Banker has lucrative look in the Portland

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The Independent Online

It may not have the glamour of Ascot or the history of York or Chester, but if there is one thing Doncaster does guarantee, it is variety. This afternoon alone, as the Millennium St Leger meeting opens on Town Moor, punters can choose between one of the year's best sprint handicaps - over the bizarre distance of five and a half furlongs - and the Park Hill Stakes, the "Fillies Leger'', over 14. Add in the St Leger Yearling Stakes, a contest which defies description in less than about 50 words, and you have an afternoon which should be intriguing if nothing else.

It may not have the glamour of Ascot or the history of York or Chester, but if there is one thing Doncaster does guarantee, it is variety. This afternoon alone, as the Millennium St Leger meeting opens on Town Moor, punters can choose between one of the year's best sprint handicaps - over the bizarre distance of five and a half furlongs - and the Park Hill Stakes, the "Fillies Leger'', over 14. Add in the St Leger Yearling Stakes, a contest which defies description in less than about 50 words, and you have an afternoon which should be intriguing if nothing else.

It is the Portland Handicap which demands the closest attention, however, since it is one of those great elephant traps of a race which punters cannot help but blunder into year after year. Twenty-two runners are due to go to post this afternoon, while 17 more, including Surprised, one of the ante-post favourites, were eliminated from the race yesterday, meaning that anyone who backed them will have stakes refunded. There is just one name which many backers will look for, however, and it does not belong to a horse.

David Nicholls seems to be offering his rivals a chink of daylight today, however, with just four of the field coming from his yard, and one of those, Further Outlook, unlikely to run unless there is overnight rain. In Brecongill Lad, though, he has the likely favourite, and a horse who, like so many Nicholls runners, seems to keep improving with every run.

Luck, on the other hand, is another matter, and Brecongill Lad has probably lost races he should have won at least twice this season. The problem is that he needs to be held up until the last possible moment. In the breathless maul of a sprint handicap, however, when gaps open and close in the blink of an eye, it is often impossible.

There are few more agonising experiences for a punter than the sight of their money travelling like a winner, but with nowhere to go. That thought alone is enough to rule out Brecongill Lad as the bet, which leaves COMPTON BANKER (nap 2.35), another horse who has enjoyed little luck in running recently, as the obvious choice. Gerard Butler's sprinter also needs to be held up for a late run, but not quite so drastically as his main rival, and while he finished fourth in a five-furlong handicap at the Ebor meeting two weeks ago, it was a race he could have won with a better start. Granted an exit on level terms today, he can collect in the hands of Frankie Dettori.

Butler could easily saddle a double, since his Ski Run (3.40), whose saddle slipped as she was delivering a strong challenge in the Lonsdale Stakes at York, holds every chance in the Park Hill Stakes, while in the nursery, John Dunlop's Injaaz (next best 2.05) has solid claims.

The St Leger Yearling Stakes is a race many backers will swerve. The contest, restricted to horses bought at the Leger Yearling Sales and endowed with £200,000-worth of bonuses, is designed to encourage people to buy and own racehorses. What it also demonstrates, however, is what a lottery the whole business is, for while one or two of today's runners would hold their own in Pattern races, there are plenty more who would struggle to win a seller.

Pan Jammer is definitely in the first category, and should go well. A more interesting alternative is Final Pursuit (3.10), who has not seen a track since finishing lame in the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot, but had previously looked a high-class juvenile in the making.

Savoire Vivre, one of the favourites for Saturday's St Leger, was yesterday reported to have satisfied John Gosden, his trainer, in a morning gallop. The colt's wellbeing had been the subject of racecourse rumours, but Gosden said: "There was a little bit of swelling on Monday morning, but nothing particularly serious. I'm happy with him at the moment but I shall be monitoring him day by day.''

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