The Lincoln: Gabrial Good Enough For Curtain Raiser

The Lincoln is run at Doncaster at the end of March
The Lincoln is run at Doncaster at the end of March

With the Flat season just around the corner, Timeform's Ben Fearnley takes an ante-post look at the Betway Lincoln and recommends a bet.

"Gabrial has gone well fresh, winning the Doncaster Mile on his first start in 2013 and second on his first run in Dubai last year. He’s also proven on all but extremely testing ground..."

Though it may no longer count towards the Jockey's Championship, for punters, commentators and- let's be honest- even jockeys the Lincoln will remain the symbolic start of the Flat turf season. How could it fail to be? After nearly five months of the ever-turning all-weather, the road quite literally opens up before us for a straight-mile handicap with 22 runners.

The race is as ever an extremely difficult puzzle to solve, even more so nowadays with Dubai and the all-weather increasing in popularity. Do you go with the unexposed turf horses, or take those that have been showing more of their hand while running themselves fit on synthetics? Ocean Tempest last year and Sweet Lightning in 2011 belong to the latter group, which will continue to grow in significance when it comes to the Lincoln.

If we're to stick to those making their reappearance, you want a trainer known for getting them ready in the spring and on that score few can match Richard Fahey. His most celebrated representative in the Lincoln has been Brae Hill, who won the race in 2012 and was placed in both 2011 and 2013. Though he has exited the stage, the same connections look likely to have a say in the Lincoln again, with both Gabrial and Gabrial's Kaka prominent in the ante-post market.

The more uncertainty about Gabrial's Kaka's target (could just as easily run in the Doncaster Mile on the same card) and more certainty about the limit of his ability, so it's Gabrial that we're more interested in.

Gabrial went to Dubai last year, winning from a mark of 106 over there which, even when allowing for the less competitive nature of the racing, suggests he's well handicapped off 100 now. He returned to Britain near the end of the summer and was tried over longer trips in races such as the Ebor, in which he simply failed to stay. On his final start, off a mark of 94 and back to an extended mile at Leicester, he won in a style that suggested he retained all of his ability.

Gabrial has gone well fresh, winning the Doncaster Mile on his first start in 2013 and second on his first run in Dubai last year. He's also proven on all but extremely testing ground, which we look unlikely to get in just over a week's time. There's a lot in Gabrial's favour and, though his profile isn't obvious for a race of this nature, he's more than likely underestimated at 20/1.

The 'right' Lincoln profile is the unexposed four-year-old, given that six of the 15 winners so far this century fall into that category. They are accordingly well-represented in the betting, runaway favourite Mange All and second-choice Gm Hopkins fitting the profile. Mange All is priced up on connections as much as anything else, so at the prices we're more interested in the latter

Gm Hopkins won his first three starts in 2014, the last of which was the Silver Cambridgeshire at Newmarket. That day Mange All (fourth) and Munaaser (fourth favourite for this, second) were behind him. Gm Hopkins' progress halted after that- perhaps he was unaccustomed to a sequence of hard races but it's also possible that he's just better on slightly firmer ground. Those doubts are just enough to keep us away from backing Gm Hopkins at 12/1.

We should also mention Munaaser, who has a 5-lb pull at the weights on Gm Hopkins from Newmarket. He might have been neglected at around 16/1 and, with slightly more positive signs on softer ground, he makes some appeal.

Others of interest include Mindurownbusiness, who will come to the race on a 2-lb lower mark than when winning the Lincoln Trial at Wolverhampton earlier this month, due to the 5-lb penalty for that win being added to his 7-lb lower turf mark.

As ever, you could back half a dozen for the Lincoln at this stage and miss the winner. Perversely, that's what draws in punters after their hibernation. Forced to stick to just one selection, we'll go with Gabrial, whose price underestimates how well handicapped he is. His profile is 'wrong' if you follow raw trends, but it's just right for him to become another Brae Hill.

Recommended bets:

Back Gabrial @ 26.025/1 1pt win

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