The Future Feature - Doncaster on Saturday
Saturday afternoon sees the final Classic of the season come to Doncaster in a fog of disappointment and frustration for punters. Many would have loved to see Sea The Stars turn up and attempt the Triple Crown, which was never likely to happen, while ante-post punters have been left banging their heads against the table after Age of Aquarius was pulled out at the last minute with his trainer citing that he ‘wasn’t 100% happy with him’, which is about as little information you can give without saying nothing. This year’s renewal has an air of winnability about it, yet this is still a top class Group 1 and it will be a real war of attrition down the long, harrowing Doncaster straight. Assuming that we can rule out the ‘no hopers’, Above Average and Von Jawlensky, let’s have a look at what it takes to win a St Leger.
The last five winners of this prestigious race won last time out, with two more in the past ten years also taking their final prep race before turning up for the race. Of the 3 that were beaten before landing this, two were very narrowly beaten (by less than a length) in the Voltigeur, and the other one well beaten in the York trial. With that in mind, it really is hard to forgive a horse a lacklustre run coming into this race and so it would be hard to see Father Time and Mastery taking the contest. The former is a very funny horse and could well bounce back at Doncaster but his two wins have come at Ascot and Great Leighs and with the turf track at Ascot suiting all-weather performers, it could just be that Donny won’t quite be his venue.
Mastery has Group 1 form at least, having finished third in the Grand Prix De Paris, a race in which ante-post favourite Age of Aquarius was third, so it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see the Godolphin second string fill a place. He’ll definitely stay, having finished a good third in the Queen’s Vase at Ascot, but there seems to be something lacking from a win angle, although his price in relation to Father Time, who was well behind him at York, does seem a little perplexing.
Mourayan is an interesting contender for John Oxx, who bids to add this Classic to his impressive haul over the past few months. His placed form this season means he has to be respected, but the real worry is that this horse still hasn’t managed to get his head in front as a three year old, and it’s a mighty ask to do it in a Classic. He’s also yet to see a racecourse when the word firm is in the going description, which casts another shadow over his claims. He’s been very unlucky to run into Fame And Glory three times this year before being beaten by another classy performer in the shape of Profound Beauty last time, yet there’s a real air of disappointment about him this year.
Monitor Closely is a hard horse to weigh up as, on paper, winning the Voltigeur by four lengths would normally mean you go off closer to odds-on, never mind available to back each-way at 5/1. Yet the overall feeling is that it was all about Jimmy Fortune that day, who took a recalcitrant bunch of animals along at a snail’s pace then kicked on at the right time, taking advantage of a course that favours prominent tactics. The form gives mixed messages too. The only runner to come out of the pack is Jukebox Jury, who landed a Group 2 in France by the narrowest of margins, which gives the win a boost, yet on the day, the appalling runs from the well fancied Harbinger and Alwaary had people crying foul against the winner. If the dead eight turn up, he rates a knocking each-way bet to nothing.
But for the winner, it must be between the front two in the market, Kite Wood and Changingtheguard. The Godolphin horse is a worthy favourite after two demolition jobs in Group 3’s where the old adage of ‘Frankie From The Front’ has been seen to good effect. The time of his last win at Newbury in the Geoffrey Freer stakes was excellent and on that alone, he will take all the beating, yet two things worry me about his claims. The first is the forecast fast ground. It was officially good to firm at Newbury last time, but the times suggested it was a little slower and Simon Crisford, Godolphin’s racing manager, has publicly stated that the ground might be a bit too quick for him on Town Moor. That may well have planted the seed of doubt in punters minds when before there was nothing, but it still has to be considered when you want to back a 2/1 favourite for such a hot race. The second, and most important factor, is the issue of tactics. It has to be said that Kite Wood’s apparent improvement in form recently has been helped by bowling along in front. He’s done his own thing and finally found his feet again after a few disappointing efforts. However, try to replicate those tactics at Doncaster and you will be found out, never mind the potential for Ballydoyle pacemaker Von Jawlensky or Monitor Closely hassling him up front. It would be folly to say he has to lead, but if he doesn’t, you’re banking on the change in tactics coming off.
As it stands, it has to be CHANGINGOFTHEGUARD to land the spoils for the previously all conquering Ballydoyle team. They’ve missed out on all four English Classics so far, but it could all come good at Town Moor on Saturday with this son of Montjeu. He comes here off the back of two handicap runs, which in many people’s eyes would rate a major negative, but the performances at both Down Royal and York, in strongly run races recording monumental speed figures, are of a Group winner in waiting. He was the moral winner of the Ebor after enduring a luckless and thankless passage throughout and the form was franked, albeit at handicap level, by the win of Nanton on Friday afternoon. Jonny Murtagh will be desperate to make amends for his unfortunate run last time out and he won’t go down without a fight. There’s likely to be a strong pace on for a staying contest and Changingoftheguard should get the race run to suit.