Doncaster

The morning brings news of my son’s sterling performance in an epic 2-2 draw against the unfairly-gifted Knaphill Jedis. He was recognised with the Man Of The Match award afterwards, and I’m 200 miles away chasing some very strange dream, rather than there on the touchlines cheering him on. Again I feel a little silly, but I’ve started this thing so plough onwards towards the next stop of this ludicrous tour.

There’s been news recently that the championship for flat jockeys will now run from Guineas weekend at the start of May to Champions Day in mid-October. Well I know very little about flat racing, having made the difficult decision about 15 years ago that it was an expendable part of my increasingly busy and child-strewn life, but even I know that the flat season starts with the Lincoln Handicap from Doncaster at the end of March.

I can understand the desire to bookend seasons that seem never-ending as one rolls into the other, but I do have to question the wisdom of dropping the Lincoln as the landmark that declares the flat season is upon us. Another casualty in the evolution of British horse racing.

It is literally blowing a hooley (whatever one of those is) as I scurry into Doncaster Racecourse. The hall at the bottom of the Lazarus stand is cavernous, but there is a good atmosphere. There is a palpable sense of excitement about the place at the prospect of a new season. Perhaps it’s the Scoop6 rollover which promises untold riches. All you have to do is pick the winners of six fiendishly difficult races – how hard can it be? I put on a small perm (betting combination, that is, rather than curly wig) and choose two selections in the first and last races – you never want your Scoop6 to fail in the first or last.

I dabble in the first two (non Scoop6) races. In the first of them, I’m genuinely surprised to see starting stalls for the first time since this journey began. A small field of two year olds battle up the home straight and I watch the replay again and again but still can’t work out how First Bombardment gets beaten. A short head they say. The flare of a nostril if anything. He comes to win the race and then just wavers in the last few strides. Could it be the wind? In the second I back the favourite and he just prevails, but it looks like hard work out there.

The hooley from earlier has intensified rather than abated. Trackside resembles a wind tunnel. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a car manufacturer testing a new design on the straight mile. The next three races resemble something from the Tour De France. Arrowheads form around front-runners who inevitably drop away tamely in the closing stages. Astaire looks like he’s going to win the Cammidge, but Naadiir swoops late from last to first, the invisible slipstream slingshotting him past the favourite, and my Scoop6 predictably fails in the first race.

I’d had enough of the constant buffeting for a while, so go back to the cavern where there is still a buzzing atmosphere. People are drunker, but enjoying themselves. If you give a polar bear a concrete enclosure he will get bored and start a fight, but there’s enough to distract the polar bears here. Staff work hard to keep the place tidy and cheery. Punters seem happy and mingle easily. Perhaps it’s just that they’ve got enough space?

There is still evidence of the summer wedding outfit, but it’s not as cold today as at Wetherby, so I’m not as concerned for their occupants’ safety. Definitely a day for hairpins though. Any toupee-wearer would be ill advised to venture beyond the sanctuary of the Lazaras Stand.

I need my own personal comeback here, in a betting sense. The two big handicaps are next, and I give random-number-generator Jason one last try. I need an each way double here – small outlay but big returns if it comes off in two competitive races of more than 20 runners each. “Easy,” he replies, “3 & 14”. I quite like his two selections, which is quite worrying. This is Jason’s last chance, mind. I’m beginning to think he’s just plucking random numbers out of thin air.

In any other running of the Spring Mile, Buckstay would have been produced brilliantly to win, but as he hits the front in the last furlong he begins to paddle into the heart of the hurricane. Think back to when you were at school and it was windy in the playground and you put your coat up in the air and tried to lean forward. You did used to do that, didn’t you? Chatez is another last to first winner, but Jason’s choice comes 4th and the each way part of the double is alive and running onto the favourite of the Lincoln in the next.

The Lincoln Handicap was actually run in Lincoln until the course closed in 1964. In that year Mighty Gurkha triumphed at 33/1 in a field of 45. Surely it must be easier to pick a winner 51 years further on with half the runners, though it doesn’t feel like it. My feelings are astute. I back Lincoln to win the Lincoln at Lincoln Bookmakers. This really is grasping at straws Neil. Or a similar analogy might be ripping up five pound notes in a gale. Lincoln wins the first half of the Lincoln easily, but is soon a spent force.

Gabrial drifts alarmingly in the market but is one of the few horses to keep straight on the course and is another winner to come from behind. The third home, Moonharib, seems to stall within sight of the post as though he’s been sailing too close to the wind, and then starts changing legs and tacking from side to side. GM Hopkins, the favourite and second leg of our double, is tenth. Bankroll resurrection shall have to wait another day.

Gabrial wins the Lincoln

Gabrial wins the Lincoln