Friday, 30 March 2018


It's a great historic race that once attracted the soon to be immortal Sceptre, a race where those names on that Totopoly board up in the loft came from, and one that up to relatively recent times had an important place in the calendar

Last Saturday's Lincoln stood up to scrutiny with the best renewals of the past forty years, boasting a winner and runner-up that will both win in Group company this season, and that's something, at the beginning of the time window, the likes of Captain's Wings and Fair Season never achieved despite finding roles as stallions.

It deserved better but crammed into a disorderly fixture list a casual viewer of the sport would have had to look hard to find the event. No build up from January onwards as was once the case, the relentless and expanding AW game now meaning that you don't see the race approaching anymore.

Moreover, the concept of the ' Spring Double'  that was once very much alive with all and sundry feeling obliged to link a conversation about an upcoming Lincoln with one about the Grand National, has vanished.

Twice from the seventies onwards there were periods when the Lincoln's future was far more assured than the Grand National. Remember when the prospect of losing Aintree as a racecourse became a distinct possibility and how it was mooted whether the race should be allowed to pass away.

Alternative venues were put forward to stage the race. Newmarket was a strange one,  Haydock Park a more realistic alternative, with the other name bandied about being Donny.

Now, the Lincoln would benefit greatly from a renewed link with the Grand National, while the Aintree race, although an imitation of the one that is no more, carries a massive prize fund, publicity, and is the best known horse racing event in the British Isles, even though along with the lowering profile of the sport, is a tier or so less important than in past times.

That was how it once was. You would be familiar with the Lincoln ante-post market as soon it was established, mark a couple down that caught the eye. Cataldi, surely he'll start off in Group events, not beaten far in the Champion Stakes for God's sake ...Hastings-Bass taking Better Blessed to Cagnes to gain a fitness advantage--- Clive Brittain bullish about his planned runner but look at his trainer's talks and it's positivity about everything.

When people talk of an absent 'buzz factor' the accusation is that they live in the past, that familiarity and cynicism is something that will remove the knots in the stomach with all the sports over time. That is all very fine but this is not as common in other sports.

Ask those same racing fans who now think of the Lincoln as just another decent handicap whether they are looking forward to the Masters Golf. They will be rubbing their hands, already developing their betting portfolio for Augusta, and while they will be looking forward to Aintree the following week, everything racing will be second in the queue for those four enthralling days.

No, this is not just down to ageing familiarity. This is more to do with the sport of horse racing losing appeal within its own fanbase as well as an absence of new enthusiasts.

Today we have the hullabaloo of the nonsense that is 'All Weather Championship Day'  with seven races carrying the word 'Championships' in the plural in the title, and all non-deserving, some more so than others, and very confusing to someone who is at home and randomly tuned into ATR today.

I suppose the excuse for attaching it to the opening apprentice handicap is that it is just a race of that description on 'Championship's Day' - but why then are all the other races in the plural. Even with the conditions races, it's not clear whether any particular race is designed to be a British AW championship for that particular distance and category.

And is this doesn't grate with traditional fans, take a perusal of the prize money on offer today in some of the races at the now degraded Gosforth Park, and even over at the turf fixture at Bath. Then compare this with the funds on offer when the Newmarket Craven and Newbury Greenham fixtures come around in a few weeks time.

That is during the spell when fans will have switched truly into 'flat mode', where every three year old maiden at the big southern tracks has a 'talked up' contender, and where the Craven and Nell Gwyn, Fred Darling and Greenham can still have a bearing on the classics despite the trend to go to Newmarket without a prep.

They are the type of meetings that can still make a prospective fan bite. A Leonardo Da Vinci or Armada in the Wood Ditton, the race that produces more false dawns than most others until you become dismissive and then a Harbinger turns up.

Then all those other three year old maidens; Commander In Chief won one at Newmarket, Quest For Fame one at Newbury. Then there are those objects of glowing gallop reports of which we have our own that we remember for one reason or another.  Banana's Foster of Stoute's beat in his Newmarket maiden and turned out to be very mediocre. Cecil's Mr Flourocarbon won his Newbury maiden and would be taking the Queen Anne a couple of months later.

The point is that these fixtures have a soul, produce tingles, are fuel for hours of lively discussions packed with the customary 'what if'' and 'could be' scenarios, and more importantly of all show that the sport has a fascinating depth to it.

It's far away from hyped up soulless garbage on show at Lingfield and Newcastle today. Best to hope that anyone staying indoors and channel hopping doesn't stop the button on ATR because they may be put off the sport for good.

image © Michael Trolove 

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