Faith is favoured by draw

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GREG WOOD

Soft ground and firm predictions are rarely a dependable combination, not least before a race like the Lincoln, but as punters face up to the annual enigma that is the Flat season's first big handicap, one thing seems clear. Runners who are drawn towards the stands' side - indeed, all those whose box number is into double figures - are as good as beaten before the starter reaches for his button.

History, both distant and extremely recent, allows no other conclusion. The two most recent runnings of the Lincoln on soft ground both produced a winner on the far side, while the evidence of yesterday's Spring Mile was conclusive. While most riders decided, puzzlingly, to go down the stands' side, and appeared to be well ahead at halfway, the remainder eventually finished a long way clear. Horses from stalls two, one, seven and three filled the first four places, and Sharp Prospect, the ante-post favourite who will start from number 14, immediately started a walk in the market which will surely continue today.

A further statistic is worth considering before anyone opts for one of the market leaders, which is that only 10 per cent of Lincoln winners have finished in the first three in their previous outing. This does not mean we can simply strike out all those which do qualify, but it is another sign that fancied horses do not perform well in this race. The shortest- priced winners in the last eight years were 16-1 chances, and while refusing to bet is the sensible option, anyone who wants to play should do so to small stakes at large odds.

The apparent advantage of a low draw has started a round of price-cutting, but strangely one runner with soft-ground form, a leading trainer and a liking for a straight mile is still available at 25-1 this morning.

It is almost three years since Show Faith (3.40) won the Britannia Handicap at Royal Ascot, an eight-furlong charge which is, if anything, even more frantic than today's assignment, and while his final run last year was a little disappointing, he had previously finished fourth in the Cambridgeshire. From his number five draw, a prominent showing must be likely, and the odds are too good to miss.

The remainder of Doncaster's card is uninspiring, although Rainbow Top is an interesting runner in the 12-furlong conditions event after two easy wins on the all-weather. Daraydan (4.15) may be too good for him today, however, while Carranita (4.45) and Beas River (2.30) should also go close.

Newbury's jumps card is predictably diminished by its proximity to the year's two big Festival meetings, but the fields are strong even if the quality is not. The feature event, the Hoechst Panacur Novices' Hurdle Final for mares, can fall to SUPREME LADY (nap 2.00), for whom today's conditions will be ideal, and Teinein (next best 1.30) is another to support.

Some of the crowd will be drifting home as the concluding bumper is run, but not Ferdy Murphy. The trainer was infuriated that French Holly was denied a run in Cheltenham's Festival Bumper by the handicapper's ungenerous estimate of his ability. Murphy believes that French Holly would have stood a major chance, so he will need to win today's bumper in style.

Adrian Maguire, the punters' favourite, is again absent today, but will see a specialist on Monday and hopes to return to the saddle on Wednesday, 24 hours before the start of Aintree.

Another well-known figure is preparing to depart the stage. Guy Harwood, who prepared Dancing Brave and many other top-class winners such as To- Agori-Mou and Ile De Chypre during the 1980s, has announced that he will pass his licence on to his daughter, Amanda, at the campaign's end.

LINCOLN HANDICAP - 10-YEAR TALE

1986 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95

Fate of the favourites: 2 9 8 12 13 20 11/17 20 9 18

Winner's place in betting: 0 2jt 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Starting-prices: 25-1 9-1 33-1 20-1 33-1 22-1 16-1 16-1 16-1 33-1

Ages: 5 7 4 5 6 6 4 5 5 4

Profit or loss to pounds 1 stake: Favourites -pounds 10.00. Second Favourites -pounds 5.00

Percentage of winners placed 1st, 2nd or 3rd in last race: 10%

Shortest-priced winner: Star Of A Gunner 9-1 (1987)

Longest-priced winners: 33-1 Cuvee Charlie (1988), Evichstar (1990)

n & Roving Minstrel (1995)

Top trainer: No trainer has won this race more than once in the past 10 years

Top jockey: No rider has won this race more than once in the past 10 years

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