Kevin Blake

Mark Milligan Big Race Verdict: Take Thunder to roar home in Lincoln at 14/1

Flat horse racing at Doncaster
Mark Milligan has previewed the start of the Flat season at Doncaster

Mark Milligan sits in for Kevin Blake with a Big Race Preview of the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster as the UK Flat racing season begins...

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With Easter arriving early this year, everything is rather compressed when it comes to the racing, which means we have the start of the Flat season at Doncaster coming hot on the heels of Cheltenham the previous week.

While we've barely had time to draw breath following the Cheltenham Festival, those who've been waiting for Lincoln day to arrive have their wish. That said, following Doncaster we won't have any more Flat racing on the turf until next Saturday at Musselburgh.

So, we have a slightly truncated start to the Flat season proper, which I've always thought a bit strange, but that's a debate for another day.

The Lincoln Handicap is always fiercely contested and often run on deep ground, and this year's renewal is no exception on both counts.

Assessing the draw and pace

The draw is something of a moveable feast on the straight course at Doncaster, particularly when the ground is testing, and if we take a look at the previous few years' Lincoln results, we can see the winners have been drawn from four through to 17.

Obviously, there's more to assessing the draw than just where the winners came from, but it does give us something of a clue.

I'm not prepared to delve into the realms of guesswork when it comes to figuring out what will be a decent draw and what won't, and it may be better to concentrate on where the main pace is.

Using the Timeform pace maps as a guide, it looks to me as though there will be a bit more pace in the low numbers, with Hieronymus likely to tow those on that side into things from his draw in stall eight.

That will almost certainly help some of the better-fancied runners, including last year's runner-up Awaal and recent Irish Lincolnshire winner Chazzesmee.

Of those drawn high, The Gatekeeper should be prominently placed, which could help the well-backed Liberty Lane, who's found himself handed stall 20, though there doesn't look much other pace on that side.

Thunder Ball may not be done improving yet

So how best to attack the race?

Several of those with strong chances have seen their prices erode over the last few days and it doesn't make a lot of sense to me to be taking a punt on the likes of Awaal and Liberty Lane at the current odds, for all their claims are clear.

Doncaster Flat field head on.jpg

I'm going to split my stakes between a couple at bigger prices, and with doubts over where the best part of the track to may be (see the earlier Spring Mile for clues), I suspect it's prudent to take one each from the low and high numbers.

My main fancy is drawn in single figures and that's Thunder Ball, who's proven on soft ground and should get a good tow into the race from the front-running Hieronymus.

Paul and Oliver Cole's four-year-old improved in leaps and bounds last season, taking his mark from 75 at the start of the year to winning a Goodwood Handicap off 95 on his final outing.

He's been bumped up to 101 for this task but does have useful claimer Alex Voikhansky taking off 5lb, which could well prove crucial.

Back Thunder Ball 1pt win 15:35 Doncaster @ 14/115.00

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Save on Johnston runner from high draw

On the opposite side of the track, let's have a saver on The Gatekeeper, who could well get the run of things on that side with little else in the way of early pace signed on, certainly on paper at least.

Charlie Johnston's gelding showed how dangerous he can be when getting the run of the race, as he took his final start of last season in the Balmoral Handicap at Ascot, with several of this field in behind him.

He's been upped 4lb for that win but his new rating of 100 still looks like it has a bit of wiggle room and he's proven on deep ground, too.

I do have a slight doubt over the form of the yard at present, as their runners seem to be pretty much all or nothing of late, but we're getting a decent enough price, and The Gatekeeper looks worth chancing to small stakes.

Back The Gatekeeper 0.5pts win 15:35 Doncaster @ 10/111.00

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