The good people at Doncaster seem to think, (they have plans, apparently) that they need to increase the profile of ‘Lincoln Day’, believing it lives in the shadows of the Dubai World Cup and the Grand National. I agree, as I have written about previously.
What the Lincoln needs is to be distinctive and unfortunately the world has moved on from the days when the Lincoln was incontrovertibly linked to the Grand National through the now almost defunct ‘Spring Double’. Since the introduction of ‘all-weather racing’ through the winter flat racing no longer goes into hibernation and flat enthusiasts no longer hunger for their sport as was the case thirty or forty years ago. Also, though it has a noble heritage, the Lincoln is only one of many top 1-mile handicaps throughout the season, and if such races had ratings applied to them it would rank near the bottom of top 1-mile handicaps. Certainly it does not have the kudos of the Royal Hunt Cup or the Cambridgeshire, the latter being a furlong longer.
After a quick perusal of Lincolns run in the late forties and early fifties and eighties and nineties, it is glaringly clear that the race is a shadow of its former glory. One of the problems, I believe, is the use of starting stalls as no matter the state of the ground they seem to encourage jockeys to go either one side of the course or the other, producing two incoherent races, with the winner invariably coming from the side where the ground is either fastest or the least soft.
The other obvious difference is in the number of runners, a statistic that I suspect is a direct result of the use of starting stalls. When the race was run at Lincoln, on the Carholme as people used to describe Lincoln racecourse, much as Chester is referred to as the Roodeye, 35-40 runners was quite routine, with 57 lining up on one occasion. And there was no splitting into two packs. It was quite a spectacle, a veritable charge of the light brigade. A helter-skelter with jockeys seemingly riding for dear life from start to finish.
So what I put forward for debate, as radical and two-fingers in the face of health and safety as it might be, is for the Lincoln Handicap to revert to what it used to be, with the race starting from a barrier and the maximum field set not at 22 but shall we say 42.
I know this proposal will induce howls of protest from perhaps nearly everyone, but think about it for a moment. It is a straight mile, with no obstacles. What could go wrong? And the flat would have a race as distinctive as the Grand National is to National Hunt. In fact it would be the most distinctive flat race in the world, except perhaps for the Mongolian Derby. There would, of course, be a handful of hard luck stories every year and occasionally there would be a 100/1 winner. It would also provide the modern flat jockey with the jeopardy of a barrier start and an idea of what it was like for their predecessors when, at least for the modern generation, huge fields were quite usual.
This reversion to the old days would make the Lincoln noticeable again and if combined with a day of big handicaps linked to a super I.T.V. 7 type of bet, as I propose in my previous thoughts on the Lincoln, there might even be coverage on the news channels and on the front page of the broadsheets. A press photographer’s dream, I would think, 57, or should we say 42, horses charging down the Doncaster straight.
If you want to engage the public imagination with our sport what is required is not a 1-mile handicap that in essence is no different to any other 1-mile handicap but a spectacle blessed with the prospect of jeopardy. What is required is a leap of faith.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.