You know that spring is well and truly here when we’re talking about the Betway Lincoln (Saturday 2.45pm), Doncaster’s traditional curtain-raiser to the British Flat season.
Normally this meeting clashes with the Dubai World Cup, but due to the early Easter we’re fortunate to have leading jockeys like Ryan Moore, William Buick, James Doyle and new Betway ambassador Silvestre de Sousa on show.
This race has changed quite markedly in recent years. Less than a decade ago a horse could get a run if it was rated in the high 80s. This year you need to be at least 98.
It has become a very classy mile handicap which means that the weights are very compressed – just 8lb will separate the field tomorrow.
David O’Meara, who has recently moved to a much bigger yard near York, hasn’t won this race yet, but he came very close 12 months ago when Mondialiste was beaten just a neck by Gabrial.
That former French-trained runner went on to win a Grade One in Canada last September and then finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Mile.
Now, no-one is suggesting that hot favourite Lord Of The Land is going to turn out as good as him, but there are plenty of similarities with last year’s runner-up.
Mondialiste had some top class form in France when trained by Freddy Head, while Lord Of The Land won five of his 10 starts for master trainer Andre Fabre, including his last two.
Reports suggest that this son of Shamardal is working very well at home and there really is very little not to like as he’s proven over a variety of trips and on different ground.
My only problem is his price. He’s now 9/2 favourite with sponsors Betway when he was around 20/1 when betting opened on the race.
Considering Mondialiste was sent off at 25/1 last year, I just can’t recommend backing one so short.
That said, O’Meara has a very interesting second string in BIRDMAN, who might just cause a shock.
Formerly trained by David Simcock, he astonishingly won five of his first seven starts for O’Meara last season, which saw his handicap mark rocket up from 70 to 106.
He couldn’t keep winning forever, but he’s now down to 104 and Josh Doyle takes a further 5lb off.
He won on his seasonal reappearance last year, goes on any ground and has some very solid form at Doncaster.
If you can find any 20/1, that is a very fair each-way price.
Express Himself is a progressive handicapper and he looks interesting, while Mutarakez has the form to go close.
The Betway Spring Mile (2.15pm) is the consolation race for horses that missed out on the big one.
I was hoping AZRAFF would sneak into the main race, as I think he’d have had a big say, so I have to recommend him in this weaker event.
Although he didn’t manage to win a race last season, he ran well in defeat on a number of occasions, including when fourth to Bronze Angel over course and distance in September.
The key to him is that he has been gelded over the winter and that could be exactly what he needs to show his full potential.
Ryan Moore has been booked for the ride and he should go very close indeed.
Azraff e/w, 2.15pm Doncaster
Birdman e/w, 2.45pm Doncaster