The Lincoln has a strange place in the racing calendar in that it is the first major race of the Flat season but takes place during the gap between the two major jumps meetings of the year. Chelsea Lad has been the horse for money this week but the price has gone and in Top Notch Tonto there is some each-way value with bookmakers paying out on the first five places.
The Lincoln Handicap, sponsored by Betway this year, is open to horses aged four and older. The race is run over the straight mile at Doncaster and is part of the Spring Double that also includes the Grand National. The Lincoln is the first big handicap of the season but falls two weeks after the Cheltenham Festival and one week before the Grand National meeting at Aintree. The start of the turf Flat season is a damp squib and delaying it until after the National would make more sense.
Only two horses have won the Lincoln more than once but we have to go back to the 1950’s and the first decade of the twentieth century for the two dual winners. The leading jockey and trainer each won the race four times in the previous century so modern renewals haven’t created too many records. Richard Fahey has been the winning trainer twice in the last five years when Tony Hamilton was the jockey.
Older horses have a poor record in the Lincoln over the last 20 years. Since 1997 one eight year old has obliged but every other winner including the last 18 have been aged four, five or six. Six of the last seven winners carried nine stone or more but the previous four had less than nine stone in weight to carry to success. The average price of the last ten winners is 14/1 and two favourites have won the Lincoln since 2007.
The race trends suggest this year’s winner will be aged 6 or younger, will have won over at least one mile before, carries less than 9-4 and has won 2 to 4 races before. Most recent winners were having their first run of the Flat season and 9 of 13 were drawn in stall 9 or higher. Five winners since 2003 came from the top 3 in the betting and the same number had won their previous race. However, even though Yuften must be considered based on these trends Top Notch Tonto is the one to support.
The horse is Group winner running in a handicap and if they are good enough the weight can be carried. In fact even though Top Notch Tonto was allocated nine stone six pounds his claiming jockey, Ben Robinson, receives an allowance of seven pounds. What you lose in jockey experience you more than gain with a horse that on past form is thrown in at the weights. Top Notch Tonto is trained by Brian Ellison who knows a thing or two about preparing a horse for a major handicap.
He took Top Notch Tonto to Wolverhampton for a run on the all-weather. That surface or course does not suit the horse but he came out of the race well and was pleasing the trainer in work this week. The ground looks like being soft at Doncaster on Saturday and that is another positive for the horse. Top Notch Tonto has performed at a higher level and is now back running off a winnable mark. The seven pound allowance could be massive at the business end of the race.
Top Notch Tonto reached a ratings peak in defeat. The horse ran in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury in May 2013 and was beaten by just 8 lengths by Olympic Glory. In the context of the Lincoln on Saturday that’s outstanding form but a few years have passed since that day. At the time Top Notch Tonto was contesting high class races over one mile and form only dipped in 2015 and over the last 18 months. On current ratings Top Notch Tonto has something in hand.
The Lincoln is a heritage handicap of which there are 33 season. Backing the favourite blindly is unlikely to make you money. This year the most fancied runners should be ignored in favour of a horse that is proven at a much higher level and the name of that horse is Top Notch Tonto. The softer the ground the better and its pouring down with rain at the time of writing.