Stone Ridge has edge

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The Independent Online
STONE RIDGE, trained by Richard Hannon and ridden by the apprentice Dane O'Neill, drew first blood of the betting season in favour of the bookmakers when he took the William Hill Lincoln Handicap on a murky, muddy afternoon here yesterday. The four-year-old came home a length and a quarter clear of last year's winner, Roving Minstrel, with Barbaroja six lengths back in third.

For the first time in the year's first big handicap, the runners did not split into two groups. All of the jockeys elected to seek the best of the testing ground on the far side of the wide track, with Delta Soleil and Comanche Companion clear of the pack by half-way.

The Cork-born O'Neill, in his fifth season with Hannon, brought Stone Ridge smoothly through to challenge Delta Soleil inside the final quarter- mile, and a furlong out was in command. The only threat came from Roving Minstrel and Gary Carter, but O'Neill had enough up his sleeve to land the pounds 37,000 prize for his owner-breeders Con and Chris Harrington.

It was a first Lincoln for Hannon, whose other runner Show Faith was better-fancied in the market. "It was firm ground when Stone Ridge won at Newmarket last year and I didn't know if he'd go on this," the Marlborough- based trainer said. "And he's a lazy horse, doesn't do a lot at home, so I thought he might just need the run. But you send them out there and hope for the best."

Hannon had high praise for his 20-year-old rider, who spent the winter sharpening his technique on a working holiday in California. "He's great value for his claim in a race like this, and I was quite keen that he didn't ride it out last year. He gave the horse a great ride."

O'Neill, who needs nine more winners before he loses the right to claim 5lb, said: "I was always travelling well, and felt in control two furlongs out. When I went on I hoped nothing would come from behind and catch me, but on ground like this it's hard to pull a horse in front back."

Shinerolla plugged on into fourth, followed by Delta Soleil, Beauchamp Jazz, Al Reet and Cedez le Passage. The favourite, Sharp Prospect, aggravated an old knee injury in running and pulled up lame.

There were shades of things to come in the race preceding the Lincoln over the same course when Brett Doyle, on Acharne, outmanoeuvred his four rivals. The jockey tacked right over from the stalls on the stands side to splendid isolation on the far rails and, despite giving lengths away by his tactics, still had 10 to spare at the line.

The champion jockey, Frankie Dettori, got off the mark for the turf season on Sualtach, runaway 16-1 winner of the Mark Thomas Chum Special Handicap. The victory was as much a surprise to his trainer, Reg Hollinshead, as to punters, but the colt clearly finds racing much more comfortable since a delicate operation last autumn helped one of his testicles to descend to its correct place.

In the Doncaster Shield, Juyush and Willie Carson won a protracted battle with Daraydan down the straight, but the Champion Hurdle failure Right Win showed none of his old sparkle and beat only one home.

On the Grand National front, Richard Dunwoody's search for a mount in Saturday's race ended yesterday when it was announced he would partner the Jenny Pitman-trained Superior Finish, one of the better-fancied runners in the pounds 250,000 contest. Ladbrokes cut Superior Finish's Aintree odds to 12-1.

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