PAUL Hanagan has every reason to cherish Doncaster’s season-opening Lincoln meeting. It was on this weekend three years ago that he rode six winners, victories which proved to be the springboard to the first of his two jockeys’ championships.
Yet Hanagan still does not have a William Hill Lincoln victory to his name and he has made a significant decision in opting to ride Eshtibaak over the more-fancied market leader Laahag in today’s feature – weather permitting.
As retained jockey to leading owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum after his switch from Richard Fahey’s Malton yard to Newmarket, Hanagan had the choice of the two runners from champion trainer John Gosden’s yard and the former Yorkshire-based rider has surprised many with his selection.
Though lightly-weighted, Eshtibaak has been off the track for 244 days since coming down the field in a handicap at Ascot last July while Laahag recorded a victory at Nottingham last autumn before being beaten by a neck at York in October by the battling Chapter Seven, who reopposes today.
Laahag will be ridden by Gosden’s stable jockey William Buick who also has a special affinity with Doncaster after his St Leger wins in 2010 and 2011.
“It was a tough decision between him and Lahaag. There wasn’t a lot in it. The only thing that swung it was I thought a lot of Eshtibaak last year,” explained Hanagan.
“He was very unlucky twice. At Kempton I got knocked over at the start. Next time at Royal Ascot I didn’t get much of a run, so that kind of swung it.
“They say he’s done very well and he looks well. I won on him at Lingfield then we just had no luck at all after that.
“You have to make a decision and hopefully one of them wins.”
Gosden, who sent out Expresso Star to lift this prize in 2009, feels both horses deserve to take their chance.
“If you have a horse in the 90s it’s a nice place to start them out,” he said. “The track and the trip will suit both of them. They have been working nicely and they are drawn either side of the track.
“Eshtibaak in a sense is probably a mile and a quarter horse, as was Expresso Star, and on soft ground you want to see the trip out. The mile at Doncaster demands getting.”
The biggest threat to the Gosden pair, apart from the forecast snow, could be Chapter Seven, who was bought from the aforementioned Fahey for 95,000 guineas in the autumn and has a victory over Lahaag to his credit.
His new trainer Stuart Williams reports the four-year-old in fine shape. “The obvious place to start him is the Lincoln,” said the Newmarket handler.
“We were just in front of John Gosden’s horse at York when they were first and second and that horse has been favourite for quite a while so I’d be hopeful of a good run from him. He won’t mind the ground and he’s going there in real good form.”
Williams also saddles Eton Rifles in the William Hill-sponsored Cammidge Trophy as the stable stalwart returns to the scene of his Wentworth Stakes victory last November.
However, he feels that other rivals will have a fitness edge on his eight-year-old.
“I think probably first time out he’ll be a bit rusty and taking on horses that have come back from Dubai who have been racing lately,” said Williams. “He’s been a fantastic servant to the stable. He’s never let us down yet and he likes the track.”
Many eyes will be on Ryan Moore at Doncaster as he sets out on his quest to win the jockeys’ title which he last landed in 2009 before his successful career was jinxed by a succession of injuries over the past three seasons.
The man most likely to usurp Richard Hughes, the reigning champion, Moore rides Arsaadi in the Lincoln as he attempts to give the horse’s Yorkshire-born trainer William Haggas a record-equalling fourth win in the race.
Moore was in fine form yesterday, carrying Prince Khalid Abdullah’s ‘Frankel’ colours to victory on Model Pupil in the Doncaster Shield.
The three-times champion was niggling away turning into the straight, but the Charlie Hills-trained runner galloped eight lengths clear without being hard pressed when his stamina kicked in. He could be a redoubtable Cup horse this summer.
“I was told to ride him like a stayer,” said Moore. “It was only a small race, but he handled the ground and pulled nicely clear.”
The 2013 Flat season began in a predictable fashion when Westcountry trainer Bill Turner landed an incredible sixth win in the Brocklesby Conditions Stakes with Mick’s Yer Man.
Bought off Mick Easterby for £20,000, the 5-1 chance broke smartly under Turner’s grandson, Ryan While, and put the race to bed a furlong and a half out before powering clear to beat Vodka Time by five lengths.
Middleham trainer Mark Johnston already has a nice prospect on his hands as Mister Impatience absolutely bolted up under stable jockey Joe Fanning.
“I’m not sure what he beat but he loved the ground, it’s tacky and he relished it,” said the victorious rider. “He’d have no bother stepping up in trip again and we’ll keep him going, I’d imagine, while the ground is like this.”