William Haggas managed to get Adeyybb, the 2020 Champion Stakes winner, into the 2018 Lincoln off a mark of 99, so Al Mubhir, another lightly-raced four-year-old who progressed steadily at three, will be on most shortlists for Saturday’s renewal of the historic Doncaster handicap that launches the new Flat season on turf.
He is just one among at least six or seven runners with a similar profile, however, including Awaal, Wanees and Croupier, any one of which could find the necessary improvement to win, while the likelihood of testing ground is another concern for lightly raced runners first time up this season.
In recent years, more seasoned handicappers have held the upper hand when the ground has been soft or heavy and the market’s focus on possible dark horses has left several interesting candidates sitting at double-figure odds, the pick of which could be John Quinn’s Empirestateofmind (3.35) at around 20-1.
The five-year-old was an improved performer in the second half of 2022, went close in two big-field handicaps at the end of the campaign and also has form on heavy ground. His latest start was a new career-best and Quinn’s decision to book useful 5lb-claimer Taylor Fisher offers further encouragement.
Doncaster 1.50 Not a race to bet on with no form available, but Grant Tuer’s string has been in decent form in recent weeks so Bellarchi, who cost 30,000gns as a yearling, could be one to consider for Placepot purposes at least.
Kempton 2.05 This trip looks ideal for the lightly raced Phantom Flight, who ran well first time up in 2022 and has more to give this year.
Doncaster 2.25 Billy Loughnane seems sure to be a leading contender for this year’s apprentice title having racked up 40 winners on the all-weather over the winter. He has not, as yet, ridden a winner on turf, however, a gap that Broken Spear could fill if he is anywhere near his form on heavy ground at this track in October.
Kempton 2.40 It is still early days for Million Thanks at Kevin Phillipart de Foy’s stable and he looked ready to strike when touched off over track and trip last time with the third horse home four lengths adrift.
Doncaster 3.00 Commanche Falls was below his best in Listed company on his final start last terms but has an excellent record fresh and deserves another chance to get off the mark at this level.
Kempton 3.15 Andrew Balding’s Aztec Empire improved for the step up to two miles last time out and has more scope for progress than most of his rivals, while Oisin Murphy’s tactical prowess could also prove useful in what promises to be a slowly-run race.