The Flat season curtain-raiser is upon us. Tomorrow Doncaster stage the Betway Lincoln Heritage Handicap, a race that dates back to the 1850s.
The event was originally staged at Lincoln’s racetrack until its closure in 1964, when it was then transferred to Donny.
This historic race has been dominated by four, five and six-year-olds, indeed only two horses from outside that age group have won the race in the last half a century. That particular stat suggests improving types rather than old campaigners have the upper-hand. That trend looks likely to continue tomorrow with 16 of the 22 runners’ falling into the age group.
Weight carrying has proven just as telling a trend with only two winners carrying more than 9st 4lbs to victory in the last 30 years. That tendency is sure to be tested this year with all but seven contenders set to carry 9st 5lbs or more. The quality of this event continues on an upward curve and it would come as no surprise to see several of these making their mark in pattern events as the season progresses.
That certainly proved the case last year with Gabrial, having won this in March, going on to finish third in the Group 1 Sussex Stakes before a runner-up spot in the Group 2 Celebration Mile. He then arguably topped that with a third place finish in the QEII on Champions Day at Ascot getting within a couple of lengths of Solow.
Mondialiste chased home Gabrial 12 months ago and he also went on to greater things. David O’Meara’s French import took a Group 3 at York in August before winning at Grade 1 level in Canada and then running an absolute stunner to finish runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland.
O’Meara has another French import at the head of the betting for Saturday’s renewal. Lord Of The Land was trained by Andre Fabre and will attempt to go one better than last year's runner-up, who was also having his first start for the yard. His French form is nothing to write home about, though O’Meara has proved a master at improving his newcomers.
Richard Fahey is often worth following in these valuable handicaps and he has won two of the last four Lincoln’s. Heaven's Guest is a standing dish in these events though he rarely runs over at a mile. His record first time out is poor and sitting at the top of the handicap he is hard to fancy.
Rene Mathis and Farlow also represent Fahey. The former had a successful 2015 winning valuable handicaps at Newmarket and Goodwood, but he has to carry 9st 8lbs, and that could prove a tall order. Farlow is now an eight-year-old and though he came fourth in this in 2014 he’s now much higher in the handicap and difficult to fancy.
Godolphin run a progressive four-year-old Udododontu, having given him a couple of outings at Meydan over the winter. He has valuable handicap experience, something that has also proved important in the Lincoln over the years. He only just failed to win the Britannia Stakes at Royal Ascot last June and looks to have the right kind of profile for this. He’s by Lope De Vega, and therefore ought to cope with softer ground conditions.
Mutarakez was down the field behind Udododontu at Ascot but was carrying a stone more that day. Owned by Hamdan Al Maktoum, the son of Fast Company also has that valuable handicap experience and was expected to run a huge race at Royal Ascot. Trainer Brian Meehan will be hoping that he has strengthened over the winter and can bounce back to form. He is a course and distance winner having won at the track as a two-year-old.
Ryan Moore rides Jeremy Noseda’s Bravo Zolo, and he is currently second in the market. The four-year-old has been progressive on the all-weather though somewhat disappointing in his three runs on turf. He won a seven runner handicap at Wolverhampton last time, and though the jockey booking is eye-catching I struggle to see how his form stacks up. He’s not for me.
Secret Brief also represents Godolphin and is trained by Charlie Appleby. His Meydan form gives him an each-way chance in this, and his odds of 25/1 seem generous. He’s bred to stay further, and that should prove a plus in the testing conditions. He may not be quite good enough to win, but he could go close.
Another at a price worth a second look is Fire Ship. On trends he’s too old to win this, but his form especially on a soft ground gives him a huge chance. He’s on his lowest handicap mark since 2012, yet still retained enough ability to come third in a Group 3 last May. He was poor in this race last year but that was off a 9lb higher mark. At 33/1 he has to be worth a small wager.
These valuable handicaps always take some fathoming and tomorrow’s Betway Lincoln is no exception. I’ll be throwing a few quid at three of the runners, with Mutarakez my main fancy. Secret Brief and Fire Ship are my each-way selections.