Flat racing returns on Saturday with 22 runners going to post for the Lincoln at Doncaster, the traditional curtain raiser for the season. Soft ground awaits the field, and we will know more about the draw following the Spring Mile, which is run just over an hour earlier. At this stage, however, we will need to do a little guesswork.
Seven of the last ten winners have been drawn in a double-figure stall, although last year’s winner Johan came from stall 4. Two winners in the last decade came from stall 3, while two came from stall 10. Unfortunately, there isn’t really strong evidence to sway you either way, outside of perhaps a minor preference for a high draw.
In terms of age, 4- and 5-year-olds have dominated recently, winning eight of the last ten renewals. No horse older than 6 has won in the last decade. Similarly, high and low weighted horses have generally not been successful, with most of the winners coming from the middle of the weights: eight of the last ten winners have carried between 9st and 9st 4lb.
Haggas’s Strong Hand
Top trainers fielding unexposed types tend to do well in the race, with five of the last ten winners trained by Charlie Appleby, John & Thady Gosden and Willie Haggas.
The last-named has two runners here, Al Mubhir and Montassib. Al Mubhir was impressive when winning at Haydock at the end of last season. Dropped back to a mile, he proved he handled soft ground when storming clear off a strong pace and has had a wind operation since, which should eek out more improvement. He had the race run to suit for that win, the time wasn’t anything exciting and he’s facing much better competition here, so he is probably a bit short as things stand, although he should be in the mix.
Montassib returned from a near 600-day break to win on his seasonal debut last year so has proven himself effective fresh. He ran several great races subsequently, including on his final start of the year when second over a mile on soft ground, and he looks to hold very solid claims.
As, too, does Wanees. He finished in front of Montassib at Haydock last time and had to make up his ground without cover, winning readily enough in the end. He loves soft ground, goes well fresh and should progress again.
Progressive Awaal A Likely Sort
Simon & Ed Crisford are excellent at getting one ready first time up and they field two runners here. Croupier looks to have a question mark over the going, but there are no such worries for Awaal, who powered clear of a good field at Redcar. He has gone up 9lbs for that but has been gelded since, is bred to be good and his form is working out very well. He has a good draw and might be even better with some cover in a well run race.
Migration heads the weights and would definitely have a chance on his 2nd at Newbury last year. That came off a break and off just a pound lower than he will carry here. Things didn’t really pan out for him in two subsequent starts and he looks capable of a big run, although he has to give plenty of weight to some good, progressive sorts.
John Quinn trained Levitate to win the Lincoln in 2013 and he fields two here. Safe Voyage will love the going and is down to a very fair mark now based on his best form, where he was basically a Group 1 standard horse with give in the ground. He’s 10 now, though, and his best days are behind him, although he would have a chance of hitting the board. As would Quinn’s other runner, Empirestateofmind, who pulled clear with an unexposed improver last time out having travelled well.
Prior to that, Empirestateofmind had run well behind Atrium, who will reoppose here. Atrium definitely deserves some respect as a course and distance winner, particularly as he has won on the ground, and he is another who might be capable of making the frame.
Baradar Back For Boughey
Baradar is another with course form, having won at the track on his most recent start last November. That was his first run for the shrewd George Boughey yard and if you look back far enough you’ll see that Baradar finished third in a Group 1 over this course and distance as juvenile. He lost his way somewhat after that but looks back to something like his best now and is of definite interest, although he has been well found in the market.
As is last year’s Cambridgeshire winner Majestic given he comes from a yard in from and is lightly-raced enough to make you think he can progress again. Soft ground isn’t sure to suit him, however, and he might have targets further down the line.
Finally, an interesting outsider is Jimi Hendrix. A winner on soft ground at this course, he ran a superb race at Royal Ascot when trying to make the running in a 30-runner field at a track that doesn’t favour speed. He only got run down late but horses ridden further back and made amends next time out at Newmarket despite looking uneasy on the track. He totally lost his way subsequently, but has been gelded over the winter and comes here freshened up. The booking of the outstanding Rossa Ryan catches the eye and he makes a bit of appeal.
Verdict: An open-looking Lincoln. There doesn’t look to be a typical ‘Group horse in a handicap’ lurking here, although if there is it’s probably Awaal. He has plenty of weight but has a lot of scope to improve again. Al Mubhir is solid, as is Baradar, but the selection is WANEES (17/2). Charlie Hills’ gelding is well drawn, will love conditions and still looks to have handicapping scope. The horse he beat last time, Montassib, rates a danger at a bigger price, as does Jimi Hendrix.