The curtain comes down on the 2014 Flat turf season at Doncaster today and, as always, the feature Betfred November Handicap presents punters with a tricky puzzle to solve.
The ante-post market has been headed by Mount Logan, who has been patiently campaigned by Luca Cumani this season and appeared a potential Pattern performer when justifying favouritism over course and distance at the St Leger meeting.
With rain hitting Town Moor in the last couple of days, though, the son of New Approach will be encountering softer underfoot conditions than he ever has before.
Cumani said: “It was a good performance at the track last time from Mount Logan and he’s in good form.
“He has gone up a lot in the weights, so he’ll have to contend with that, and the ground will be softer as well. You don’t know how they’ll cope with softer ground until they try, so we’ll see.”
Owners Middleham Park Racing have major contenders in David O’Meara’s Open Eagle and the Richard Fahey-trained Latenightrequest.
Open Eagle turns out just four days after a comprehensive success in the mud at Redcar, while Latenightrequest booked her place in the field with a runaway success at Doncaster a fortnight ago.
Middleham Park’s Nick Bradley said: “Both are last-time-out winners and I think soft ground will bring out the best in them both.
“They’re both in good form and I think they’re both well handicapped, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
“Just on the draw, I think Latenightrequest might have the better chance of the two, but it depends how the race is run and whether both of them can get a good position.
“Open Eagle was actually in the sales last week, but there wasn’t a bid for him and he came out and won on Tuesday, which allowed him to get into this race. It might come a bit soon, but there’s nothing else for him this year so we thought it was worth giving it a go.”
Graham Lee has enjoyed a stellar season and, with only Richard Hughes and Ryan Moore riding more winners than him, he is the leading northern-based jockey.
He could have a say in the outcome of the November Handicap, too, because his mount Odeon was fourth in the Dante and third in the Great Voltigeur prior to an unfortunate St Leger experience, and he drops in both class and distance after a fourth in Listed company at Ascot.
Lee’s best chance on the card comes in the shape of Jack Dexter, who strives to retain his Betfred ‘Goals Galore’ Wentworth Stakes crown.
Jim Goldie’s mud-lover had been out of sorts on a quicker surface, but bounced right back to his best to claim third on Champions Day and is better off at the weights with Ascot runner-up Tropics.
Goldie said: “He’s in good form and we know he loves the course and he’ll love the ground, so, hopefully, he’ll run well.
“Tropics is probably the one we have to beat. He finished just ahead of us at Ascot, but we’re slightly better off at the weights, so we’ll see.
“He won the race last year and hasn’t won since, so it would be nice if he could go there and do it again.”
Tropics also filled the runner-up spot behind Slade Power in the July Cup at Newmarket and enjoyed his day in the sun when successful in a Listed race in August.
That victory means he has to concede 3lb to Jack Dexter and the majority of his rivals, but trainer Dean Ivory, who also runs Lancelot Du Lac and Links Drive Lady, is anticipating a bold show.
Ivory said: “Tropics is in great form and came out of the Ascot race really well.
“I’m a bit concerned about the ground. We don’t want it to be too soft, but there is nowhere else to go with him.
“We’d like to go to Hong Kong if we can, but I don’t know if we’ll be invited and we didn’t want to sit on the fence for too long.
“There probably isn’t a lot between him and Jack Dexter. Jack Dexter might prefer this softer ground, but we’ll see. If they both run up to form I think it’s probably a two-horse race.
“If Tropics and Jack Dexter weren’t there, I think Lancelot Du Lac would have a brilliant chance. He’s a really talented horse and on good ground I’d expect a very big run. The one question mark for him might be going six furlongs on softer ground.
“Links Drive Lady probably shouldn’t be there, but she likes soft ground and she’s in the sales next week.”
Michael Dods’s Spinatrix has enjoyed an excellent campaign, finishing out of the first two only once, and she steps back up in class following successive handicap victories at Ripon and York.
Her trainer said: “She’s stepping back up to Listed company again, but she goes there in good form and won’t mind the ground.
“The two top horses (Jack Dexter and Tropics) are going there in good form as well and they’re the ones we’ve got to beat, but we’ll give it a go.”