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Town Moor stages two of the UK’s 31 Group 1 races, the Ladbrokes St Leger in September and the Racing Post Trophy in October. The St Leger is the country’s oldest classic, having been founded in 1776. Had the toss of a coin in a nearby coaching inn fallen a different way, however, the race would have been called the Derby. The Doncaster Cup, the final leg of the stayers’ triple crown, has been in existence even longer. Doncaster, owned by Arena Leisure, stages racing year round with the Flat season stretching from March to November. It was also the first course in the UK to stage racing on a Sunday.
The Lincoln Handicap remains the first significant race of the season while the November Handicap usually brings the curtain down on Flat racing in Britain for the year. Other major races run on the South Yorkshire track, a galloping left-handed circuit of just under two miles, include the Doncaster Cup, Doncaster Mile, Flying Childers Stakes, Park Hill Stakes, May Hill Stakes, Portland Handicap and Scarbrough Stakes.
The course is predominantly flat apart from a small rise, known as Rose Hill, a mile and a quarter from the finish. Viewing is slightly restricted from the grandstand at this point but only briefly. The draw used to have a major bearing on the straight course, which extends up to a mile, but drainage work has made it a much more level playing field and, if anything, runners tend to come up the centre of the track in big fields. On very fast ground, high draws can still hold a slight advantage up to 7f however. On the round course, it can still pay to be drawn low but only when there are more than a dozen facing the starter.
The Portland Handicap is a recognised trial for the following week’s Ayr Gold Cup and is a valuable sprint in its own right. Recent years have seen older horses dominate, five-year-olds and older holding sway. Most winners tend to carry between 8st7lb and 9st6lb and are rated between 91 and 101.
Doncaster is easily accessible by road, the course is well signposted from junction 3 of the M18 and the connecting A1, the main car parks being situated off Leger Way and Bawtry Road adjacent to the track. Doncaster station and bus interchange is a little over a mile away in the town centre and Doncaster Airport 15 minutes by taxi or 25 minutes by bus.
One of the north’s biggest tracks, the big yards from Newmarket and Lambourn love to plunder prizes at Doncaster and Mahmood Al Zarooni’s two and three-year-olds, and Richard Hannon and John Gosden’s runners are always worth a second look. Luca Cumani, David Lanigan, Brian Meehan and Roger Varian’s three-year-olds and older horses also have a terrific strike rate, as do Michael Bell’s three-year-olds and James Fanshawe’s older horses.
DONCASTER (NATIONAL HUNT)
Doncaster, owned by Arena Leisure, stages national hunt racing from December to March. It was also the first course in the UK to stage racing on a Sunday, though that was on the Flat. The Listed Sky Bet Chase, formerly known as the Great Yorkshire Chase, is the main race of the national hunt season on Town Moor and is usually won by a largely unexposed chaser (one in its first or second season over the larger obstacles), though neither weight nor age seem a barrier to success.
The course is predominantly flat apart from a small rise, known as Rose Hill, a mile and a quarter from the finish. Viewing is slightly restricted from the grandstand at this point but only briefly. It tends to suit galloping types, though front-runners have a surprisingly good record over fences and hurdles considering the length of the home straight.
Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and James Ewart’s chasers are all worth following. Tony Carroll’s hurdlers also do well while Tim Vaughan’s runners are rarely far away when the money is down.