Image credit to: penske666
Late March/early April each year signals the start of the British flat season, as attention begins to turn away from the heroes of Cheltenham to the potential classic superstars. The flat campaign is of course also known for the many high-profile handicap events which pepper the calendar, and it is one of the oldest of them all which acts as the centrepiece on the opening Saturday of the season.
First run back in 1853, the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster is a truly historic affair, and remains a big early season highlight. The campaign’s curtain-raiser may “only” be a Class 2 affair, but there is a long-held belief that it requires a horse capable of progressing to at least Listed class to win.
Here we take a look at the top five winners of the Lincoln from the current century, all of whom went on to make their presence felt at a higher level.
5. 2014: Ocean Tempest
- Trainer – John Ryan
- Lincoln Rating – 102
- Peak Career Rating – 117
John Ryan’s Ocean Tempest certainly didn’t fall into the unexposed category in winning on his 31st career start. However, the five-year-old was proven in this type of race, having previously won a Class 2 one-mile handicap at Newmarket in 2012, albeit off a relatively lowly mark of 82.
Arriving at the race fit and firing following a campaign out in Meydan, his success on Town Moor proved to be the catalyst for the horse to scale new heights. Backing up his Doncaster victory with a first career Listed win in the Paradise Stakes at Ascot, he added a second Listed victory in the Royal Windsor Stakes, before rounding off his season with a win in a handicap at Chester off a mark of 115.
4. 2008: Smokey Oakey
- Trainer – Mark Tompkins
- Lincoln Rating – 95
- Peak Career Rating – 111
Smokey Oakey wasn’t quite so well known to punters as Ocean Tempest, but still had 15 starts to his name prior to his success in 2008. In common with the 2014 champ, the Mark Tompkins-trained runner had also suggested he might be up to this when landing a Class 2 contest at HQ. Hinting at untapped potential when hacking up at Ayr on his final start of 2007, the four-year-old delivered on that assessment, making light work of a nine-pound hike in the handicap to win the Lincoln on his seasonal return.
Racing on until 2013, Smokey Oakey only managed to win twice more, but the first of those represented a significant success, as he caused a 20/1 upset when landing the 2008 edition of the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown, with a field of talented Group winners in behind.
3. 2006: Blythe Knight
- Trainer – John Quinn
- Lincoln Rating – 95
- Peak Career Rating – 112
Blythe Knight headed into the 2006 edition of the race – held at Redcar due to track renovations at Doncaster – with a record of three wins from 33 starts. He didn’t look the most obvious contender for success, with the most recent of those wins having come back in 2004. On the plus side, he had slipped to a mark of 95, having been rated as high as 105 in the past. However, what really seems to have sparked the horse into life is a combination of a gelding operation and a switch from the yard of Ed Dunlop to that of John Quinn.
Whether down to a change of scenery or a more relaxed temperament, the horse would go on to leave his previous level of form behind following his win at Donny. Subsequent victories included Listed class successes in the 2007 Hambleton Stakes at York and the 2008 Chester Plate, and a pair of Group 3 triumphs when winning back-to-back editions of the Diomed Stakes at Epsom in 2007 and 2008. Not content with that, Blythe Knight also won the Grade 2 Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree.
2. 2010: Penitent
- Trainer – William Haggas
- Lincoln Rating – 98
- Peak Career Rating – 115
William Haggas is no stranger to success in the Lincoln, with his four wins (as of 2022) being a joint record for the event. Possibly the most famous of those victories came in 2010 when the four-year-old Penitent landed an almighty gamble. Backed all the way in to 3/1 favouritism in a field of 21 runners, the son of Kyllachy got the job done with the minimum of fuss under Johnny Murtagh.
Winning the race on just his sixth career start, Penitent boasted the type of unexposed profile many punters look for, and would go on to prove a rating of 98 didn’t come close to representing his true ability. Before retiring in 2015, Penitent added eight further wins to his CV, including a Group 2 double in the bet365 Mile at Sandown, and Newmarket’s Nayef Joel Stakes
1. 2018: Addeybb
- Trainer – William Haggas
- Lincoln Rating – 99
- Peak Career Rating – 125
Addeybb may not have been backed to quite the extent as Penitent, but the four-year-old certainly wasn’t friendless in the market, in being sent off as the 5/1 clear second favourite. Enjoying a very similar prep to the 2010 winner, Addeybb also came home in front on what was his sixth career start.
Anyone wishing to see the definition of the phrase “a Group horse in a handicap” need only rewatch the 2018 edition of the race. Seemingly cantering whilst the majority of his rivals were under pressure, Addeybb put daylight between himself and the field the moment James Doyle asked him to quicken.
That the Pivotal gelding was able to score with such authority is no surprise given his subsequent exploits. Winning another nine races before calling it a day, those victories included eight Group successes, with the major highlights being a quartet of Group 1s in the Ranvet Stakes and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (twice) in Australia, and the Champion Stakes at Ascot in 2020.