ITV Races - Tony Calvin

St Leger Ante-post Tips: Tony Calvin says 6/1 Desert Hero has pedigree for Doncaster success

Betfair horse racing tipster Tony Calvin
TC says Desert Hero would be the St Leger ante-post bet at 8/1

Tony Calvin takes an early look at the betting on next month's St Leger at Doncaster and says Desert Hero is a strong contender after his victory at Goodwood last week...


We hear and read a lot of nonsense about "public" horses - more of that in a minute, but I have to set up my bad joke and poor punchline first - but the country literally has a string of its own in the shape of the King and Queen's charges, doesn't it?

I swear I heard one racegoer shout "Hats Off For The Taxpayer" when Desert Hero strolled into the winners' enclosure after winning the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood last week.

Now, that is a downright lie, and hearing such Republican talk at Glorious Goodwood is about as likely as getting accurate going descriptions before the first. It is a fact, however, that the royal family's grant, which is set to be increased from £86m to £125m, allows them the ability to indulge in their passions and pastimes (the former-Queen was also gifted plenty of horses and breeding opportunities), of which horseracing is one, though of course they have their private wedge on top of that public purse.

Actually, I love the spiky, straight-talking Charles, and he and Camilla have a good one on their hands in the shape of the St Leger-bound Desert Hero.

It will be huge for the sport if the King and Queen win the Classic, and I think they may just do, as I will come on to shortly. They seemed to really buy into it during Royal Ascot, which was great to see.

But, before I ditch the poor form displayed above (it was a joke before anyone gets offended, as I am fully aware they have their own cash) and get on to the Donny Classic, let's briefly chat "public" horses.

Red Rum wins it from Frankel

Now, when people say "public horses", they of course mean the horseracing-bubble public's horses, not the country as a whole.

Go down your local high street (if it still exists) and mention recent greats like Frankel, and 99 of the 100 people you have stopped would look at you blankly, I reckon.

Ask them to name a racehorse, and I reckon it is each of three between Red Rum, Shergar and Desert Orchid, with maybe a bit of Frankel or Dancing Brave thrown in as the outsider of four at 16/117.00.

Desert Orchid last raced on Boxing Day 1991, by the way, which may give you a glimpse of horseracing's demographic.

So I went on Twitter this morning and did a four-hour poll, giving people the options of Red Rum, Shergar, Desert Orchid or "Frankel or others."

I appreciate my followers are pretty much 100pc racing bods, so it probably isn't the base I was looking for, but even so I thought Red Rum would stroll it. As it stands, he is currently clinging on from "Frankel or others", which surprised me.

Desert Hero impresses at Goodwood

Anyway, back to the St Leger, which takes place at Doncaster on 16 September, and currently has 39 entries.

Going into the race, I thought it was a very strong Gordon Stakes at Goodwood last week - well, I had to have that opinion as I had nibbled very lightly on Chesspiece and Espionage for the St Leger at 20/121.00 and 14/115.00 respectively, as well as the contest featuring my Derby outsider Artistic Star - so for Desert Hero to see off the former by a neck, with the pair three lengths clear, was clearly a highly promising Classic trial.

Betfair Goodwood.jpg

And he defied a marked market weakness in doing so. Around a 5/16.00 poke in the morning, he was sent off at industry SP of 7/18.00 , and a Betfair SP of 9.417/2.

A victory didn't look likely at one stage, with Chesspiece trading at 1.111/9 in the run, but Desert Hero picked up well to nail him close home and both ran great St Leger trials.

Desert Hero has a stamina-laden pedigree, being by Sea The Stars out of a stoutly-bred unraced mare of the former Queen's. There are loads of stayers in the mare's family.

Another positive aspect to the horse's Doncaster prospects is that Desert Hero is proven on quick and soft surfaces (it was officially good when he won at Royal Ascot but Timeform called it good to firm), he is clearly hugely progressive and, perhaps most importantly for ante-post punting purposes, he apparently goes straight to the Classic.

Rightly or wrongly, I always like an ante-post pick to go straight for the race, as at least it won't disappoint (and maybe not run as a result) en route.

The Betfair Sportsbook odds-compilers were obviously impressed, going 6/17.00 against the general 8/19.00 in the marketplace - which means I cannot really tip him here ! - and they also like the Goodwood form in general, as they go 8/19.00 about Chesspiece, when there is plenty of 14/115.00 available about the Crisfords' runner-up.

There is also a Betfair Exchange market on the St Leger, by the way,

Gregory is a worthy favourite

I'd say the market disparity between Desert Hero and Chesspiece is wrong as the latter did exceptionally well to see off all-comers from the front before being edged out by the patiently-ridden winner by a neck.

That run also proved Chesspiece to be ground-versatile, as his earlier form had come on a decent surface (including a Hamilton win) and this confirmed he could handle soft equally well.

He is another horse with a stamina-laden pedigree, and I suppose his Queen's Vase third just highlights that the winner of that Ascot race, Gregory, fully deserves his spot at the top of the market at 5/23.50.

And I guess it also raised questions whether Chesspiece will fully see out the St Leger trip as well as others, especially if there is plenty of dig on the day and with a higher calibre of horses ranged against him.

