Betfred St Leger Festival - Doncaster Day One Preview

Betfred TV's Matt Hulmes looks ahead to a big day of racing
17:00, 13 Sep 2023

Day one of the Betfred St Leger Festival has attracted a card of eight competitive races with the pair of Group Two contests, the Betfred May Hill Stakes for juvenile fillies’ and the Betfred Park Hill Stakes the feature contests and four races broadcast live on ITV4.

With plenty of rain falling on Monday that turned the ground soft and an uncertain forecast, the ground will be key this week on Town Moor. 

The first race in front of the ITV4 camera is a Nursery at 1.50. Chic Columbine bids for a hat-trick and is ahead of the handicapper after an easy win at Haydock last Thursday while Granny Budgie too looks for three on the spin and she has soft ground winning form on her CV. Bellarchi meanwhile is also ahead of the assessor and bids for a fourth straight success while Summit is a full sister to Craven Stakes winner Indestructible. It’s a tricky opener to sift through and enters the ‘too difficult’ tray.

Plenty of cash is up for grabs in the big sales race at 2.25 with the £300,000 pot attracting 18 runners. As usual, these races are about quantity over quality and the two that head the market should dominate. Dragon Leader was an impressive winner of the York version three weeks ago, scooting clear to win by four lengths, but the second let the form down at the weekend while the third home was beaten back in novice company.

Dragon Leader was ridden by Ryan Moore at York but he has been claimed to ride JOHANNES BRAHMS who brings genuine group race quality to the table. Aidan O’Brien’s juvenile was second to Big Evs at Royal Ascot before filling the same spot in the Gimcrack on the Knavesmire. The pair recorded similar times over the same course and distance but with the extra substance to the Irish raiders form, he rates the pick.

Darnation has been very well backed for the G2 Betfred May Hill Stakes after her soft ground Prestige Stakes win at Goodwood ahead of Hard to Resist, which followed a ten-length romp at Thirsk with give underfoot.

There are five other last time out winners taking her on though including Newmarket maiden winner See The Fire and runaway Salisbury scorer Romanova, who made her debut at listed level at Sandown so is clearly highly though of.

I was really taken though with the Newmarket win of MERIBELLA three weeks ago. Although the form has been badly let down since, the way she travelled in the race and market confidence suggested that effort wasn’t unexpected. Despite it coming on quick ground, there are soft ground winners in the smart pedigree and trainer Ralph Beckett won this race in 2016 with a horse who debuted at HQ.

The G2 Park Hill Stakes looks a wide open renewal after three of the market leaders were not declared.

Sumo Sam routed the rest at Goodwood in the Lillie Langtry over this trip but those conditions were atrocious and it was another masterclass form the front that week from Tom Marquand. The handicapper putting her up 15lb seems a huge overreaction to me and despite her having her conditions, can be overlooked. 

Golden Lyra likes cut and brings some solid pattern form to the table while Ching Shih chased home Betfred St Leger hopeful Arrest home at Newbury and her dam, Madame Chiang won the Champion Fillies’ and Mares’ Stakes in soft ground at Ascot back in 2014. She should relish the trip and ground. 

She should go well but I was intrigue by Andrew Balding pitching NIGHT SPARKLE in here. The trainer does well with his foreign recruits for owner Barbara Keller, with the likes of Blond Me and Bounce The Blues bringing plenty of success.

NIGHT SPARKLE takes a big step up in class here having won her last four start. Three of those in handicaps and a maiden hurdle all in Ireland for Mick O’Callaghan. She is rated 110 over hurdles and that looks a gift on her flat form, but here she is pitched into a Group two on her stable debut after a Newmarket success of a mark of 93 last month. By Postponed out of a Daylami mare, she looks laden with stamina and she is worth an each way interest at around the 8/1 mark to continue her rapid ascent.





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