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Traditionally Saturday's Lincoln Handicap, these days run at Doncaster, represents the official start of the Flat racing season.
Never mind that these days Flat horses run on all-weather tracks through the winter, that this year, thanks to the way Easter fell, Flat racing actually began at Kempton Park last Saturday and that few racing enthusiasts pay much attention to the Flat anyway until after the Grand National (April 9) or even the Betfred Gold Cup (the former Whitbread) at Sandown's mixed jumps and Flat meeting on April 23.
Here we are again for a new season which will once again give us some equine and human heroes to cheer and which will as usual see many lovingly nurtured swans reveal themselves as scraggy ducks. No reason for the Maktoums' Godolphin operation not to hold sway again as they did last year, especially as they will be fielding a team of upwards of 300 horses. No wonder that their stable jockey Frankie Dettori, deprived this year of the fierce competition of former champion Kieren Fallon, who has departed for Ireland to succeed Jamie Spencer as first jockey to Coolmore and Aidan O'Brien, is odds-on to retain the jockeys' championship he seized from Fallon last year. If anyone can give Dettori a run it will be Darryll Holland or Seb Sanders, although the 50-1 about Richard Hughes seems generous.
Of the horses to excite us, Ed Dunlop's mighty Ouija Board, heroine of the Breeders Cup, is joyously running on as a four-year-old. Another of Fallon's former regular partners who must have made him think twice about the move to Ireland is Michael Bell's Classic prospect Motivator. Dubawi, the first of Dubai Millenium's sons to sparkle on the racecourse and the favourite for the first Classic, the 2000 Guineas, is the apple of Sheikh Mohammed's eye. Tragically, Dubai Millenium fell victim to grass sickness in his first year at stud.
Many will be thrilled to see the Australian toughie Elvstroem campaign in Britain this summer. Speedy enough last year to win over seven furlongs, durable enough to finish fourth over two miles in the Melbourne Cup, he captured last weekend's Dubai Duty Free prize over a mile and one furlong. It will take a good one to beat him in the Eclipse.
With Fallon's departure, Sir Michael Stoute will have no retained jockey at Freemason Lodge. But it is expected that the former Coolmore champion Michael Kinane will ride many of his top prospects, with Johnny Murtagh and Robert Winston. Stoute's Discuss is a fancy already for the 1,000 Guineas.
When the 20 or so runners set off for the Lincoln it will be welcome news for those who find jumping too slow, too scary or too hard on the horses. But there will be a grey cloud lurking too. Six jockeys, including Fallon, and a couple of trainers have been bailed to reappear next October in the investigation of race-fixing allegations.
No one in racing can feel comfortable until that investigation is concluded.
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