The British Flat turf season kicks off at Doncaster on Saturday with an interesting edition of the Lincoln (15:35). A maximum field of 22 are set to go to post in the heritage handicap - which has had its prize money boosted by 50% to £150,000 - with Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings headed by the unexposed Awaal (124p).
Awaal - who is trained by Simon & Ed Crisford, the pair responsible for last year's runner-up Saleymm - made a promising start to his career when third behind Encourageable (who had the benefit of experience) at Wolverhampton and he duly built on that to get off the mark at Lingfield, beating subsequent Britannia Stakes winner Thesis. Awaal then added another piece of strong form to his profile at Haydock, finishing runner-up and only three-quarters of a length behind Phantom Flight, who went on to show smart form.
Awaal posted a smart performance of his own when next seen five months later at Redcar in October, making a mockery of an opening handicap mark of 93 as he forged three and three-quarter lengths clear. That victory - which earned him the Horse In Focus Flag - also demonstrated his effectiveness on testing ground, and he remains capable of better after only four starts (he still has the 'p' for likely improver attached to his rating). Awaal, who has been gelded since his Redcar victory, still looks well treated after a 9 lb rise in the weights.
The Crisfords are also represented by Croupier (121) who won a couple of times last season, posting his best effort yet when a two-length winner at Chelmsford on his final start of the campaign in October. That was a competitive handicap that was run at a sound gallop and is a solid piece of form, so a 7 lb rise in the weights is fair enough, but he faces very different conditions here.
One who will have no issue with testing ground is Baradar (122). He rather lost his way for Roger Varian after finishing third in the Group 1 Futurity Trophy over this course and distance in 2020, and he fared little better during a spell with Johnny Murtagh last season. However, he bounced back to his best when justifying support in a seven-furlong handicap here in November on his first outing for George Boughey, scoring in comfortable fashion after looming up two furlongs out. That smooth success - which earned him the Horses For Courses Flag - came on heavy ground and he is entitled to plenty of respect under conditions that clearly suit.
Baradar is behind only Awaal on Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings and is level with Montassib (122), one of two runners in the race for William Haggas who is bidding to set the outright record for most Lincoln victories.
Montassib progressed well last season, winning a Wetherby novice and a Goodwood handicap before posting some excellent efforts in defeat in competitive events, including when runer-up behind Wanees (121+) at Haydock in September. Montassib was beaten three-quarters of a length on that occasion but may have got closer had he not conceded first run to Wanees who he meets on 2 lb better terms here.
The Charlie Hills-trained Wanees also has a likeable profile, though. He did well to overhaul an enterprisingly-ridden rival on his return in the Esher Cup last season and then ran creditably to finish sixth in the Britannia before failing to stay when tried over a mile and a quarter at Goodwood. He was gelded before returning to the track two months later and, unsurprisingly dropped in trip, he got back on the up by producing his best effort yet to beat Montassib, with Boardman (fourth) and Encourageable (sixth) also among the beaten rivals. He could still have a bit more to offer this season.
As well as having Montassib, Haggas is represented by Al Mubhir (119) who signed off his three-year-old campaign with a comfortable two-and-three-quarter-length success in a mile handicap at Haydock contested on heavy ground.
Al Mubhir looked a bit rough around the edges on his first couple of starts in handicaps but he raised his game at Haydock, coping well with conditions. That form doesn't look as strong as some on offer here, and he has a 7 lb higher mark to cope with, but as a well-bred, lightly-raced four-year-old in excellent hands it is likely that he will kick on again. He has had a wind operation since last seen.
Last year's Lincoln was won by Johan for Mick Channon and the yard - with Jack Channon now holding the licence - is represented this time by Cambridgeshire winner Majestic (116). That victory capped off a season of steady progression and demonstrated his effectiveness in big-field handicaps, while the good form of the Channon yard (he has the Hot Trainer Flag) is also a positive. A 7 lb rise in the weights for his Cambridgeshire victory will make things tougher, though.
Atrium (121) also won when last seen, following up his victory in a Newbury handicap with success over this course and distance (that earned him the Horses For Courses Flag). That was a career-best effort from Atrium who got the sound pace to chase that his come-from-behind style benefits from. He is respected off a 4 lb higher mark, though conditions here will be softer than he has previously encountered.
The runner-up on that occasion was Empirestateofmind (117) who also produced an excellent effort in defeat on his final start of the campaign when runner-up to a lightly-raced rival from the Haggas stable. Empirestateofmind impressed with how strongly he travelled through that contest and beat the rest comfortably enough, so can't be ruled out for all he's been going up the weights without winning.
Timeform's Analyst Verdict:
Simon and Ed Crisford saddled the runner-up in this last year and are taken to go one better this time courtesy of Awaal, who made a mockery of an opening mark of 93 at Redcar last autumn and surely has more to come after only 4 starts. Baradar immediately got his career back on track for the George Boughey yard here last backend and could have more to come for his new stable so he's second choice. Al Mubhir, whose trainer is seeking an outright record fifth win in this, is next on the list.
Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings:
120 Witch Hunter
119 Al Mubhir
118 Jimi Hendrix
115 Eilean Dubh
115 Helm Rock
114 Safe Voyage
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