Muchea enters Lincoln picture

It may be one of the few benefits of global warming that the Flat racing season now seems to start at pretty much the right time. Heading for Doncaster and the Lincoln Handicap meeting in half a dozen layers of clothing was never much fun, but in this mildest of springs, with daffs in bloom everywhere and blossom already falling from the trees, it somehow feels like the right and proper thing to do.

It may be one of the few benefits of global warming that the Flat racing season now seems to start at pretty much the right time. Heading for Doncaster and the Lincoln Handicap meeting in half a dozen layers of clothing was never much fun, but in this mildest of springs, with daffs in bloom everywhere and blossom already falling from the trees, it somehow feels like the right and proper thing to do.

But you can never satisfy everyone, and with so little rain to ease the ground, the first complaints from trainers about fast going have arrived close behind reports of the first cuckoo. It is more often a problem of July and August, yet the surface at Town Moor is sufficiently fast to worry the connections of several leading candidates for Saturday's Lincoln.

None the less, 80 horses stood their ground at the five-day stage yesterday, of whom only 24 will get a run in the main event when the final declarations, and the public draw for stalls positions, are made on Thursday. The next 24 will go into the Spring Mile over the Lincoln distance on Friday afternoon, while a dozen or two more will need to lower their sights to get an early run under their girths.

David Nicholls's Tayseer, and John Ferneley, the winner of the Wolverhampton Lincoln Trial, are the first two horses in the ante-post betting, and are both guaranteed a run. However, Paul Cole, John Ferneley's trainer, is one of those concerned about the lively going.

"At the moment, everything's fine, he's fit and well and so is the other one [Nimello]," Cole said yesterday. "He's been good since Wolverhampton but we're a bit nervous about the ground. We wouldn't want it too fast, but he's running at the moment."

As for the next big question of the week, the best place to be drawn on Saturday, Cole is either unconcerned, or reluctant to give anything away ahead of Thursday, when he or his representative will be able to pick a stall for John Ferneley. "They seem to end up in the middle," he added. "I'm not too worried about it, there's not a great deal you can do, just get on with it."

A sudden shower could, of course, upset everyone's calculations before Jimmy White, this year's celebrity drawmeister, begins to pull counters out of a bag on Thursday lunchtime. While all manner of drainage work has been carried out on the straight mile in recent years, there remains a feeling among many Town Moor regulars that a low draw is best when the ground is soft.

Two more leading ante-post contenders, Right Wing, who won the race last year and finished third in 1998, and Bomb Alaska, who was the runner-up in the Cambridgeshire, are also among those who could miss the race if the going dries further. Pat Eddery is a provisional jockey booking for Right Wing, but he could find himself sitting it out, unlike Michael Roberts, who will go to post on Muchea.

Mick Channon, who is starting his first full season at the historic West Ilsley stables, booked Roberts for Muchea yesterday. Some punters may have forgotten the horse over the last year, when he has been running without success in Hong Kong, but his form in 1998 bears restating. He was third, beaten two lengths by Seeking The Pearl and Jim And Tonic, in the Group One Prix Maurice du Gheest, and was also a winner of the Group Three Criterion Stakes at Newmarket. Yet he will race off a handicap mark of just 100 on Saturday.

"Muchea is in great form and we have had the race in mind for him for a day or two," Channon said yesterday. "He could be well in at the weights on his old form."

If John Dunlop, Right Wing's trainer, decides that the ground will be too fast for him by Saturday, he could run instead in Thursday's Doncaster Mile, the feature event on the opening day of the turf season. Arguably the most interesting entry on that day's card, though, is Tribal Drum, a two-year-old who could line up for the Brocklesby Stakes, the first juvenile race of the year.

The significant point about Tribal Drum is that he is trained by Aidan O'Brien, who last year won so many juvenile events with so many of this year's Classic hopefuls that it became a little embarrassing for his rivals. If his strength in depth among two-year-olds this time around is indeed such that he needs to enter one in the dear old Brocklesby - a Class D event - then it may be time for some of Newmarket's bigger names to run up the white flag.

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