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Portland Handicap preview

It's always exciting to welcome a new writer to the blog, so take a look at the quality assessment from Josh Fletcher, @joshfletch, on tomorrow's toughest race, the Portland Handicap. He's also the guy behind the LongshotBetting blog, there's plenty more where this came from....

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Portland Handicap – Saturday 15th September
15:00 Doncaster

A unique test considering the intermediate trip of 5f and 110 yards, which should ensure that those horses who traditionally stay on too late over 5f have a better chance than usual. It’s a fascinating renewal with a lack of progressive three year old types. That being said, there’s plenty of interesting contenders who are well-handicapped and are in-form. I think I’ve gone through every horse in the field, and come up with a couple who are overpriced at double figure odds.

I generally tend to start my analysis of these big-field handicaps with a look at where the likely pace is to come from. There is generally an assumption that high-drawn runners at Doncaster do best but winners have come from all over the track at this meeting and I’m going to assume that any such bias is non-existent at present.

You need to be drawn close to the pace but this creates an interesting problem, as there seems to be a distinct lack of genuine front-runners in the race, with only Captain Dunne really fitting that bill. He’s surely better over 5f and has been out of sorts this season anyway but his inclusion could help those drawn low if he hangs about towards the front for longer than you’d expect. This will benefit the likes of Tax Free and Steps who will benefit from a good pace to chase. The latter named proved his effectiveness on better ground last time and will certainly relish the extended distance.

Hallelujah is another fancied runner drawn close to Captain Dunne and she’s still on an extremely workable mark considering she ran a cracking race when last seen at York in a Group 3. She came with a strong run down the outside but just got tired in the closing stages and a revised mark of 97 looks fair considering she probably ran to a three figure rating that day. It’s plausible she’s been saved for this race but the going has to be a concern, especially considering all her best efforts have come with cut in the ground and looks to have a softer ground knee action, alongside being a progeny of Avonbridge. It’s a risk I’m not willing to take with quicker ground likely by post-time and she’s worth taking on.

Rex Imperator and Prodigality are both drawn in single figures and come with a progressive look to their form, albeit the former had a blip on softer turf last time. He’d been progressive beforehand, winning at Windsor and catching the eye at Newmarket before getting no luck in-running at the Ebor meeting. Softer ground was no good to him last time (never travelled) and today’s conditions will definitely suit. He has the profile of a horse that will be playing a hand in Group races next season but I’m willing to take him on, especially given he needs plenty of luck and this sort of big-field handicap could come a little bit too soon, as he isn’t quite as battle-hardened as many of these.

A similar remark can be made for Prodigality and although he’s undoubtedly capable of further progression, these sorts of horses are always worth taking on in such a competitive field. Of the others drawn in a single figure stall, Kingsgate Choice seems to be more of a sprinting type over 5f and I’m sure that is where we’ll see his best, whilst Beacon Lodge doesn’t look in any sort of form at the moment and the drop to sprinting for the first time in a while does look like clutching at straws, even with a useful 7lb claimer on board.

I was hopeful we’d see the best of New Planet this season but he hasn’t really set the world on fire with his efforts this time around and looks to be paying the price by the handicapper for his juvenile exploits.

Moving on to those drawn middle to high, and Mass Rally has to be one of the more frustrating horses in training at the moment, especially given that he often downs tools when asked to go by the winner and if he was more straightforward, I honestly feel he could be a Group horse. This big-field handicap is probably the best place for him given he can track a decent pace and should get some company to run with for the majority of the race but I’m not sure he’ll get a decent enough tow into the contest and although he’s likely to place, can be taken on for win only purposes, especially with the handicapper refusing to take any chances.

Bajan Tryst ran a creditable race last time at Goodwood, probably going for home a little too early considering he likes to come through horses late on nowadays and looks to have been targeted at this contest as he hasn’t been seen since. He didn’t figure last year in this race off a lower mark though and although he’ll run better than that this time around, especially with Graham Lee back on for the first time since the victory at Musselburgh earlier in the season, there are stronger options elsewhere.

Secret Witness isn’t well-handicapped by any stretch of the imagination but hasn’t been disgraced in some tough races this season, including the Nunthorpe. He disappointed in last year’s renewal though and if the ground goes quick that may be enough to compromise his chance.

Move In Time will be suited by the drying ground as I feel he needs it properly quick to be seen at his best. He was disappointing last time out but the loose ground at Beverley wasn’t his bag and is better than that. There is some encouragement on the dam side for the application of the visor but Monsieur Bond progeny are only 1/35 with that headgear applied and it isn’t guaranteed to bring improvement, but he’s one of only two pace-angles in the race and could set it up for those drawn close to him.

Edge Closer was an easy winner last time out, looking like he’d be more than capable of following that up. This is obviously tougher but he was rated 112 at one point, so still has mileage from a current mark of 94. He did have an ideal draw last time though but this intermediate trip promises to suit so is not easily dismissed and his proximity to Move In Time will definitely help. Both Singeur and Barnet Fair are liable to run their race and the trip here should benefit them both, but I’d say they were both handicapped to the hilt and don’t have enough in hand to pick up a race of this nature.

Picabo, Kaldoun Kingdom and Ancient Cross are all capable of improving on their current marks, the first mentioned an unexposed improver while the other two are in form and are well-handicapped to boot. They will however, have to put up with a genuine lack of guaranteed pace on their side and although I’d take their chances seriously usually, I’m willing to take them on given this quirk of the race. Face The Problem has this problem to settle with also, alongside the fact that it will be his third hard race in three weeks and it might just start to take its toll.

Fratellino is consistent but needs to find more from his turf mark and looks fairly exposed on grass, whilst Doc Hay caught the eye last time out but this extended 5f might be enough to catch her out as all her best form has come at the minimum trip.

Verdict An extremely difficult puzzle to solve made even harder considering there has to be big doubts to where the pace is going to come from. I think that those drawn low will have an advantage in this season’s renewal and that could set things up for STEPS, who had previously looked like he needed soft ground to be a genuine contender in these top handicaps but his effort at the Shergar Cup last time out proved that he handles faster turf adequately and I’ve hopes that he’ll get a good pace to chase set by Captain Dunne. This 5f and 110 yard trip will definitely suit considering that he stays 5f so well but doesn’t quite show his best over 6f and there looks to be plenty of mileage left in his current mark, given he won so readily two starts ago. He wouldn’t want the ground to come too quick but the extended distance will give him more time to pick up and he’s value at his current odds of 16/1, as he should be closer to 11/1. The likes of Ancient Cross, who was beaten less than a length off a 6lb higher mark in last season renewal would rank as solid selection also but there’s a distinct lack of pace around him and he’ll need a good tow to win this, so they’ll probably have to hope that Move In Time, lit up by the visor, sets the fractions for them. The likes of Prodigality and Rex Imperator are respected but I wouldn’t want to be taking single figure prices on those two in a race such as this. Meanwhile, EDGE CLOSER is also worthy of some support as although everything went right for him last time out at Sandown, he’s looked to win with plenty in hand and a 7lb rise looks lenient. He might not have that bad a draw, is another that won’t be phased by the extended 5f (had Listed race form over 6f back in 2010, rated 100+) and is in the right hands. Of the others, Bajan Tryst ran better than the bare form suggested last time and is more than capable of running into a place.

Portland Handicap – Selections

Steps; 1pt @ 16/1 Paddy Power
Edge Closer; 1pt @ 18/1 Boylesports
Take Best Odds Guarantee where available

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