Racing: Clues point to Russian

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The Independent Online
THERE ARE times when the gods of punting seem to be trying to tell you something, and the aftermath of the Spring Mile Handicap at Doncaster yesterday was one of them. After heavy rain at Town Moor on Thursday turned the ground soft, this was probably the best clue anyone might get to the effect of the draw in today's Lincoln Handicap, but the evidence, to say the least, was mixed.

The winner, Bomb Alaska, was drawn 19 of 19, while the next two home came from 16 and 15, which would seem to indicate a clear bias in favour of high numbers. Yet while Bomb Alaska left a box tight against the stands rail, he raced down the middle and finished up much closer to the far side. The same was true of Zurs, the runner-up, and as a result the outcome should be ignored.

The message from the gods, then, seems to be that the Lincoln is a race to leave alone. But then it always is, and no one ever takes much notice. Every single one of the 24 runners has some sort of chance, which means that you could have a bet in the race every year from now until 2023 and still not be sure of finding a single winner.

Little wonder, then, that when William Hill's recent flotation was called off, their PR department came up with a "free" bet on the Lincoln-Grand National double by way of apology to those who had registered to buy shares. Many City reporters whose only experience of racing is an annual freebie at Ascot or Cheltenham duly declared this to be a generous offer, regardless of the fact that the odds against finding both winners will be at least 100-1, and probably closer to 300-1. That publicity alone will more than cover the tiny amount they may eventually pay out.

Anyone who does have a free bet, though, should look beyond the market leaders, Captain Scott and Right Wing. Perhaps the only point of serious interest in the Spring Mile was the performance of Scene, a galloping companion of Captain Scott, who was fancied yesterday but trailed home last. Captain Scott, of course, knows nothing of this, and may well follow up this month's victory in the Lincoln Trial at Wolverhampton, but Scene's dismal effort hardly inspires confidence.

Right Wing, third last year, is a difficult ride, but this still leaves 22 possibilities, and Russian Music (3.40) can be nothing more than a hopeful choice based on a point of handicapping. At this meeting 12 months ago, Russian Music was second to Hornbeam, giving him weight. Now, he is getting weight from the same horse, having plunged down the handicap. On his day he is very useful and Gay Kelleway, his trainer, is more than capable of getting him ready first time up.

The rest of the card is more manageable, though hardly any easier. Cretan Gift (4.15) is the pick of the field in the Cammidge Trophy, while Largesse (4.45), who improved significantly last year, may continue on the upgrade in the Doncaster Shield. But there is more of interest at Newbury, where WILMOTT'S FANCY (nap 3.30) must go well in the novice hurdle final, and Menesonic (next best 2.30) can beat some well-known but declining names in the handicap chase.

A more significant race, though, is at Leopardstown tomorrow where Stravinsky, the 2,000 Guineas favourite, makes an unusually early seasonal debut for a Classic contender. Since his trainer is Aidan O'Brien, you have to assume that he knows what he is doing.