The penultimate day of the Doncaster St Leger Festival dominates the ITV racing coverage this coming Saturday, as the most talented three-year-old stayers battle it out in the final Classic of the season. That historic event takes centre stage, but there’s plenty of quality on the undercard, including the Group 2 Champagne Stakes for the juveniles. The Portland provides this week’s big field handicap puzzle, whilst Chester rounds out the action with a couple of cracking contests from the Roodee. Here, we run through the six excellent events on offer in this week’s Saturday Racing Tips.
1:50 Betfred Champagne Stakes
Group 2, 7f
Just the five go to post in this opening event for the juveniles, landed by subsequent 2,000 Guineas champ, Chaldean, in 2022. Whether there is anything of that class in this year’s lineup remains to be seen, but the two to concentrate on look to be the Charlie Johnston-trained Iberian (7/2) and Rosallion (2/5) from the yard of Richard Hannon.
Iberian is nicely bred for this test and has done little wrong in his two starts to date – winning on debut before finishing a solid second in the Group 2 Vintage Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. He should go well, but it may pay to side with the jolly. A perfect two from two in his career to date, this son of Blue Point scorched the turf when scooting four lengths clear in the Listed Pat Eddery Stakes last time out. The time was excellent that day, and if in anything like the same form following a 49-day break, he should prove tough to beat.
2:05 tote Stand Cup Stakes
Karl Burke’s Al Qareem (13/2) tops the ratings here, but has been woefully out of form in his two most recent outings and needs to rediscover his mojo, now stepping back down in trip. Roger Varian’s Modaara (7/1) and Ralph Beckett’s Alba Longa (33/1) will likely have their supporters as the only two distance winners in the field, but this is another event in which it is pretty hard to look past the market leader.
Also hailing from the Ralph Beckett operation, Bluestocking (4/6) takes a drop in class here, having finished fourth in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks when looking a little tapped for toe on the good to firm ground. Prior to that, this Camelot filly went down by just half a laugh to Savethelastdance in a soft ground Irish Oaks. She has 10 pounds and more in hand of her rivals under the weight for age conditions of this and can break her duck for the season in her easiest assignment to date.
2:25 Betfred Portland
Class 2, 5½f
We have a maximum field of 22 in the big sprint handicap. The draw can be difficult to weigh up here, but with 27 of the past 40 top-four finishers emerging from a double-figure stall, it would appear that high numbers hold the edge. However, that didn’t stop Call Me Ginger (8/1) winning from stall three 12 months ago, and the Jim Goldie runner boasts obvious claims from just a two-pound higher mark. Arriving on a hattrick following a win at Ascot last weekend, his claims are hard to fault.
However, with many firms offering enhanced placed terms, we prefer an each-way punt, and the one to get the vote is the Richard Hannon filly, The Big Board (25/1). This one always tries her heart out and ran a nice race earlier in the month, when only fading close home over six furlongs, when shouldered with 9st9lb. Today’s weight of 8st12lb looks far more manageable for a filly. Yet to finish outside of the first three in two previous outings at this track, her most recent visit resulted in an effortless success off a mark of 87. She’s up to 94 here, but that’s still only two pounds higher than when landing a big field handicap at Ascot in July, and she shouldn’t be far away.
2:40 Camden Hells Handicap
Class 3, 1m2½f
We have some competitive handicapping fare to close out the action from Chester, with four of the ten runners boasting a win over the course and distance. That counts for plenty around this idiosyncratic track, and we fancy First Impression (5/1), Baryshnikov (5/1), Dark Pine (10/1), and Box To Box (6/1) may be the quartet to concentrate on.
Stall 10 may scupper the chances of Box To Box, but the other three are tough to split. Dark Pine is the most appealing each-way option in the race, but overall, we prefer a straight win bet on First Impression, who arrives right at the top of his game. Showing the benefit of a 90-day break to win as he liked over track and trip last time out, he is well drawn to employ similar front-running tactics. He’s up 5lbs for that win, but that leaves him two pounds lower than when an unlucky in running third over this course and distance in May of 2021, and he can improve his solid Chester stats.
3:00 Betfred Park Stakes
Group 2, 7f
A fascinating event over seven furlongs precedes the big one at Doncaster. This looks wide open on paper, but the forecast conditions may prove pivotal. Audience (4/1) and Jumby (14/1) excel at this distance and have the recent form to be involved, but may be undone by soft ground. Biggles (9/2), meanwhile, should cope well with give underfoot but probably has too much to find on ratings, even with Ryan Moore in the saddle.
The two to focus on are Spycatcher (13/8) and Sandrine (4/1). The former ran a cracker to go down narrowly in a French Group 1 race over six and a half furlongs on his most recent outing. He likes soft ground and goes for a trainer in Karl Burke, who has hit a rich seam of form. However, he is still officially three pounds behind Sandrine on ratings and must concede three pounds to that rival under these conditions. At the prices, we prefer a punt on the Andrew Balding runner, who took a big step back in the right direction when only a length behind Kinross last time out. Seemingly coming to the boil at just the right time for this, she can get the job done under Oisin Murphy.
3:35 Betfred St Leger Stakes
Group 1, 1m6½f
Last but not least, the big one, as a field of nine goes to post in the oldest Classic in the world. Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden have eleven wins in the race between them and are going all out to add to that tally in 2023, with seven of the nine runners heading here from Ballydoyle or Gosden’s Suffolk base. William Haggas and Simon and Ed Crisford will be hoping Desert Hero (11/2) and Chesspiece (12/1) have something to say about it, but overall, the strongest claims look to lie with the Irish and English powerhouse yards.
Of the O’Brien quartet, Great Voltigeur winner Continuous (4/1) is the choice of Ryan Moore. This son of Heart’s Cry was impressive that day but benefitted from a pace collapse up front and – like many in the field – will be stepping into unknown territory over this trip. Of the other O’Brien representatives, Tower Of London (12/1) rates an appealing each-way option, having looked all about stamina in his recent outings. However, with the soft ground possibly against the son of Galileo, we will turn to the Gosden yard for our selection.
Frankie Dettori was expected to partner Gregory (9/2) but, having been conquered by Continuous in the Great Voltigeur, has instead opted for the Frankel colt, Arrest (7/2). That may prove a shrewd move, given the rain in the area. This strapping sort has a patchy overall record but appears far more solid when focussing only on his runs on good to soft or worse going. Boasting career form figures of 1211 under such conditions and having stayed well when scoring over 1m5½f at Newbury last time out, this should be right up his street.