Only Joking has serious chance up at Town Moor

Bill Esdaile
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Roger Varian’s Steps runs well at Doncaster and should go close later

TODAY sees Doncaster host the first day of its St Leger Festival, packed with top-class action that culminates in the final Classic of the season, the Ladbrokes St Leger on Saturday.

This afternoon features the popular Leger Legends Charity Race, which will see the likes of Jim Culloty and Kevin Darley back in the saddle. However, the action proper gets underway at 2.00pm with a seven-furlong nursery, and punters can get off to a great start with ONLY JOKING.

This one scored impressively on her last outing at Thirsk, hacking up by eight lengths on soft ground. And two starts ago she finished a four-length fifth behind current 1,000 Guineas ante-post favourite Cursory Glance.

She represents Hugo Palmer, a trainer in flying form of late. Punters should take note when the Newmarket handler sends horses to Doncaster, as he boasts a 19% strike-rate here and is two from three with his juvenile runners.

Kevin Ryan’s Salateen is likely to prove dangerous, having not disgraced himself in better company this season. Yet with conditions likely to suit Only Joking, this exciting filly can prove herself against the boys.

The best race of the day is the five-furlong Listed Scarbrough Stakes, where STEPS is fancied to return to winning ways.

This race is likely to revolve around the Godolphin-owned colt Reckless Abandon, who has returned to the racecourse after failing at stud. The son of Exchange Rate was a dual Group One winner aged two, including the Middle Park Stakes.

However, returning back to racing from the breeding shed can prove difficult for horses, as Starspangledbanner demonstrated a few years ago. Should Charlie Appleby’s charge bounce on his second start back, then Steps will be more than willing to take advantage.

A previous course and distance winner on Town Moor, as well as a nose second in the Portland last year, Roger Varian’s gelding has not won in four starts but will finally have his favoured going. Having won at Listed level before, it is the top-weight he carries that causes the greatest concern.

Yet pilot Andrea Atzeni has had a very progressive season, inheriting the Qatar Racing job next year, and can be trusted to time his challenge perfectly.

The rest of the field look more miss than hit with the exception of Online Alexander, who arrives on a hat-trick.

It’s a tough ask for a three-year-old filly to be beat seasoned rivals here, though, and she’ll be of more interest against her own sex.

ONLY JOKING 2.00pm Doncaster
STEPS 3.00pm Doncaster