The four-day Betfred St Leger Festival gets underway on Thursday with a bumper eight-race card featuring a couple of Group 2 contests.

I’ve got a few selections for the occasion – including a Richard Hannon-trained juvenile who’s confidently taken to win the last.

Doncaster St Leger Festival Day 1 Tips

  • 13:50 – Granny Budgie e/w @ 13/2
  • 15:00 – Darnation @ 13/8
  • 15:35 – Night Sparkle e/w @ 8/1
  • 17:20 – Mafnood @ 9/4

13:50 – Granny Budgie e/w @ 13/2

This fillies’ nursery handicap over 6½f is Betfred’s Super Extra Place Race, with four on offer, and I suggest taking full advantage of that.

George Scott, who’s operating at a 25% strike rate with just one of his last 12 runners finishing outside the top three, is in fine form, which bodes very well for Granny Budgie – his sole runner here on Thursday.

She boasts a highly-progressive profile, culminating in a comfortable handicap win off 77 at Hamilton just under three weeks ago.

That’s a good bit of form and the manner of her success – plus the fact she did have an entry for the Listed Betfred Flying Scotsman Stakes on Friday – suggests this 7lb rise might not be enough to stop her.

I’m hopeful she can at least land in the top four and make it a worthwhile trip to ‘Donny’ for her Suffolk handler.

15:00 – Darnation @ 13/8

Karl Burke’s Darnation ought to be hard to beat in the G2 Betfred May Hill Stakes – a juvenile fillies’ contest over a mile.

The daughter of Too Darn Hot, who at 102 is comfortably the highest-rated horse in this field of nine, left a lukewarm debut at Haydock well behind when an emphatic 10L winner at Thirsk in late July.

A fluke? Evidently not, as she went on to land the G3 Prestige Fillies’ Stakes at Glorious Goodwood last month – again, in good fashion.

Her main rivals on Thursday include a once-raced filly for Ralph Beckett whose debut form isn’t working out well at all, Romanova for Ollie Sangster who’s hard to weigh up and Hard To Resist, who the selection has already beaten.

See The Fire is a danger, and I wouldn’t put anyone off an each-way play on her, but frankly I’ll be disappointed if Darnation doesn’t win this.

15:35 – Night Sparkle e/w @ 8/1

Half-an-hour later, 10 fillies and mares go to post for the G2 Betfred Park Hill Fillies’ Stakes over an extended 1m6f.

With question marks surrounding a fair few of these, I’m backing Night Sparkle, now with Andrew Balding, to run another huge race.

The four-year-old, who has been mixing it up in both codes, made the move from Michael O’Callaghan’s yard a matter of days ago after a hat-trick of handicap wins that’s seen his mark rise from 80 to 100.

His latest success, when almost two lengths ahead of his 10 rivals at Newmarket, was a career-best showing and, providing he copes with a bit of cut in the ground, he should make another bold bid.

17:20 – Mafnood @ 9/4

Last but certainly not least, I’m putting up Richard Hannon’s Mafnood for the concluding 0-95 nursery handicap.

In awarding an opening mark of 84, I suspect the handicapper has been kind to this son of Kingman, who got off the mark at the third attempt in a red-hot novice at Haydock just over a month ago.

The runner-up Touch The Moon and fourth-placed Victory Shout (who was over three lengths clear of the rest of the field) both won next time out – the latter doing it emphatically when bolting up by nine lengths in a decent event at Carlisle.

Meanwhile, third-placed Whiskey Pete saw the form of his narrow debut defeat to Charlie Appleby’s Aablan – who looks set to run in the G2 Betfred Champagne Stakes here on Saturday – boosted when the latter won the G3 Solario Stakes at Sandown the other week.

The selection’s main rivals include Nellie Leylax, who is effectively 9lbs higher for winning a modest race at Haydock last time out, and Spanish Blaze for Marcus Tregoning.

However, I’d be surprised if either – let alone his other rivals – were to beat Mafnood, who is about as confident a pick as I’m likely to make at Doncaster this week.

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