Where the Lincoln Handicap is concerned, trainer Mark Tompkins clearly has a licence to win. Yesterday he saddled his second winner of the valuable handicap, Smokey Oakey, in five runnings, with his first, Babodana, in third this time. The latest victor, a 10-1 chance ridden by Jimmy Quinn, carries the colours of Dame Judi Dench, and came home as fast and true as a shot from Bond's Walther PPK.
The field for the Flat turf season's first feature split, in time- honoured style, into two groups running on either side of the track. On the far side the 2006 winner, Blythe Knight, made a valiant effort under top-weight as he went for home two furlongs out. But Smokey Oakey and Quinn, heads down and driving, burst clear of the near-side pack and snatched the advantage in the last five strides to win, going away by a length and a quarter.
"For once, it was a race that went as it should," said Quinn. "The plan was to hold him up and come late and he travelled beautifully, we got the splits when we needed. He couldn't see the horse on the far side, but I could, and as I kept on asking, he kept on giving really well. Perfect."
Blythe Knight (22-1), repelled Babodana (28-1), another on the stands side, by a length, with last year's runner-up, Rio Riva (17-2), on the far side, a head away fourth. The 6-1 favourite,Yeaman's Hall, was seventh.
Dame Judi was absent in Scotland, but her co-owner, her driver Bryan Agar, was here to watch their four-year-old, well suited by the testing ground, start his season with a win. "He's the first horse she's had," said Tompkins, "and I thought he'd be the ideal sort for the race. He's progressive, had been working reallywell, and loves this ground."
Smokey Oakey earned £77,900 for winning the richest-ever Lincoln and Don't Panic £24,000 for his easy victory in the Spring Mile, the consolation race for those who missed the cut for the main event. The purse for the latter was raised by the sponsor of both, bookmakers William Hill, by £10,000 four days ago, and the boost ensured Don't Panic's place in the field.
By the other side of the same fiscal token, the four-year-old's trainer, Peter Chapple-Hyam, is among those who have withdrawn their runners at Yarmouth tomorrow as a protest against low levels of prize money. Of the 86 entries in six races worth £18,600, only 34 will run, and the last race will be a walk-over.
"Prize money made the difference between Don't Panic running and not running here," said Chapple-Hyam. "And at Yarmouth, on a Bank Holiday Monday, it is a joke."
The Spring Mile was a return to the spotlight for Alan Munro, who is back in the saddle after an enforced absence due to illness. He sent Don't Panic to the front over a furlong out and, hugging the stands-side rail, the four-year-old strode clear of Benandonner, first home on the far side. Trafalgar Square came in third, with the market leader, Zaahid – who had been ante-post favourite for the Lincoln – fourth.
"It's not a Derby," addedChapple-Hyam, "but these good handicaps are worth winning. I could have done with another two weeks with this horse, so he'll probably improve for that."
The most valuable contest of the holiday weekend, tomorrow's Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse, will be without one of the ante-post market leaders after Pomme Tiepy was ruled out yesterday by Willie Mullins.