Zarwaan tipped to kick off the flat season in style
The Lincoln always poses a unique puzzle for punters, constituting the first big handicap of the turf season, and therefore contested by horses who haven’t seen recent action on the surface, at a venue which has similarly been dormant since the autumn. In the old days, almost all the runners would be coming back from at least five months off, with the exception of the few who had been tried over hurdles, but the advent of all-weather racing, and the rise of the Dubai Carnival in particular has means that many more horses in the modern era arrive at Doncaster fit and with relevant form in the book, meaning the first leg of the Spring Double is less of a minefield than was once the case.
That’s not to say it’s become predictable, of course, and the last three winners have started at 20/1 or bigger. Of those three, Ocean Tempest won last year after prepping at Meydan, but Brae Hill and Levitate had the more traditional stamp of Lincoln winners, being experienced northern-trained handicappers returning from a winter break.
Ocean Tempest returns to attempt the double having again spent a fruitless campaign in the desert, and while he’s higher in the weights than he was a year ago, he’s actually well handicapped on the pick of his efforts, which was a remarkable success at Chester last summer off a mark of 115 – the highest mark ever defied by a handicapper in Britain. That sort of performance means he can never be ignored in races of this nature, and the fact that he’s such a familiar name may well have a positive effect on his price, given most punters are drawn towards the unexposed runners by nature.
Robert The Painter and Belgian Bill are the others in this year’s field to have completed their preparations in Dubai, and while the former is hard enough to fancy, there are reasons for expecting a big run from George Baker’s 7-y-o entire, who has run with credit on all three starts this year, and is something of a specialist in big-field handicaps. He’s also a dual winner at Doncaster, and would have excellent claims assuming that the going will ride on the fast side of good. That’s not a given, but the Town Moor track is currently the beneficiary of a drying breeze, and the going stick reading of 8.3 yesterday suggests that the ground is already a bit quicker than the advance going report would suggest. There is some rain forecast for race day, but no more than a couple of millimetres, and I can’t see those needing cut getting their conditions.
Mange All and GM Hopkins have dominated the market for this contest since betting began in earnest, and that’s not surprising, given both are progressive young handicappers from two of the finest yards in Newmarket, and the pair clashed in the Cambridgeshire in September, with GM Hopkins winning. John Gosden’s charge was beaten off higher marks in two subsequent starts, but gives the impression he’s still on the upgrade.
He has proven his ability to go well fresh, and Gosden won this with a similar type in Expresso Star a few years ago. In similar vein, William Haggas is capable of laying one out for this contest, as he showed when scoring with Very Wise in 2007. Mange All improved throughout his 3-y-o campaign, and it’s doubtful whether a 5 lb rise for his Cambridgeshire fourth will halt his progress now. In saying all that, the front pair in the market are well found, and value seekers will want to look elsewhere.
Zarwaan is only trading a little bigger in the market, but there are reasons to believe he’s the best handicapped horse in the race. Like Mange All and GM Hopkins, he was a progressive 3-y-o handicapper in 2014 at this sort of trip, but his season was curtailed before he could show the limit of his ability, and as a result the handicapper has had less chance to get to grips with him. The Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned gelding ran well on all three handicap starts last year, particularly in the Britannia Handicap at Royal Ascot when getting stopped in his run.
He was surrounded by subsequent winners there, with the second and third going on to make a serious impact in Group 2 company, and the collateral form suggests he’s potentially thrown in, even from a mark of 102. His yard didn’t fire fully in the first half of last year, and that’s just another reason to believe that the son of Dutch Art is the proverbial “Group Horse in a Handicap”, overused as the adage is. With this race looking like it’s been his target for some time, he’s worth backing at the morning odds.
Selection: Zarwaan @ 15/2
Alternative: Belgian Bill @ 16/1