Matt Gardner attempts to find the winner of the Lincoln Handicap...
"This winter appears to have been something of a schooling session for Captain Cat, learning and perfecting his trade..."
The Flat is back! OK, so it never really went away with the all-weather racing over the winter, and after the Lincoln Handicap there is still the Grand National meeting to get through, but Winter Derby day at Lingfield on Saturday, and the Curragh on Sunday, really whetted the appetite for the upcoming turf season.
Every year it is said that the Lincoln is notoriously difficult but, even by its own standard, the 2014 renewal looks particularly tricky so the ante-post punting strategy is simple: select one of the market leaders and then one at a price.
It's currently 11.010/1 the field on Betfair, with Captain Cat and Gabrials Kaka jointly heading the market. Of the pair the one to make most appeal is Captain Cat, and there is actually a case to be made for him heading the market outright at a shorter price. In fact, that scenario could just come about on Saturday.
Trained by Roger Charlton, Captain Cat is very lightly-raced for a five-year-old but he has consistently shown promise, from his strong maiden form in 2012 right through to his all-weather campaign this winter. Captain Cat finally delivered the improvement his earlier form had promised when scoring at Kempton in October and he has actually posted better performances in defeat twice since, including when second to subsequent Winter Derby victor Robin Hoods Bay in January.
Last season Captain Cat didn't look ready for the type of race he was being thrust into, notably in a big-field scenario at Goodwood in July when he was bumped around before fading out of things. This winter appears to have been something of a schooling session for the five-year-old, learning and perfecting his trade, and there is every chance that we will see a different horse come Saturday.
The selection at a price is Jacks Revenge, who finished fifth in this race 12 months ago off a 4 lb lower mark. He was actually unlucky not to finish a bit closer than that, finding himself in an unpromising position three furlongs from home and being forced to weave his way through the field, sticking on too good effect once in the clear.
Jacks Revenge largely held his form throughout the rest of the season, running a couple of belters when hitting the places in competitive races at both Goodwood and Ascot, and he is a generally likeable type, versatile with regards to both ground and trip. There is plenty of play in his current price of 26.025/1 but there is also the in-play angle, as he has traded low on a number of occasions when failing to convert.
The dangers are aplenty, starting with Whispering Warrior who bolstered an already healthy strike-rate when successful in the Lincoln Trial at Wolverhampton earlier this month. He's effective at a mile but also at a mile and a quarter, and his style of racing means that he could just prove vulnerable to one or two getting loose on the front end at a mile, and he may not have quite enough to reel them back in for all that he's got a clear chance under a penalty.
It would come as no surprise were the frustrating Dance And Dance to pop up in a race of this ilk as he has slipped to an attractive mark but he's risky at the best of times, whilst last season's victor Levitate clearly has to be considered once more, though his new mark may just be high enough to catch him out for the time being.
Gabrials Kaka shares favouritism with Captain Cat and he ended last season in a much more consistent vain of form than had previously been the case, an excellent second to Seek Again at York in October adding to a solid profile. For me he doesn't deserve to be the same price as Captain Cat however, so from that perspective he is overlooked.
There's a case to be made for Tullius being the "class" horse in the race, with the six-year-old able to boast successes at both listed and Group 3 level in 2012. He showed that he retained plenty of ability on his three starts last season after an absence and his form entitles him to go close to defying a mark of 109, though he'll have to be at his best to do so and whether he can do it first time out is up for debate, for all that his record fresh is a good once.
Rebellious Guest is an interesting contender if taking his chance, though that's not certain given that he ran in the Winter Derby on Saturday. He found the step up to Group 3 level too much though was by no means disgraced, and is theoretically well treated under a penalty here, but this is a quick turnaround.
Brownsea Brink, Norse Blues and One Word More are just a few others that make appeal but the list could go on forever and it's time to take it back to the two selections, namely Captain Cat and Jacks Revenge. Both have plenty to recommend them and arguably are bigger prices than they deserve to be, so look pretty sensible darts to fire at an absolute minefield of a contest.
Listen to Matt Gardner's ante-post podcast on Timeform Radio by clicking HERE.