The Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster is the first big handicap of the Flat season and with the favourite Captain Cat at 8/1 and 19 horses at 25/1 or shorter punters looking to recoup Cheltenham losses have a tricky puzzle to solve. The race is the first leg of the Spring Double and looks harder to work out than next Saturday’s Grand National.
It seems a strange quirk of race planning that such a high profile Flat race takes place either side of the two massive spring jumps festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree. The schedule for early season meetings on the level is very much skewed towards Doncaster and then there’s little of interest before the Craven meeting at Newmarket in the middle of April.
It would make sense to me to run in the Lincoln on the weekend after the National and that would provide a better dialogue to the new Flat season. Easter weekend complicates the issue as this is a movable holiday and the National is never run on Easter Saturday. Even so a Lincoln run after the main jumps meetings have taken place would get better media coverage.
The waters are muddied further this year by the All Weather Championships on Good Friday at Linfield. The track owners have invested 2 million pounds in the all weather so will be looking for maximum exposure and focus as a return on their investment. A more structured and identifiable approach to the first big occasion of the turf year is required and if that means running the Lincoln later so be it.
In National Hunt racing all roads lead to Cheltenham but on the Flat the Classics are the most prestigious races of the season. Therefore, it’s an anomaly that two of the five most important races are run just six weeks into the season and four have been run before a third of the season is over.
Traditionalists would say Flat racing has been structured in this way for 200 years and moving the races would be almost sacrilege. However, the two Guineas run two weeks later and the Derby and Oaks staged at the end rather than beginning of June would make more sense in terms of building up interest over a longer period of time. Last year’s the Derby winner, Ruler Of The Wold, made his racecourse debut at Chester in May and reached the peak of his career just a month later.
The Cheltenham Festival highlighted one of the appeals of jumps racing in the longevity of its superstars. Hurricane Fly, Quevega and Big Buck’s have built up a following over many years. Australia may be the best horse Aiden O’Brien has trained but who outside the horse’s closest connections have any empathy with an animal that might be retired after six runs.
For those looking for an idea of the winner of the Lincoln apologies for the preamble. This is not a tipping column and I’m sure there are plenty of Betfan writers with a strong opinion who can provide some guidance. However, for a 22 runner handicap race over the straight mile a jumps aficionado is struggling to put forward a case for any particular contender.
The Lincoln Handicap is for four year olds and older and is always the feature event of the first Saturday of the turf Flat season. It was first run as the Lincolnshire Handicap in 1849 over two miles at Lincoln racecourse. In 1853 the race was shortened to one mile four furlongs and a mile two years later. The race moved to Doncaster in 1965 after the closure of Lincoln.
Since 1980 the winning-most age for the winner has been four with sixteen wins. The oldest winner was aged 8 in 1998. Only one seven year old has won the race over this spell which has seen five year olds win ten times and six year olds four fewer. No horse has won the race more than once since 1980. Jimmy Fortune and Paul Cole have the best riding and training records respectively.
In the last 34 renewals only five outright favourites have won the race in addition to one joint favourite. The biggest priced winner was 33/1 and the best backed was 3/1. The average price of the first horse past the post has been 16/1 since 1980. Twenty six winners carried less than 9 stone, the heaviest being 9-10 and the lightest 7.09. The race was run at Redcar in 2006 and Newcastle in 2007.
The clerk of the course at Doncaster is predicting good ground for Saturday’s race. Despite a very wet winter the start of the spring has seen drying conditions with little rain forecast between now and Saturday. That means the identikit winner should be proven on good ground with a decent record in big field handicaps over a straight mile and from my limited knowledge of the form Brae Hill and Levtiate are my two picks against the field.