Our racing expert has a tip for each of the four races being shown live on ITV, including the feature St Leger.
1:50 5½f (5f143y) William Hill Portland Handicap (Class 2) (3yo+)
It seems like I’m not the only person who fancies HOLMESWOOD for this as he’s 5/1 clear favourite across the board at the time of writing, with the rest at 10/1 or bigger. Still, I’m going to put him up here as he ticks all boxes and I’m struggling to make a strong case for anything against him. Like most sprint handicappers, he’s at the mercy of the assessor and paid the price for rattling off a hat-trick in the space of a month last summer, going up 15lb in the process.
However, he’s back down in the weights after some less than stellar efforts in the first part of the season – he’s now 1lb lower than for his last win – and his latest third (of 19) over a similar trip at York was a clear signal he was ready to take advantage. That performance can be marked up as he did best of those coming off the pace and also the ground was faster than he likes. Good ground suits him ideally and with a little rain forecast on Friday conditions should be perfect for him, with Silvestre De Sousa renewing the partnership another plus.
His stablemate Dakota Gold and Amanda Perrett’s Open Wide are feared most of his rivals.
2:25 7f (7f6y) Alan Wood Plumbing And Heating Park Stakes (Group 2) (Class 1) (3yo+)
No standout performer here with seven of the nine runners covered by just 3lb on official ratings. Mustashry, who is joint top rated with 2016 winner Breton Rock, is favourite at the time of writing having chased home Lord Glitters in a York Group 3 last time. But that was over 1m1f and he drops to this trip for the first time, which has to be a concern, and preference is for Richard Hannon’s OH THIS IS US.
A reliable performer, he has struck twice at Chester this season and as recently as 14 days ago, when he broke the track record. While that was in handicap company, he had to concede upwards of 7lb from a tricky draw and all things considered it was an outstanding effort from the entire. In his current frame of mind, he is entitled to go close back up in class and at a track where he has a win and a neck second (in the Lincoln) to his name, with the booking of Ryan Moore the icing on the cake.
3:00 7f (7f6y) Howcroft Industrial Supplies Champagne Stakes (Group 2) (Colts & Geldings) (Class 1) (2yo)
John Gosden is wasting no time with TOO DARN HOT who is back out again just 14 days after routing his five rivals in the Group 3 Solario Stakes at Sandown to keep his unbeaten record intact. That performance catapulted him to the head of the betting for next year’s Classics and while he might face more of a battle here from the likes of Dark Vision and Phoenix Of Spain, who are also unbeaten and have won five races between them, he should be able to make it three from three.
3:35 1m6½f (1m6f115y) William Hill St Leger Stakes (Group 1) (British Champions Series) (Colts & Fillies) (Class 1) (3yo)
John Gosden’s decision to run his unbeaten filly Lah Ti Dar is a shot in the arm for the oldest Classic and given how she spreadeagled her rivals at York last time, she thoroughly deserves her place in the line-up. But this is altogether a more difficult task against the boys and she also has her stamina to prove, so has to be swerved at current best odds of 15/8.
Kew Gardens, one of five Ballydoyle runners, is not much bigger at around the 9/4 mark and while we know he stays, I’m hardly rushing to back him at that price given that the form of his two wins this season don’t amount to much – those who finished behind him in the Queen’s Vase have mustered just one win (a Thirsk handicap) since, while his follow up came in a shockingly weak Group 1.
Besides, he doesn’t have anything in hand over Old Persian, who beat him nearly two lengths in the Great Voltigeur last time, which makes me wonder why Charlie Appleby’s colt is available at nearly four times his price. He did flop in the Irish Derby (not run to suit) but has been remarkably consistent otherwise and he became the first horse in ages to win the York race with a penalty.
His trainer has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works by declaring Loxley here rather than in Sunday’s Prix Niel. He is my each-way fancy for the Arc so I’d much rather see him in run in France to get some match practice for Longchamp, but he has to be respected here, although neither he or his stablemate are guaranteed stayers.
Stamina won’t be an issue for relative outsider MAID UP who warmed up for this by beating Ben Vrackie and one other over 1m6f at Goodwood, having been short-headed by Pilaster over the same track and trip previously. The winner was beaten in Thursday’s Park Hill but she was totally outdone by a lack of pace and really should have won, while I’m hopeful that Ben Vrackie can provide another form boost in Friday’s Mallard.
But regardless of how he gets on, there is surely more to come from Andrew Balding’s filly, who has made giant strides since getting off the mark in a Doncaster handicap in June off a mark of just 69 and was supplemented for this in midweek at a cost of £50,000. In what is an open renewal containing several with stamina issues, she must rate decent each-way value at the current 28/1.
All odds were correct at time of posting.