Racing: High Premium proves costly for the punters: Paul Hayward reports from Doncaster on a long-awaited win in the Lincoln Handicap

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The Independent Online
A HORSE who had not won since August 1991 took the Lincoln Handicap here yesterday as punters made a suitably wretched start to solving the main Flat races of a new season. High Premium's victory from Mizaaya and two 40-1 shots should have nailed the myth of the Lincoln forever.

That myth is the belief that races like this can be deciphered with the help of plenty of midnight oil and a pocket calculator. All predictions about the effect of the draw proved false as only a small group of runners on the far side - those drawn low - had any sort of chance as the two parallel posses of 24 horses entered the final three furlongs.

Granted, High Premium was only 16-1 in the betting, but that was more a mark of respect for his trainer, Lynda Ramsden, than an approximation of his chance. However hard some bookmakers try to portray this as a typical Ramsden sting, most punters will have ignored High Premium because he had not run since June, and anyway, the cash taken for Pat Eddery's mount, Daswaki (the 7-1 favourite), will have more than offset any losses.

For Ramsden, this was sterling vindication of her decision not to surrender to economic logic two seasons ago. At that time, she and her husband, Jack, a major league punter, announced that they were to abandon racehorse training and put their cash to better use. Two years later, after revitalising a horse bedevilled with viral illnesses and a poison foot, Lynda Ramsden is the first woman trainer to have won the Lincoln, just as Alex Greaves made a breakthrough for women riders in this race on Amenable in 1991.

It is the enduring mystery of horserace gambling that punters are drawn to multi-runner handicaps like the Lincoln. Fine, they offer big prices and each-way possibilities, but the assumption that double-digit odds equate to good value does not stand close inspection. A horse can be 10-1 and still represent bad value.

As an investment proposition, the Lincoln is a long-surviving farce. Nobody ever knows what the effect of the draw will be. Most of the horses are making their seasonal debuts. There are twentysomething runners. The last six winners have gone off at 16-1, 16-1, 22-1, 33-1, 20-1 and 20-1.

No serious punter would contemplate betting on the Lincoln in anything other than pocket money. It is one of those bookmakers' benefit events, hyped, seemingly, from Christmas Day onwards with tales of long-range gambles and fancies. Most of the 'such-and-such-has-been- heavily-backed' stories you read in the run-up to the event are simply the owner or trainer having a few bob on, with the High Street firms then using that fact to whip up interest in the race. And to separate punters from their cash.

Occasionally a gamble does get landed with a horse of genuine ability - Cataldi, in 1985 - but even then, only those closest to the stable are likely to obtain the fancy odds, and for the most part the Lincoln is a fuzz of undistinguished handicappers acting out a hopelessly overstated tradition.

So successful is the bookmakers' publicity machine that a BBC newscaster once referred to the Lincoln as 'the first Classic' of the new Flat season.

The Derby it is not, and if anybody needed any further cause to eschew involvement it was the failure by the Geoff Lewis stable on Thursday to declare the 'strongly fancied' Loki.

It was an administrative mistake, and his backers lost their money, just as they did on Daswaki and Buzzards Bellbuoy in the race itself. Nor were forecast backers helped by Will of Steel and Ringland, who finished third and fourth at such vast odds from their favourable low draws.

Those allotted high starting gates - Daswaki was 20 and Buzzards Bellbuoy 18 - were labouring in a hopeless cause.

So, yet again, were those holding betting slips.

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