The flat is back! With the mud barely washed from the Cheltenham Festival silks it is already time to welcome back flat turf action from its hibernation; and we welcome it back with a bang courtesy of the Lincoln Handicap, to be run at Doncaster this Saturday.
In spite of the perennial large field which assembles across the Town Moor, this has been one of the more gettable cavalry charges in recent years. Specifically, the winner tends to adhere to a fairly strong profile.
Lincoln Handicap Trends
Since 2008 - the last ten renewals - eight of the ten winners satisfied all of these criteria:
- 20/1 or shorter (all bar one of the Doncaster winners since 1996 came from this 'top end' price bracket)
- Six-years-old or younger (all bar one winner since 1987 came from this age group)
- Officially rated 95-105 (all bar one winner since 2005 came from this ratings bracket)
- 140+ days since a run (all bar two winners since 2002 had been rested that long)
There were 50 qualifiers in the study period, an average of five a year, and they collectively recorded a Starting Price profit of 54.33 points.
Another element I scouted was stable form. At the very start of the season, some yards are ready to hit the ground running, but plenty are happy to ease themselves in gently. Rather than guess or use recent history to choose specific stables, I decided to look at the 14 day place strike rate of trainers of Lincoln runners. In theory, those in better form might have a better chance, right?
Unsurprisingly, those with the lowest two-week place strike rates performed most poorly; and, as is logical, those with a better recent place record - 30% or above - fared well.
While two winners hailed from yards with a 0% place rate in the previous fortnight, both of those trainers - Willie Haggas and Mark Tompkins - had run just one horse during those 14 days. Indeed, of the five Lincoln entries since 2008 whose stables had just one runner in the previous fortnight, three won!
What's the point here? Look for a decent place strike rate where trainers have been running horses recently, and be more forgiving where there is close to zero evidence with which to work.
A word on the draw... It's a big field straight track handicap, so the best place to be is likely where the pace is. But... within three stalls of a rail has been a big advantage in this race. Ignoring recent trainer form and looking only at the four qualification criteria listed above - odds, age, rating, layoff - four of the 50 qualifiers were drawn in stalls one to three. They won two, and all four made the frame. On the other side of the track, those drawn in the top three stalls also had two winners, though from ten qualifiers, as well as five placed.
So, looking only at the top and bottom three stalls, that's four winners and five places from 14 runners.
We obviously don't know the draw until tomorrow, but my suggestion would be to top up on anything you like drawn 1-3 or 20-22.
Lincoln Handicap Preview
As I write, the draw has not yet been made. So I'll ignore that factor for now. There are also a few days for trainers to get into, or out of, the 30%+ place strike rate in the last fortnight. As it stands, then, there are 14 horses with a chance to get a run still on the qualification list, as follows:
Mitchum Swagger, Ballard Down, Kings Gift, Lahore, Addeybb, Repercussion,
Stamp Hill, Fire Brigade, Withernsea, Escobar, Afaak, Brigliadoro, Bravery (133 days since run but included), Taqdeer.
Withernsea, Stamp Hill, and Brigliadoro are unlikely to make the odds cut off, while Bravery and Taqdeer look like getting balloted out. They are struck through in the above list, which leaves nine upon which to focus.
Fire Brigade is the favourite, very well backed in the last few days into 11/2. He was a progressive sort last term, rising from an opening mark of 71 to 98 by season end. That elevation came largely as a result of four wins, two of which were on soft, the projected underfoot for Saturday. Ryan Moore has been booked to ride and there is very little to dislike about this fellow, except his price. That won't stop him winning, of course, but it does mean we should try to find a solid alternative at sexier odds.
Willie Haggas has been quite selective with his Lincoln runners - just six in the last twenty years - but he's managed two winners and a placed horse from that sextet. That immediately makes the very lightly raced Addeybb of interest. He's a winner of three of his five career starts, including in a field of 16 in the Silver Cambridgeshire on his final run last term (Afaak second, Fire Brigade third). Clearly progressive, Haggas's son of Pivotal ought to cope with the ground, though his two defeats came on his only two races on soft. Dropping back a furlong ought not to be an issue for either of the two mentioned so far, with both Sweet Lightning and Levitate emerging from the Cambridgeshire to win the Lincoln since 2011.
