23 March 2003

Brough Scott sees a pair of veterans combine to land their first wins in Doncaster’s big race

Who would have believed it. We came to bury the opening of the season at Doncaster but thanks to a brilliant, sunny afternoon, a huge and happy crowd – not to mention a highly backable Lincoln winner in Pablo we were left with little option but to praise it.

Since Flat racing has been busy every week on the sand during the winter, culminating in last Saturday’s Winter Derby at Lingfield, it has been hard to get too excited at the novelty of racing back on the grass. So much so that this year Channel 4 did not bother to put Thursday’s opening day on their network channel. It seemed time to write that the Lincoln Handicap, that once so famous first leg of the Spring Double, was a bulb that would no longer flourish.

Yet here we were with a maximum 24-runner field, a record £100,000 in prize money and more press coverage than we have had in ages. Pundits still exhausted from Cheltenham may pooh-pooh the impossibility of risking money and judgment on a race which is usually notorious for bad luck stories and where the winner has often not been seen since the autumn. But don’t tell that to yesterday’s revellers. Above all don’t say that to Barry Hills and Guy Reed.

Trainer Barry and owner-breeder Guy have almost 150 years on the clock between them and both celebrated their first winners back in 1969, Guy with a filly called Yours Sincerely at Redcar and Barry with one called La Dolce Vitta at Thirsk. Since then Guy’s black and yellow check silks have notched up over 500 successes and Barry’s stable has almost 2,400 to its name. Yet for both of them this Lincoln was a first. No, not an anti-climax.

Especially not for Pablo, a handsome bay four-year-old whose improving season last year climaxed with his taking a 24-runner handicap at Newmarket in November. From that date Barry Hills made little secret that the Lincoln was the target and a couple of months back Guy Reed helped himself to 33-1 “with a run” from his local bookie. “I think,” said the still extremely spritely octogenarian, “that he will be sending some things to the laundry.”

What was bad for the bookie was a joy for Pablo supporters on the track. Barry’s son Michael was always moving confidently after dropping his partner in close behind the pacemaking Norton on the far rail, towards which all bar Broadway Score and Albuhera had moved in search of the supposed faster ground.

Pat Eddery, at 51 starting his 35th season, was alongside the leader but hot favourite Adiemus was in the middle of the crowded pack and soon showed his lack of Pablo’s tactical speed.

“It is always so good when you have a horse travelling easy underneath you,” said Michael Hills with a winner’s relish afterwards. “I was able to move out into a good position and take a good lead from Norton. I could see Kieren (Fallon on Selective) coming but when I went for it, my horse did it perfectly.”

A length and a half was the decisive verdict with Selective edging Norton out of second place by a short head. Selective’s stable-companion Colisay was fourth, Andrew Balding’s pair Bourgainville and Dumaran fifth and sixth, with Adiemus running on reasonably to be seventh. It is true he didn’t get the run of the race but those who backed him do not have any real reason to weep into their beer.

It will be champagne for Guy Reed and Barry Hills and deservedly so. “Yours Sincerely won her first two races,” Guy remembered. “God knows what it has all cost me but it keeps you going. This horse’s dam Winnebago has a two other foals and is now going to breed with Arc de Triomphe winner Peintre Celebre, who was raised and grazed on my stud at Copgrove near Harrogate.”

Reed, who made his millions by buying disused air bases and converting them into chicken farms, has a kindred spirit in Hills who scooped his first money by a brave personal gamble on the 1968 Lincoln winner Frankincense when he was the ultra-shrewd travelling head lad for Newmarket trainer John Oxley. He has once again started with a stable properly primed, having saddled a winner on each day of this opening Doncaster meeting. If there is any justice, this will be the season when not just the Lincoln but the Derby finally is brought within his list of honours.

Barry was not amongst trainers complaining that the ground was bare and patchy after the pummelling it took in deep conditions last November. Indeed it was not a great day for complainers. Richard Hannon notched up a treble with Tacitus (a possible 2,000 Guineas runner), The Privateer and the two-year-old Mac The Knife, while the 13,500 crowd was a 20 per cent increase on last year.

Reports of Doncaster’s impending demise appear to be something of an exaggeration.

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