28 March 2004

Mark Tompkins-trained colt equals Lincoln weight-carrying record from the starting stall that nobody else wanted

The annual expelling of hot air on the merits of the Doncaster draw for the Lincoln Handicap got blown away more than usual when Babodana won from stall 23, a position so unfavoured that it was the last of all left when connections made their choices on Thursday.

At that stage racing’s great and not so good had all convinced themselves that a low draw (far side) was essential for success. Then Friday’s Spring Mile saw highly-drawn (near side) runners take the first five places followed by yesterday’s debacle when of the first eight home only the fifth-placed Alkaadhem had a (far side) low draw. So much for perceived wisdom.

The truth, as nearly always, lies in the rhythm of the race, or in this case, races. For straightaway there were clearly two separate but concurrent contests going on up this old Town Moor mile; the nearside one led by Jay Gee’s Choice, Tough Love and Norton and the far-side event led by the favourite Fremen, Serieux and Chivalry and over to which Martin Dwyer tacked the much-fancied Our Teddy from his 15 draw. Bet he now wishes he hadn’t.

For half the race it seemed that the far side was indeed favoured with the commentator calling Fremen the overall leader. The TV shots infuriatingly closed up on him and his cohorts to the exclusion of the near-side action. Such decisions are impossible to make without a hovering helicopter and in the last quarter mile the importance of Serieux taking over from Fremen suddenly became less important than Philip Robinson’s move out from the rails to grab the lead.

It was a typically intelligent strike from the former Hong Kong champion who had opened the day with an impressive winner on the promising Divine Gift, now bound for the Italian 2,000 Guineas at Rome’s Cappanelle racetrack. The two lengths Babodana had snatched from his rivals was shrinking as Quito and Dark Charm came “wet-sail” out of the stands’ side group and the good-looking Alkaadhem held on to win “his” race on the far side.

Alkaadhem’s gleaming coat could be quickly ascribed to his winter sojourn with other Marcus Tregonning stablemates in the warmer climes of Pisa. But, and I promise this is not written in hindsight, even Alkaadhem’s condition did not excel that of Babodana, who is one of those chesnuts that gleam like some golden flame when they are in the peak of condition.

His exploits last year had meant he was lumped with top weight of 9st 10lb here and we have to go back to 1985 and Cataldi to find a matching feat. And all that achieved in the supposedly dark depths of a Suffolk winter in trainer Mark Tompkins’ yard at Newmarket.

Staffordshire-trained victories for Bryan McMahon’s Local Poet and Reg Hollinshead’s pair Royal Cavalier and Goldeva also give the rule to the idea that thoroughbreds need winter sun to survive. As with the Lincoln draw, reality is a much better rule than faddish rumour. True Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Dubai training experiment has added a whole new dimension, but evidence does not now suggest that they get any advantage over the likes of Newmarket-based Michael Stoute when they bring their classic team back from the heat. Indeed you can argue that by wintering in Dubai they convert a Guineas tilt into an “away” match.

That is all some six weeks away, yesterday was their showcase with the Dubai World Cup meeting starting with an appropriate opening, Frankie Dettori winning the Godolphin Mile on Firebreak. But any thoughts that this would be something of a “home” benefit were quickly dispelled when the next three races were won by horses hailing, respectively from South Africa, France and the United States.

The success of Lundy’s Liability over Little Jim and Petit Paris in the UAE Derby reinforced the talent South African trainer Mike de Kock showed at this meeting last year. Then Polish Summer won the mile and a half Dubai Sheema Classic on the turf for Chantilly’s Andre Fabre with a peach of a cool waiting ride from Gary Stevens.

The American sprinters Our New Recruit and Alke fought out the finish of the Dubai Golden Shaheen but that was nothing to match the battle in the Dubai Duty Free on the turf which ended in a dead-heat between the German trained Paolini and the Mike de Kock horse Right Approach with Mick Kinane a close third on Nayir, who waved the British flag, albeit under Irishman Gerard Butler, by way of his Berkshire base at Blewbury.

No British or indeed European equine representatives among the 12 runners for the £2 million Dubai World Cup, Mick Kinane on Saudi Arabia’s King’s Boy and Frankie Dettori on Godolphin’s ex-American Grand Hombre were Europe’s only connections. The best they could do under the floodlights was a distant fourth for Dettori behind Pleasantly Perfect.

Dettori and Kinane were a long way from Doncaster. And they could not even blame the draw.

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