Ballard Down, a general 16/1 chance, is next in market rank on the shortlist. The William Knight-trained five-year-old has not been seen since bolting up in a valuable soft ground handicap on the July Course at Newmarket last summer. He's up nine pounds for that, which makes life trickier, but will handle the setup better than many.
Kings Gift could manage no better than a couple of placed efforts in valuable big field handicaps at York last term, but that ability to act in a large herd is a definite asset. He was however whacked on both soft ground starts, albeit that there may have been other contributory factors to those defeats (the first was in the G1 French 2000 Guineas (!), the latter when possibly not handling Goodwood). He's high enough in the weights with those reservations, though trainer Michael Dods won this in 2011 with Sweet Lightning.
One I quite like at a price is Mitchum Swagger. More exposed than those discussed so far, he's proven his ability to relish wet turf and to operate in a big field. Formerly rated as high as 112, he's seven pounds below that mark for the Lincoln and makes his debut for trainer Ralph 'Raif' Beckett who, as far as I can tell, is having his first runner in the Lincoln.
Another trainer switcher is Lahore, formerly in the Roger Varian camp but now with Clive Cox. Like a number already mentioned, Lahore is lightly raced, the most recent of his quintet of starts being when third of nine in a Listed contest over seven furlongs. This will be a first attempt at a mile, a trip for which he's bred; and his second attempt at soft ground, going on which he ran his most impressive race, a four length win in a Class 2 handicap. That form hasn't worked out brilliantly but there remains the prospect of more to come from this 25/1 (in a place) shot.
The Charlie Fellowes-trained Repercussion is another of interest. Last seen when signing off his 2017 campaign with a five length win in a mile Newmarket handicap (Class 3, good to soft), he's up ten pounds for that. But, with just seven UK runs on the board (four decent prior efforts for Andre Fabre in France), he too could still be ahead of his mark.
Escobar was an exciting juvenile for Hugo Palmer, winning the Listed Washinton Singer Stakes, before losing his way somewhat last season. Now relocated to the rejuvenative David O'Meara (changing hands for 100,00 guineas), and nine pounds below his peak rating, he could be ready to step forward once more. Soft ground is an imponderable, however, and he would also need to settle better, something he may do in this large field.
The return to a mile looks optimal for Afaak, who improved on two early season wins last term when closing out with a silver medal in the Silver Cambridgeshire. He travelled well that day and just got outstayed by Addeybb. With proven soft ground form, there ought not be too much between them, and also Fire Brigade, again this time, a fact not fully recognised in a price disparity of 20/1 vs 8/1 vs 11/2.
One which didn't make the trendy shortlist but whose claim is obvious is Lord Glitters. Winner of the uber-valuable Balmoral Handicap (a mile, soft) on Champions Day, he is now rated 107. Such a lofty perch, and its commensurate weight, did not stop Babodana winning in 2004 and a few have made the frame since off similarly high marks. But he's only 8/1.
2018 Lincoln Handicap Tips
As wide open as befits the curtain-raising nature of this heritage handicap. The likely favourite, Fire Brigade, has an obvious chance, albeit one which is fully factored into his price. Should he get berthed near to either rail his case would be still further enhanced. But he's less than 6/1.
Against him, I'll take a chance with AFAAK, whose Silver Cambridgeshire form ties in closely with Addeybb and Fire Brigade but who is two-and-a-half to four times the price of that pair. Trained by Charles Hills - father Barry won the Lincoln in 2003 with Pablo - he should enjoy the ground, is versatile pace wise, and can progress in his second season racing. 20/1 is quite appealing.
And if Ballard Down returns in the same form as when he blitzed his rivals under similar conditions, he could defy his chunky weight allocation. He's worth a chance at 16/1.
Mitchum Swagger is a second 20/1 shot with conditions in his favour and a bit of a chance.