With Aintree’s fantastic Grand National meeting only a few days away, it seems incongruous to be heralding the start of the new Flat Turf season in the UK.
But Doncaster does just that with two excellent days of racing this weekend, spearheaded by that annual punters’ puzzle, the Lincoln Handicap.
The mile cavalry-charge, which dates back to 1849, is the highlight of a seven-race card on Town Moor on Saturday.
The fact that the fitness of 22 runners, most of whom are fully exposed handicappers, must be taken on trust adds up to a real head-scratcher for punters.
But it’s an ever-popular race, worth fully £100,000, and you can guarantee that the bookies will take bucketloads more money on the Lincoln than the revered Dubai Wold Cup, which takes place in Meydan later the same day.
The weather is also set fair for a let-your-hair-down day for dozens of coach trips heading to Donny. So where should they look for the winner?
Let’s start at the powerhouse Yorkshire yard of Richard Fahey, who loves to target these big handicaps and has saddled one winner and seven placed horses in the Lincoln over the last ten years.
Fahey looks likely to be double-handed this year, and while HI THERE almost certainly wants further than 1m and/or Softer ground, GABRIAL’S KAKA is a serious contender.
Owned by the redoubtable Dr Marwan Koukash, the four-year-old was considered to be on the fringes of Classic material early last season. He has yet to fulfil that potential, but after only 11 career runs, he is one of the few in the field open to improvement. Furthermore, he has been aimed at the race and is said by the trainer to be working well at home.
A similar profile is held by ONE WORD MORE, whose trainer, Charlie Hills, like father Barry before him, is not averse to a tilt at the Lincoln. The colt’s juvenile form was so good that he ended that season on a mark of 102. He was a tad disappointing last term, but gets in here on a tempting 97, and the fact that Hills booked Tom Queally for the ride some time ago might be significant.
Another jockey-booking to take the eye is that for CONSIGN of Graham Lee, who boasts a 23% strike rate for the four-year-old’s shrewd handler, Jeremy Noseda. The son of Dutch Art improved dramatically for the fitting of a visor last season and was particularly impressive when sluicing up at Ascot in October. He’s seven pounds higher here, but shaped well in a prep run on the all-weather at Lingfield five weeks ago.
Lingfield form this winter also points strongly to the chances of CAPTAIN CAT, a son of Arc winner Dylan Thomas trained by Roger Charlton. He was only just touched off in January by Robin Hoods Bay, who went on to land the Winter Derby at the Surrey track last Saturday. Captain Cat has disappointed on his last two outings on grass, but he’s always been highly regarded by Charlton and a return to his three-year-old form of 2012 would make him hard to keep out the frame.
Recapturing his best form will also be the aim of Andrew Balding’s TULLIUS, who was a Grade Three winner back in August 2012, and Marcus Tregoning’s BRONZE ANGEL, who is back down to a mark only one pound higher than when he landed the ultra-competitive Cambridgeshire at Newmarket in 2012. Three poor efforts last term suggest it’s a big ask for him, though.
Of the rest, last year’s winner LEVITATE again represents one of the best trainers in the business, John Quinn. But he faces a mighty task off a mark 16lbs higher. The wily David Barron is also a trainer to be respected in the Lincoln, so hardy duo TRES CORONAS and NORSE BLUES are worth a glance. The former, a seven-year-old with 44 races under his belt, might lack the speed required to win dropping back in distance, but the latter is overpriced on his win in the Spring Mile at this track on this day two years ago.
Also fancied by some is OFF ART, who has crept into the race at the foot of the handicap after reeling off a hat-trick early last term. His trainer, Tim Easterby, is fresh from a Cheltenham Festival success with juvenile hurdler Hawk High, but it would be some feat to double up here with the four-year-old’s first racecourse outing for nine months.
Hope all that helps. My speculative 1-2-3-4 is for the Lincoln 2014 is:
1 CONSIGN, 2 GABRIAL’S KAKA, 3 ONE WORD MORE, 4 CAPTAIN CAT.
Incidentally, don’t miss GUEST OF HONOUR in the Doncaster Mile at 2.05.