FINDING the winner of the Lincoln Handicap, the flat season’s traditional curtain-raiser, used to be an impossible task. No favourite won the straight mile cavalry charge between 1980 and 1998, and there were four 33/1 winners during that nightmare period for punters.
However, things have changed and the race simply isn’t what it used to be. Since the Lincoln returned to a refurbished Doncaster in 2008, after a two year spell at Redcar and Newcastle, it has been won by four-year-olds rather than the more exposed older handicapping type. In fact, if you ignore the two races run away from Town Moor, the last six winners have all hailed from that very generation.
It seems that the race, with an attractive safety limit of 22, is now being targeted by progressive four-year-olds on their way to Group class races. Penitent and Expresso Star, the last two winners of the race, were sent off red-hot favourites and both tackled Group company on their very next starts.
Now, the horse that fits the profile best tomorrow is the John Gosden trained TAQLEED at 4/1 with sponsors William Hill. The son of Shamardal will be having only his fifth ever racecourse start and looked hugely progressive in three runs last campaign. He followed impressive wins at Nottingham and Newmarket with a bold show in the Cambridgeshire for a horse with so little experience.
His sixth place finish was far better than it looked as he wasn’t knocked about in the closing stages when headed. The ground will hold no fears and I’m convinced that a strongly run mile is exactly what’s required at this stage of his career.
In-form Richard Hannon’s Fremont, Irish Heartbeat and Lowther are all respected, but Taqleed has the potential to be a lot better than handicapping class and could well make a mockery of this mark. I’d expect him to potentially trade under 3/1 on the day, so backers on Betdaq may well be able to trade in and out before the race has even been run. His biggest danger may well be the Barry Hills trained Gunner Lindley, but he needs the heavens to open and the ground may be a little too lively.
By the way, if you bet on the race with Victor Chandler and your selection finishes second, third or fourth, they’ll refund your stake (up to £50) as a free bet next week - and what a week, with the Masters, Champions League and the Grand National!
Elsewhere on Doncaster’s card and Barry Hills’ PRIME DEFENDER is running in the Cammidge Trophy for the fourth successive year having won it back in 2009, finishing second last year and fourth in 2008. Hills has his team in great form and I’d be surprised if this course specialist, who runs very well fresh, isn’t in the shake-up once again on his seasonal reappearance. The same stable saddle the well-regarded Canna in the 4.15pm contest, but I prefer the chances of Clive Brittain’s NABAH who will relish the step up in trip and looks set to break her maiden tag.
Finally, I’ve had a very good word for a two-year-old newcomer called SEA ODYSSEY who is expected to make his racecourse debut at Windsor on Monday afternoon. He is reportedly working extremely well at home and it will take a very useful sort to lower his colours next week.
If you are keen on my early views on next week’s Grand National and the rest of the weekend’s racing, you can follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile.
The start of the flat season is a breath of fresh air - well, it would be if I could work out which tracks and races were likely to be the most or least competitive. Bravo Northern Racing; adding funds to prize money is something the late Stan Clarke would have done and I’m sure he would have done so earlier than the management of today.
The Lincoln tomorrow is a typical cavalry charge with 22 horses all in with a shout. Even rank outsider Prince Of Dance has a chance. He might have been dismissed by the bookies but if the ground happens to end up Good to Soft then he should probably have too much for Prime Exhibit who, if it was Soft, would most likely be favourite. Okay, Prince Of Dance hasn’t been in form for a while but I could still envisage him winning it. The draw is always a discussion point in these big handicaps and in tomorrow’s race I can’t help thinking that Richard Fahey has his possible top guns in and around the rail of the low draw. As such I would have to plump for IRISH HEARTBEAT (2% e/w). I also fancy DOCOFTHEBAY (0.5% E/W) and will be having a little saver on Dandy Nicholls’ runner.