Doncaster gate-crashes the pre-Aintree party, as this year’s Flat season gets underway, with the Lincoln Handicap the all-to-familiar curtain raiser.
The switch of codes always feels a little strange, with the Grand National yet to be run. But the running of the Lincoln reminds racing fans that winter is well and truly over, and that we should have at least one eye on the forthcoming Flat campaign, with Newmarket’s Guineas meeting little more than a month away.
The original Lincolnshire Handicap was established in 1849, and was run at Lincoln over a trip of two miles. In 1853, the Lincoln Spring Handicap came into being, at one and a half miles. Finally, in 1855 the race was shortened to its current distance of a mile. When Lincoln Racecourse closed in 1964, the race was moved up the A1 to Doncaster, and became known simply as the Lincoln Handicap.
Horses aged four, five and six have proved the dominant force, with Hunters Of Brora in 1998, the last to win from outside this age group. That’s bad news for seven of tomorrow’s intended runners, including the well-fancied Top Notch Tonto.
Favourites have also struggled in recent times, with just three successful from the last dozen renewals. This doesn’t bode particularly well for Roger Charlton’s Yuften, who looks sure to be sent off a relatively short-priced market leader. His handicap mark of 105 is also a little high for trends followers. Only two horses have won this race from a mark above 102 in the last 20 years, and that’s despite the handicap becoming more compressed in recent times.
As mentioned, Yuften heads the market for this year’s race. The six-year-old moved to Charlton’s yard towards the end of last season. He was a fast finishing third at Wolverhampton earlier in the month, and may well have improved for the run. He won the valuable Balmoral Handicap at Ascot on Champions Day, finishing strongly to get on top late-on. He looks sure to go close, though he’ll probably need to improve again, to win off his current mark.
Donncha is second in the market, and was runner-up in this 12 months ago. He was consistent throughout the last campaign, without ever getting his head in front. He’ll likely run well, but I’m struggling to see how he could have improved enough to win.
Richard Hannon Snr took this race in 1996, and Team Hannon have a strong contender in Oh This Is Us. The four-year-old looks progressive, and arrives after a winter at Meydan; something that worked for last year’s winner Secret Brief. Ryan Moore takes the ride, and I fancy he’ll go very close, despite his handicap mark being at the top end of ‘trends acceptable’. He has course form, having won at the track in November.
Bravery is an intriguing contender, having been transferred from Ballydoyle to David O’Meara during the winter. The Yorkshire trainer has a habit of performing minor miracles with new recruits, and Bravery certainly has the pedigree to impress at this level. He’d been tried over further by O’Brien, having failed to make the grade at a mile, though there were glimpses of talent earlier in the campaign. He’s something of an unknown quantity at this level, and may be worth a small wager at 12s.
Master Carpenter is also worth a mention. The six-year-old looks to be on a winning handicap mark, having spent much of last season running in listed and Group events. This trip looks the bare minimum nowadays, but his run behind Convey at Pontefract last July suggests he’s not without a chance. His odds of 33/1 look tempting.
These 20-plus runner handicaps are always a nightmare to call, and being the opening day of the Flat season certainly doesn’t help. But I find myself drawn to Hannon’s Oh This Is Us. He’s a progressive four-year-old, who should benefit from his couple of spins at Meydan over the winter. I’ll also be having a few quid on Master Carpenter at 33s, off a lenient looking handicap mark. I do fear Bravery under his new handler David O’Meara.
Best of luck to those having a punt.