After a successful week at the Cheltenham Festival, Tony Calvin returns with a look ahead to the Lincoln at Doncaster on Saturday...
"Addeybb and Fire Brigade are the other horses vying for favouritism at around the 7/1 and 8/1 mark - in fact, as I write Fire Brigade, with Ryan Moore booked, has just come into nearer 7.06/1 on the Exchange - and this pair were only split by ½ length and a short-head when first and third in the Silver Cambridgeshire last season."
Cheltenham all but a distant memory
I am happy to leave the mind-numbingly boring Cheltenham post-mortems to others - you have either (a) done your money, (b) nicked a few quid or (c) lied to the other half and friends and said that you played a draw, so move on - and the beauty of horse racing is that there is always a big race just around the corner, as opposed to the 28 that took place last week.
This weekend is actually one of the quietest when it comes to ante-post races, but it does house the Lincoln, the 22-runner 1m handicap that is seen by many as the start of the "proper" Flat season.
As with most big Flat and National Hunt handicaps these days - though it was bizarre to see some, such as the Ultima, not even come close to filling at Cheltenham - securing a place in the line-up is a feat in itself, and some 97-rated horses are sweating on getting a run.
Gone are the days, it seems, when the likes of Levitate could get in and win this race off a mark of 90 as recently as 2013. And, with a maximum field of 22, plenty, including last year's winner Bravery, already pretty much know their fate. Only one came out at the top of the weights at the overnight stage last year.
O'Meara import heads classy field
So it is class all the way and it was no surprise to see joint top-weight Lord Glitters challenging for favouritism at around the 7/1 mark for the 100k race this morning. But don't go backing him just yet, for reasons that I will go into shortly, and he has predictably drifted in the betting in last few hours.
He probably wasn't seen in his best light when just touched off in a steadily-run, six-runner Listed race at Newmarket last time out in November. But he certainly was when given the waiting race from heaven - though you would have gone through hell if you backed him - when getting up on the line to chin GM Hopkins in the Balmoral previously.
He has raced only three times for present connections since being bought for a pretty punchy 270,000 euros from France last July and, already rated 107, it would be no surprise to see him plying his trade in soft-ground Group 1 and 2 races this season.
He has an obvious chance in what will be testing conditions - though his trainer certainly wasn't confirming him as a definite starter in an interview on ATR this morning, stating that carrying 9st 10 on testing ground is not ideal, so hold those bets (and he is one of a few in here who is also in the Doncaster Mile earlier in the card) - as does the horse who vied for favouritism with him in that Ascot handicap, Zabeel Prince.
He looked a proper tool when beating Bravery at York but he failed to fire in the Balmoral.
However, I seem to remember plenty were taking on him on in the Ascot race on the grounds that it wasn't Roger Varian's usual, or preferred, MO to run horses so soon under penalties in handicaps, so he could be a totally different proposition here, albeit from a 10lb higher mark than at York. He is another with the option of the Doncaster Mile, though.
Moore looking to go one better on Fire Brigade
Addeybb and Fire Brigade are the other horses vying for favouritism at around the 7/1 and 8/1 mark - in fact, as I write Fire Brigade, with Ryan Moore booked, has just come into nearer 7.06/1 on the Exchange - and this pair were only split by ½ length and a short-head when first and third in the Silver Cambridgeshire last season.
Connections of both have obviously targeted this race since signing off last season - Fire Brigade went on to win at Leicester, for which he was raised 4lb - but their chances are surely fully factored into their prices and I looking towards some more exposed horses at much bigger prices.
Beckett could bring back Mitchum's Swagger
It is currently soft at Doncaster but the forecast doesn't look too bad, if a touch unsettled. One horse who certainly wouldn't mind that being wrong, and a lot more rain, is Mitchum Swagger.
Everyone knows he is a mud lark and a pretty well handicapped one, too, at the moment, and he changed hands for 75,000gns at the sales in November. The move to Ralph Beckett wouldn't have done him any harm, and his record gives you some hope that he will be ready and firing after his break.
He is certainly one to consider at around 20/1 - the 25/1 in the marketplace went last night - and another one at a huge price that caught my eye is London Protocol, who currently trades at 65.064/1 on the Exchange.
I had no idea if he was an intended runner this morning so I tweeted one of the guys who runs his syndicate to ask if he was, and got the answer back: "Hopefully, Tony."
Not exactly a definite "yes, and we fancy the arse off him" and he isn't jocked up at the moment, but at least this race seems to be the plan and I can see him out-running his odds if taking his chance.
He ran okay when eighth on his reappearance in the Spring Mile over course and distance last April, and I think the expected deeper ground here will be to his liking.
I wouldn't be overly-concerned by his two modest runs in the heat of Dubai earlier this year, most recently in February, and at least he has been dropped 1lb for those and had a bit of welcome sun of his back. Two of his three wins have come over 1m on soft ground, and I quite like his chances if he does get the green light.
A not so Grey return to Britain from Meydan
Another horse who comes here on the back of two Meydan runs (his first after being gelded) is Grey Britain, but in his case they are a bit too recent for my liking - the latest was just on March 10 - and that is off-putting as he hasn't had much time to recover from the travelling.
Mind you, he ran well at Lingfield last season just nine days after coming back from Dubai, so maybe he is a hardy sort and that isn't any concern at all. I normally take well over a fortnight to recover from a long flight, especially if there was a free bar.
Perhaps more relevant is that Grey Britain barely raised a leg in Meydan - he was tailed off last time - and the handicapper has ignored those starts, too.
But a strongly-run 1m on soft ground could be right up his street on the evidence of his fourth over 1m2f at Goodwood last season, and his proven stamina could be very handy in these conditions. He has plenty of form over this trip, and is an interesting 33/1 poke.
As you would expect, there are no shortage of double-digit chances that you can make a convincing case for.
Leader Writer needs four horses to come out in order to get a run but he was very impressive when winning over 1m at Ascot in soft ground last season and tuned up nicely for this at Lingfield last month.
And in Ballard Down and Repercussion we have two wide-margin, last-time-out winners for whom there is likely to be a lot more to come. And James Tate, trainer of the lightly-raced Via Via, has his horses in good form.
So, in summary, I have three on my "short list" as this stage at the prices. Mitchum Swagger, and the two horses, London Protocol and Grey Britain, just back from their Dubai jaunts.
However, I am happy to wait to see what unfolds with the ground and draw after we get the confirmed runners on Thursday morning, and of course the enhanced place terms will then no doubt will be forthcoming for those can snaffle them up.
Until then, it is a watching brief from this quarter. Good luck.