It's obviously not supposed to be easy - most 20+ runner handicaps are not - and there are facets to finding the Lincoln winner that make it even more tricky than your average impossible punting puzzle.
No matter, for such defeatism has no place at geegeez.co.uk, and we plough on, wary but unabated.
So what of the Lincoln Handicap? It's the first real battle between bettor and bookie of the fledgling flat turf season, and it is run over a straight mile of Doncaster's Town Moor piste. As with all races of heritage, the Lincoln has some trends. And, as with all races of heritage, one needs to take great care not to mislead oneself or others when harnessing that history to project the future.
The thing I've unearthed with this particular handicap is that there seems to be two subsets of runners, and trends differ between them. As such, approaching the conundrum with a homogeneous 'one size fits all' perspective is probably remiss. That said, approaching it was a 'two sizes fit all' perspective may well be remiss, too. Several paragraphs of caveats in situ, then, allow me to outline the hemispheres...
First, there are the young market dominators. Upwardly mobile, capable of plenty more than they've thus far demonstrated, and probably destined for Pattern class racing.
There have been five four-year-olds to start at odds of 5/1 or shorter in the Lincoln since 1997. The most recent four of them have won. The other was second. This quintet was comprised of Penitent (2010 winner, has gone on to win four Listed races, a Group 3 and two Group 2's so far), Expresso Star (2009 winner, only three subsequent runs, all in Group races), Stream Of Gold (won 2005, became a globe trotter and won a Grade 2 in US), Pablo (won 2003, ran without joy in Pattern races before regressing down the ranks), and Adiemus (2nd in 2002, occupied same spot in the Cambridgeshire and other big races).
So the question for the likes of Gm Hopkins and perhaps especially Mange All, is can either of this pair be expected to develop into a Group class animal? Given their consistently high class form in strong handicaps as three-year-olds, the answer must be yes in both cases. These lads are trained by John 'Johnny G' Gosden and 'Wily' Willie Haggas respectively, both of whom have previous with similar types in the recent past.
Specifically, Haggas saddled four-year-old Penitent in 2010 to win at 3/1, and Gosden led in four-year-old Expresso Star as the 10/3 winner a year earlier. Both horses were rated in the high 90's, as were the two other winners in the set above, Stream Of Gold and Pablo. Indeed, all four were rated either 97 or 98 at the time of winning the Lincoln. Gm Hopkins is on a mark of 99 and Mange All is currently rated 97.
Looking at that - granted, small - group of fancied four-year-olds there are undeniable similarities with this year's aspirant up-and-comers. Gm Hopkins has achieved more, by dint of his consolation Cambridgeshire triumph last backend (Mange All fourth, tied up in the ninth furlong). But Mange All may be the more progressive and may be better suited by the drop to a mile.
It's pretty hard for me to recommend a bet at 11/2 in a full field of top class handicappers, as a rule, but Mange All really does look as though he'll be on the premises, and he is at least saver material.
If that's the first group, let's now move on to the second subset of trendy types. These are the older, more hardened performers. Remarkably, backing all five- and six-year-olds in the race since 2005 would have returned a small profit at starting price. I mention this only to highlight the additional flesh on the wagering bone for those smart/lucky enough to identify the right older 'capper, and to emphasise the merit in attempting that feat.
Being rated in the 90's or low 100's is a must - almost all will satisfy this point in any case - as is a prior Class 2 victory (five of the six 5 or 6yo winners had already won at this level). Interestingly, perhaps, all 18 horses dropping from Class 1 last time were beaten, with just two making the frame. Those who ran in the same grade or Class 3 the last day won six times and were placed on another dozen occasions from 91 starters.
And of the five winners to have already scored in Class 2 company since 2005, none had a better than 20% win rate at the distance. But none of the 30 horses aged five or six to have run at a mile more than ten times has won, and just one placed.
Where exactly does so much spitting in the wind get us? Hopefully, we're closer to an identikit value play based on historical guidelines. A trends selection, if you will. 😉
It looks as though a horse aged five or six, rated in the 90's or low 100's, with a win in Class 2 (but a less than stellar overall strike rate at that range), less than ten runs at the mile trip, and a run in Class 2 or 3 company last time out... might lead us in the right direction.
Those who tick at least four of the five boxes include Hillbilly Boy, Newstead Abbey, Mujazif, and Spirit Of The Law.
Hillbilly Boy is a really likeable horse. A winner of seven of his 25 races, and in the first three on 17 occasions, he has improved with age. Though I have a slight reservation about his stamina for a straight mile, he showed he's at least as good as last year when third in a decent Class 2 handicap at Lingfield last time behind Lunar Deity. That was his first run since June, and he's entitled to come on for it. If he does stay, it wouldn't need much of a forward move for him to be involved.
David Barron's Newstead Abbey has won and been a close second in Class 2 mile handicaps, though both those runs were in 2013. He's been campaigned exclusively at shorter distances since then, but he has shown he stays this far, which makes him of mild interest with that noteworthy change in conditions. He was beaten in a straight track mile handicap (the Britannia) back in Summer 2013 but deserves another chance.
Mujazif, trained by David Nicholls, doesn't look like he'll get into the race (stakes are returned if your bet is 'balloted out'), but he could be a danger if making the cut. He won his maiden over a mile at Newmarket when trained by Brian Meehan but much water has passed under the bridge since then. Water is the operative word for this fellow, as his chance will be greatly enhanced by the arrival of any rain, his two wins coming on soft and heavy ground.
And one I think is really interesting, though may also not make the cut, is Richard Fahey's Spirit Of The Law. Fahey has a decent record in the Lincoln, having won it in 2012 with Brae Hill, and saddled placed runners in 2011, 2010 and 2007. Spirit Of The Law for his part hasn't raced at a mile since his two year old days, in the 2011 season. That year, his form was 112 at the trip albeit in lower grade.
He did drop to a mile and half a furlong on his final run last season, where he finished second in a Class 2 handicap at York. That form gives him a squeak here if he gets a run.
2015 Lincoln Tips
You'll notice I've not alluded to the draw, and that is for two reasons. First, at the time of writing it is an unknown. And second, it has been most inconclusive in identifying recent winners. Of more merit has been finding a horse that races handily, something Gold subscribers will be able to establish from the Pace tab on the race card.
Spirit Of The Law, Newstead Abbey, and Hillbilly Boy all race close to the pace as a rule.
As I've said, it's a very difficult examination for a punter, on paper at least, though overlooking the obvious has been costly in the past in the Lincoln. Consequently, I'm taking a point to win on Mange All at a top price of 11/2 currently.
More speculatively, I'll try half a point on both Hillbilly Boy and Spirit Of The Law. The former will get into the race, and may still be progressing. He's suited well by conditions if his stamina holds up. And the latter, should he make the cut, may relish the return to a mile for a trainer who habitually hits the ground running in March/April.
1pt win Mange All 11/2 (Hills, Winner Sports, Betway)
0.5 pt win Hillbilly Boy 20/1 general
0.5 pt win Spirit Of The Law 25/1 general
NB If you're intending to bet each way, wait until the day. Not only will you know the draw, and therefore how the pace is distributed across the track, but you'll also be able to bet with firms offering more than the standard four places. Although I think the favourite, Mange All, will shorten, the other pair may even be available at bigger prices on Saturday.