Admiral to take charge in Portland

DONCASTER ST LEGER MEETING: Michael Roberts partners an old friend who has a favourable draw in today's big sprint
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The Independent Online
GREG WOOD

A mathematician recently pointed out that what appear to be strange coincidences are usually nothing of the sort, and derive instead from the failure of many people to assess chance accurately. It is an interesting and persuasive argument, but unfortunately not one which lends itself to analysis of the Portland Handicap at Doncaster this afternoon since in what is probably the most impenetrable sprint of the season so far, a strange coincidence is almost the only fact which is beyond dispute.

Twelve months ago, Hello Mister won the Portland from stall three, on what is often the unfavourable far side of the track. This year he will leave exactly the same box as he attempts to repeat that success, and with an expected starting price of around 6-1 in a 22-runner field, there will be plenty of people praying that he can do so.

There is, however, likely to be one important difference between last year's Portland and the one which will unfold at Town Moor this afternoon. Last season Double Blue, Hello Mister's only serious rival for favouritism today, was drawn nearby in 10 and set a tremendous pace which tugged the other far-side runners along with him. Today, though, Bold Effort is the only confirmed front-runner with a low draw. Double Blue (in 15) will be coming down the stands' side, along with Lord Olivier (21) and probably Lord High Admiral (17).

If nothing else, it is a logical place to start when attempting to whittle down this tightly meshed field to a manageable short-list. Certainly, for all the likelihood of an imminent return to winning form, Hello Mister is a thoroughly unrealistic price. The same is true of Double Blue, the 7-1 second-favourite, who put up perhaps the best performance of his career when winning the Great St Wilfred Handicap at Ripon, but is now weighted accordingly. If he could not win last year off a rating of 94, it is hard to see why he should do so today off 108.

Quite simply, there are so many in with a chance that to accept less than 12-1 about any of them is to be taken for a fool. However, in view of the probable effect of the draw, two names make particular appeal. Venture Capitalist, who won the Wokingham for Richard Hannon last year, moved to David Nicholls during the winter and has struck up a formidable partnership with Alex Greaves, the trainer's wife. Just seven days ago at York, the pair finished a length behind Branston Abby, who three days later ran second to Cherokee Rose in the Group One Sprint Cup at Haydock.

The worry is that Venture Capitalist needs to come late, which is not ideal in a 22-runner race, and the one whom Greaves may fail to overhaul is Lord High Admiral (4.10). Though he has not seen a track since June, when he was claimed out of Mikey Heaton-Ellis's yard by Charles Egerton, Lord High Admiral is a tough, effective sprinter. Though his base has changed, Michael Roberts, who rides him particularly well, is still holding the reins and, at 20-1, he is the value bet.

The Scarbrough Stakes is not so heavy on numbers, but stands up well against the Portland in terms of competitiveness. On the book, ESPARTERO (nap 3.40) holds no stronger a chance than at least half a dozen of his rivals, but it is his lack of experience, and therefore room for improvement, which should bring him out ahead. Totality (next best 3.10) and Kiss Me Again (2.35) are others who merit close inspection.

While most punters concentrate on Doncaster, Martin Pipe will be focussed squarely on Exeter today, where he will once again aim to saddle all six winners. A recent attempt to become the first British trainer to go through the card ended in race five, when Smart Family broke down so badly on the hard Exeter ground that he could not be saved. The going forecast is identical today, and we can only hope that the co-incidence stops there.

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