Mark Milligan looks ahead to two top-class Group 1 races and has a pair of well-handicapped fancies at Chester...
"The key to King Ottokar appears to be easy ground and if conditions don't quicken up too much if he can prove himself a well-handicapped horse"
What an absolute treat is in store for racing fans on Saturday. The St Leger highlights the final day of the Doncaster meeting, ably supported by a pair of Group 2s and a handful of classy handicaps, while over at Leopardstown, the Irish Champion Stakes headlines a stellar day of racing there.
There's also a really good card at Chester, where a competitive Listed contest is backed up by some competitive handicaps, and it's to there we'll venture for a couple of selections, though more of that later.
Hurricane Lane looks the standout performer in the Cazoo St Leger (15:35). Charlie Appleby's Frankel colt is coming here on the back off a pair of Group 1 wins in the Irish Derby and Grand Prix de Paris. In the former, he did well to run down a well-ridden Lone Eagle, while in the latter he fairly scooted up by a wide margin from Wordsworth and Alenquer.
Interestingly, Mojo Star was one place ahead of Hurricane Lane when the pair filled second and third behind Adayar on the Derby, though it would be folly to suggest Hurricane Lane hasn't progressed markedly since then.
Mojo Star couldn't confirm that form in the Irish Derby next time and probably won't finish ahead of the favourite again, though he has solid place prospects.
Ottoman Emperor has made rapid strides this season, completing a four-timer in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood from Sir Lucan. He needs to find a little bit more if he's to trouble Hurricane Lane but he's a genuine sort and will have no problems staying this longer trip.
As ever, Aidan O'Brien is strongly represented, going into the race four-handed, with High Definition probably the most intriguing of the quartet. There's no doubt that he's always been highly regarded at Ballydoyle, though has flattered to deceive so far this year.
He looked top-class prospect as a juvenile but was well beaten in the Irish Derby and disappointed at York last time, where he looked ungainly under pressure. On the plus side, connections stumped up to supplement him and they now reach for cheekpieces for the first time.
St Mark's Basilica a worthy favourite
A little earlier in the afternoon over at Leopardstown, the Irish Champion Stakes (14:45) has drawn a small but select field. The top-class St Mark's Basilica heads the market and rightly so. He's developed rapidly this year, winning the French 2000 Guineas and French Derby, before readily taking care of subsequent Juddmonte International winner Mishriff in the Eclipse last time.
Of his three opponents, Poetic Flare and Tarnawa are the only viable challengers, with Patrick Sarsfield seemingly there to make up the numbers.
It's fair to say Poetic Flare has danced every dance this year, running no less than seven times and recording three wins, including the 2000 Guineas and St James's Palace Stakes.
He's also finished runner-up in the Sussex Stakes and the Prix Jacques Le Marois the last twice, and is bred to be effective at this longer trip.
Tarnawa was a big improver last year, scoring at Group 1 level on her final three starts, though all those wins came against her own sex. She looked every bit as good as ever when hacking up in a Group 3 at this course on her reappearance last month but there's little doubt this will be her stiffest task to date.
When dealing with small-field affairs, there's always the chance a false gallop could lead to a strange result, but it's difficult to look past St Mark's Basilica if he turns up at his best. He coped with a very similar scenario in the Eclipse and is probably a fair-enough price at evens for those who like a short one.
With short-priced favourites in the two big races of the day, we'll look elsewhere for a bit a value, and there are a couple at Chester that should give us good runs for our money.
A pair of handicappers to side with
The key to King Ottokar appears to be easy ground and if conditions don't quicken up too much if he can prove himself a well-handicapped horse in the Restaurant 1539 Handicap (16:25). Charlie Fellowes' gelding posted a couple of useful efforts when not beaten too far in big handicaps at the back end of last year and could prove on a fair mark if able to run back to that level.
He has been a bit in and out in three starts so far this year but could be in for a good autumn if the mud is flying. Any rain would be big a help but the ground is rarely rattling at Chester and the return to this quirky track could well suit (ran quite well here in a classic trial as a three-year-old).
The final race at Chester, the Horseradish Catering Handicap (16:55), sees Mick Channon's filly Kaleidoscopic dropping markedly in grade from a mark that's only slightly higher than the one she won off at Doncaster last October.
She's been plying her trade in much better handicaps than this throughout the year and has even been tried at Listed level. It's also worth noting that she hasn't been seen to best effect on either of her last two starts and could prove herself on a very attractive perch dropping into this 0-80 grade.
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