ROXHOLME POPPY began the defence of her SIS Yorkshire St Leger title in the best possible style at Doncaster on Wednesday with a fluent 41.85sec victory for the 661m trip – on an eventful night at the Stainforth venue.

Heat three was voided after Pond Natalya, winner of the BGBF British Bred Oaks at the track in August, dived through the gap used to return the traps to the infield, and proceeded to run loose in the middle before hurdling the inside fence at the second turn.

By that stage the hare had been stopped in the interests of safety and the decision was taken to re-run the heat on Saturday, pending agreement of the trainers involved. Kevin Boon, trainer of Leemount Venus, has already withdrawn his runner.

Roxholme Poppy’s route to the semi-finals was more straightforward as a decent break saw Hayley Keightley’s bitch soon pressing Terry Nevin’s fast-starting Ballymac Zoro before hitting the front at the third bend before drawing clear.

“You’d say on the evidence on her win on Wednesday that Poppy is without doubt one of, if not the best, staying dog in the country – when she gets it right,” said Mark Keightley. “The thing is she really does love to be clad in stripes.

“She was brilliant in the middle part of the race and, while she did tire off the last bend, that wasn’t the biggest of surprises,” he added. “To be fair it was 11 days since her last run at Crayford which was a fair while for her in the context of what was done with her before.

“She’ll have a quiet week now which will not hurt her after last night’s run. Poppy runs Doncaster very well and it would be great for her to defend the title she won last year, but first we’ll have to negotiate the semi-finals next week.”

The mantle of fastest heat winner went to the impressive Antigua Fire as Mark Wallis’s weekend Kent St Leger winner Antigua Fire continued his fantastic run of form by leading home Affleck Bolt (Patrick Janssens) in a standard-setting 41.67sec.

Heat one went to Lauren Sawyer’s Good Karma (42.04sec) who edged out Droopys Live (Angela Harrison), while the other heats went to Chris Akers’ all-the-way winner Sonic Spur (14.54sec) and Patrick Janssens’s evergreen Goldies Hotspur (42.68sec).

Karl Ward, Doncaster’s deputy racing manager who recently returned to the track some 22 years after working at the stadium when it first opened, said: “Of the heats that were completed, you couldn’t fail to be impressed by the defending champ.

“I thought she was very impressive from the third bend onwards to draw clear. Earlier Good Karma had a really good match with Droopys Live, who seemed to hold every chance but wasn’t quite strong enough to get to the winner although ran well.

“Sheldan caught the eye in her heat. She must have come from at least 15 lengths behind to nearly catch Sonic Spur on the line, with Droopys Tulip also coming strongly from the same distance back to be beaten two lengths.

“Obviously, in terms of the clock and to the eye, Antigua Fire looked exceptional and is clearly in great heart having won the big race at Crayford at the weekend,” added Ward, who is back working with racing manager Simon Pearson after the pair worked together at Coventry for a short period.