a reverse forecast too given I think this race lacks real strength in depth. I'm generally not one for backing last time out winners but I will do when I still think they offer value.
Others To Note At Doncaster
One runner I am quite interested in for the 2.05pm at Doncaster is Another Batt. This is a wide open handicap but Another Batt ran well last time out when a lot of things weren’t in his favour.
He ran the same day as Illusionist when York was heavily favouring front runner, even more than it often does. He was 6th in a 20 runner mile handicap and he finished a running on 6th, doing best of those held up and doing so from stall 20 which is rarely the place to be over a mile at York.
The mile probably didn’t play to his strengths either, all seven of his wins have come over shorter and he’s even effective at 6f. His most recent win was a comfortable one off a 1lb lower mark and although he’s not the most consistent it looks as though he has been freshened up by a break and is back to form. Everything should be in his favour here so I’m expecting a big run from him at a decent price. He's not necessarily the most likely winner (there are some interesting 3yos) but I'd fancy him as an each way punt.
One runner I am sadly against on Saturday is Aaddeey who runs in the 2.40pm at Doncaster. I say sadly because this is very much a horse on my radar as being well handicapped but he’s been running on the wrong ground nearly all season. He’s well handicapped on several pieces of form, none more so than when beating Rodrigo Diaz by 4.5 lengths. He’s now 12lbs higher because of that but that rival is now rated 22lbs higher!
So why the lack of interest on Saturday? The ground has once again gone against him for a start. Even more reason to oppose him is the record of Simon and Ed Crisford’s runners after a 60+ day break. Aaddeey has seemingly had a slight problem because when the ground suddenly came right for him a couple of months ago he was completely absent from the races you’d expect him to be running in. He’s been off 84 days and although he went well fresh on seasonal debut, Simon and Ed Crisford’s runners have achieved a PRB of just 0.34 with handicap runners in the past 90 days returning from a 60+ day break whereas their total handicap runners in the same period have a PRB of 0.51. Those disappointments include runners at 3/1, 4/1, and 4/1 and the common theme has been that they are weak at the finish.
Reading between the lines, he’s had an issue and the target this season is going to be the November Handicap back here in a couple of weeks’ time. The ground may well go against him there again but this has the look of a prep run and for a horse rated 99, do they really want to win here and carry another 5lbs or 6lbs in the big one? Unlikely. The ideal scenario for me, who desperately wants to be on Aaddeey when he does win, is an okay performance here without winning and then he turns up in the November Handicap after an unseasonal dry and warm spell in the next fortnight. That might be wishful thinking but he won’t be carrying my money here. I’d much rather back Rhythmic Intent in this at the same sort of price in a race that admittedly probably isn’t going to take a great deal of winning.