The unbeaten Gregory justified strong market support when winning the Queen's Vase by 1 ½ lengths from Saint George (a close third in the Bahrain Trophy next time before being sent to race in Australia) , with Chesspiece, seemingly not seeing out the 1m6f trip as well as might have been expected, a further 3 ¾ lengths away in third.

I wouldn't say the Ascot form is outstanding, and worthy of Gregory being a 5/23.50 poke at this stage, as the fourth Circle Of Fire didn't pull up any trees when third to Chesspiece at Hamilton afterwards. I think he has also been sent to Oz to hoover up some easy staying cash, too.

However, it is impossible to be too negative about Gregory, bar his price, though he currently trades at 4.47/2 on the Exchange.

York test comes first for Doncaster hopefuls

He is the 6/42.50 favourite for the key St Leger trial, the Great Voltigeur at York on August 23rd, a race which has always thrown up high-class winners, though Logician in 2019 is the only one to have done the York-Doncaster double in recent years.

Aidan O'Brien is responsible for a scarcely believable 17 of the 34 entries in the Voltigeur, and 16 of the 39 in the St Leger, so only those inside the Ballydoyle bubble know how their batting list looks.

Aidan O'Brien 1280 .jpg

Indeed, maybe they will even consider supplementing their dual Derby winner Auguste Rodin for the race, though stud values may say that is a total non-starter.

After the disappointment of Espionage at Goodwood (last of six in the Gordon) the betting suggests the Irish Oaks winner Savethelastdance at 9/25.50 is their Doncaster top prospect, though Tower of London is right up there, as a 5/16.00 second favourite for the Voltigeur and the same price on the Sportsbook for the St Leger (though currently 11.010/1 on the Exchange for Doncaster).

Visually, the extended 1m6f trip really should suit the filly, as she was all about grinding when trading at 1000.0999/1 en route to the Curragh Classic win. However, notwithstanding her second in the Oaks at Epsom on good to firm, she does seem to relish mud.

Will it be soft at Doncaster in mid-September? Almost certainly to judge from this British summer so far! And it's a fair bet the clerk will do their best on the watering front even if it isn't.

There is scope for any one of the impeccably-bred O'Brien posse to stamp their claims in a trial and shorten considerably as a result. Races that could be used as a stepping-stone include the Royal Whip over 1m2f and the Irish St Leger Trial over 1m6f at the Curragh on August 20th, I guess, among others. O'Brien currently has 10 and nine respectively in those.

Over-priced Adelaide River is the form horse

Dual Group 1 1m4f runner-up Adelaide River is the form horse of the race as it stands, as the tenderly-ridden Irish Derby runner-up improved when running Feed The Flame to a length in the Grand Prix de Paris next time.

He is 8/19.00 for the Voltigeur and 12/113.00 for Doncaster with the Sportsbook, though he is a massive 24.023/1 on the exchange and clearly the most over-priced horse on that market. Granted, it is available to small sums but it kind of suggests that he will be kept to 1m4f Group 1 contests.

The other obvious Ballydoyle colt for the race is Tower Of London for me, weak on the Exchange at 11.010/1 but strong in claims.

He was impressive when winning the Ulster Derby and he really should have won the Bahrain Trophy last time, when never able to get into top gear after meeting trouble.

I don't know how important Ryan Moore dropping his whip 1f out was but it didn't help and a head second to Castle Way (a 7/18.00 chance for Doncaster with the Sportsbook) really should have been a comfortable victory to these meat pies.

I can also see Irish Derby third Covent Garden relishing the extended 1m6f of this race, and he looks a big 32.031/1 on the Exchange, but will he even run? He does strike me as a stronger stayer than King Edward V runner-up Continuous but who knows?

The horse that kept on winking me at of theirs was their Spring talking horse Alexandroupolis, third favourite for the Derby in March, but we haven't seen him since he blew out in April and he is hardly bred for 1m6f, even if he is by Camelot.

In summary, it looks a minefield of a race, with something left field likely to come out of the woodwork in the next month or so.

Naas on Monday could be informative

Maybe Valiant King, runner-up to Desert Hero at Royal Ascot and in a 1m4f Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes against Vauban at Naas on Monday afternoon at 16:35, at 40/141.00 originally fitted that profile.

He probably has already outstayed his pedigree with his strong 1m4f handicap form. And remember he was only denied by a head by Desert Hero, who was admittedly giving him 2lb, at the Royal meeting (earning his jockey a spell on the sidelines).

However, it looks like Australia is more on his agenda, rather than Doncaster, so nothing doing there.

That Naas race on Monday afternoon also features O'Brien St Leger entries Peking Opera and Gooloogong, so it could still be informative as regards Donny.

The Sportsbook are right to duck Desert Hero at 6/17.00, and I think he is probably the bet at two points bigger in the marketplace at this stage, but those O'Brien battalions would have to concern you, while of course recognizing the claims of Gregory.

I am normally away at this time of year, so unfortunately I have tended to miss the Shergar Cup, but I am told there are ante-post markets on it (even if the jockeys aren't announced until after decs on Thursday afternoon), so I may be back tomorrow if anything of note jumps out at me.

Good luck.


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