William Haggas will bid for a record-breaking fifth success in the SBK Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster on Saturday, with the unbeaten Mujtaba spearheading his challenge.
The four-year-old has run three times thus far, winning two novice events by a combined five and half lengths before taking a Redcar handicap in October.
The latter win came on soft ground and Town Moor is likely to be a drying good to soft, though Haggas has said that he will not avoid better going despite suspecting that a surface with more cut would be the gelding’s preference.
Apprentice Adam Farragher was due to take 5lb off the favourite, but a gallops accident has ruled him out, with Cieren Fallon now taking the ride.
“Mujtaba is a horse that has got potential to be better. He delighted me with his progress last year and I was really pleased with him at Chester and Redcar,” he said.
“We thought the Lincoln would be the right option for him to start this season. He’s still a big, immature horse but he is talented.
“He has a big frame. My fear would be he may well be better on softer ground, but that won’t stop us running.
“Unexposed, younger horses often run well in a race like this, but whether he has enough experience, I don’t know.”
Haggas currently shares the title of most successful trainer in the race and last struck gold with Addeybb, who prevailed by two and three quarter lengths from Lord Glitters in 2018 and has since gone on to progress into a multiple international Group One winner, as has the runner-up.
“Mujtaba hasn’t achieved what Addeybb had by the time he ran in the Lincoln,” he said.
“He has got a good pedigree though, being by Dubawi, and his mother was a champion in South Africa. I think he has a chance to develop into a good horse.”
Ametist carries the colours of Cheveley Park Stud and runs for the first time since a good third in the nine-furlong Cambridgeshire at Newmarket in September. With Fallon aboard Mujtaba, Rossa Ryan comes in for the mount.
“Ametist is getting older now, but he’s got low mileage and goes well fresh,” said Haggas.
“He loves a straight track and decent ground, which he’ll hopefully get in the Lincoln.
“He’s had a few issues in the past but he’s in good form and has been working well, so has as good a chance as any.
“He was third in the Cambridgeshire last season, so he may want a bit further, but I think a mile first time out will suit him well. I think he’s a nice horse.”
Haggas’ third runner is Irish Admiral (Stevie Donohoe), a five-year-old whose form has waxed and waned since he won his British debut last April.
He said: “Irish Admiral was bought from Ireland privately and, to be honest, he hasn’t been as good as we’d hoped.
“He ran a very promising first race last year. We think he wants decent ground and a straight track and probably a mile under a positive ride.
“He’s a genuine, strong-galloping horse who will be up the front battling away.”
Andrew Balding’s Notre Belle Bete is well-fancied after winning Wolverhampton’s Lincoln trial earlier in the month.
Prior to that, the gelding won a Lingfield novice on his first run for his new stable after previously being trained by Darren Bunyan on the Curragh.
“He seems in good form and he’s a horse we’re very pleased with,” Balding told Sky Sports Racing.
“His work improved dramatically after he won his maiden at Lingfield. He really picked up and was showing improved form at home, so we were quite hopeful apart from the draw at Wolverhampton (stall 11).
“David (Probert) did a brilliant job in the circumstances and the horse wasn’t at ease on the track, so more credit for that performance to get the job done and not handling the track.
“I think Doncaster will play more to his strengths – a straight, galloping mile. He probably just wouldn’t want the ground to dry up too much.”
David O’Meara has an interesting contender in the shape of Darkness, who makes his British debut for new connections after spending his two and three-year-old seasons in the care of Jean-Claude Rouget in France.
A Listed winner as a juvenile in the Criterium de Lyon, the bay ran three times in Group and Listed company last season without success.
“He’s had some good form in France as a young horse and we’ve had a good preparation,” said O’Meara.
“This is a nice starting point, the Lincoln, he’s fit and well and we’d be hoping for a good run.
“As ever, William Haggas and Charlie Appleby have some good runners and a great record in the race.”
Darkness has proved he can cope with heavy ground in France, but he has form on good to soft also and O’Meara is not concerned about drying conditions.
“I think he’ll be fine in the ground on Saturday. I think it’ll be good to soft, maybe good in places, and he’ll be fine on that,” he said.
Also running for the same owner-trainer combination is Hortzadar, third last season at odds of 66-1.
“He ran very well in it last time and he too has had a great prep,” O’Meara said.
“He’s a very solid horse and I think he’ll run his race.”
Elsewhere in the race is the aforementioned Appleby’s Modern News, a four-year-old who will be ridden by teenage 7lb claimer Harry Davies after returning from a spell in Dubai during which he was third in a Listed event over seven furlongs.
“Modern News finished off his 2021 season on a high and has definitely come forward for his run at Meydan. It was always the plan to put him back into quarantine and head for this,” Appleby told www.godolphin.com.
“He shipped back to Newmarket well and it has been mild for the past couple of weeks, which is always a positive for horses returning from Dubai. We are confident that the step up to a mile is going to suit and he looks a big player.”
Simon and Ed Crisford are represented by Saleymm, a Dubawi colt who has been kept in action over the winter and won twice by comfortable margins on the all-weather in November.
Michael Dods’ Brunch, last season’s runner-up, returns for another tilt after connections opted against a run in the Listed Doncaster Mile instead.
“He’s well and it was a difficult decision with the owners whether to run in the Listed race or have another crack at this,” the trainer said.
“The Listed race has ended up with only four runners, but we just felt with the Richard Hannon horse (Chindit) in there – and he looks like a Group horse – we’d go for the Lincoln again.
“He obviously ran well first time up here last year, so hopefully he will again.”