Focusing on the Portland - Day 4 at Doncaster....

Last Updated: 11.09.2020

Friday, 11th September 2020

Focusing on the Portland - Day 4 at Doncaster….

Today is Day 3 of the St Leger meeting at Doncaster….

This afternoon, I have a betting interest in the bet365 Handicap at 2.10 – an 11-runner contest for horses aged 3yo+ and rated 0 to 105 over the 6f trip….

If you missed my take on that race yesterday, you can catch-up here….

At the big meetings, I always work 24-hours ahead of time. I go out early with my thoughts because I like to beat the opposition to the punch and bag the best of the prices….

Today, the betting focus is on tomorrow afternoon and the feature handicap of the St Leger meeting – the Portland Handicap at 2.25. The race is a class 2 contest for horses aged 3yo+ over the extended 5f trip….

Of course, there’s the St Leger to think about too – with 11 horses going to post for the final classic of the 2020 season….

We’ll get to my selections for both races shortly. Before we do, a recap on the key pointers that might help you split the Portland field and identify a shortlist of ‘live’ contenders….

  • Splitting the Portland field....

Contested over 5f and 143 yards up the Town Moor straight, the Portland is a real target for a unique and peculiar group of specialists....

I’m talking about horses that need a slightly stiffer test than the bare 5f presents but which are not quite at their best when asked to go 6f. The Portland offers a real in-between trip. You can think of it as a stiff 5f or an easy 6f....

Whatever…. top-class handicappers don’t get to race for good money over this kind of trip very frequently – so the Portland is a proper target race for trainers with a horse in their ranks who requires this very precise test....

As a starting point in all big handicap races like this, it is always useful to know what kind of horse generally tends to come out on top. And the stats provide a route to understanding….

I spent a few hours yesterday studying the last 18 renewals of the Portland – poking about in the dataset and looking for pointers and potential routes into the race....

A few things stood out and highlight areas of interest within the race….

  • 15 of the 18 winners were officially rated 93 to 101. Twelve of the last 18 winners were rated in the 90s....
  • The 3yo population has only managed a single winner over the period (Oxted last season) – despite 42 having had a go. They did have a runner-up in 2018 courtesy of Encrypted. Maybe the tide is turning for the younger horses.  The 5yo runners have produced most wins. The 4yo runners have produced most overall places over the period. The percentage play would be to focus most attention on those two groups….
  • The least exposed runners (those having raced 10 or fewer times) have a strong record – producing 6 wins and 6 places from just 38 runners overall. Such horses merit serious consideration this time round….
  • The high half of the draw has produced 15 of the last 18 winners….
  • Early this century Kevin Ryan won the race three times on the bounce with Halmahera. He hasn’t won it with anything else but several of his have hit the frame since and he appears to be effective at producing competitive horses for this race….

Those are the strongest pointers I can extract from the previous 18 renewals of the Portland.

On their own they won’t pinpoint the winner. But they will highlight horses worthy of closer inspection and thought….

  • My contrarian selections....

At the general 14s KONCHEK is my bet for tomorrow’s Portland at Doncaster….

This 4yo is a smart horse. He was good enough to feature in multiple Group races without quite making his mark at that level. This term it’s been handicaps at 5f all the way….

He’s run in five of those and gone well in all of them despite coming out on top in just one. And he’s given the impression he needs further. But, over 6f, he’s zero wins from 10 – giving the impression he needs a shorter trip….

Clive Cox reckons this horse is an in-between specialist and I reckon this race has been the target for the horse all season….

A visor is added to the habitual tongue-tie for the first time tomorrow. The intention is clearly to keep the horse focused on going forward. I reckon he’s got a proper shout off a mark of 97 and the price is acceptable….

Everybody whose read this column for any period time knows that I am not afraid to swing the bat when I reckon there’s a big ball there to be hit….

That’s the case in the St Leger tomorrow where I’m going to back the Aidan O’Brien third-stringer MYTHICAL at a big 50s – a proper each-way price….

His effort in defeat last time at Leopardstown – his second go over 12f – was his best effort yet. He’s got improve massively to figure tomorrow but I reckon he will find that improvement over the increased trip and an opportunity to really get galloping up the long finishing straight at Doncaster….

The straight at Leopardstown – combined with the shorter trip – didn’t enable him to be seen to best effect. But I like the way he finished the race off and I can see him running a much bigger race than his price suggests tomorrow….

At any rate – at the price, I am prepared to swing the bat at a big-priced O’Brien classic contender….

Nick’s contrarian picks….

To recap on where my idea of the value lies tomorrow afternoon….

In the Portland Handicap (2.25 @ Doncaster).

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – KONCHEK (14s generally)

In the St Leger (3.35 @ Doncaster).

  • Nick’s Contrarian Picks – MYTHICAL each-way (50s generally)

That is my take on where the value lies – but you will no doubt have your own ideas and that’s exactly as it should be.

  • The final word….

That’s all from me for now....

I’ll be back next week with more handicap-focused insight, analysis, and intelligence.

Stay tuned....

Nick Pullen

Against the Crowd