Godolphin’s lightly-raced performer Auxerre is among 56 horses left in at the five-day stage for the Unibet Lincoln at Doncaster on Saturday.
The exciting four-year-old, trained by Charlie Appleby, heads the ante-post market for the famous one-mile handicap, which heralds the start of the British Flat season, despite having just had four career starts, winning the last three.
His last two wins were on all-weather tracks at Chelmsford and Kempton, with his runs on grass at Newmarket and Haydock being on good to firm ground.
Though conditions at Doncaster were described as good to soft yesterday, clerk of the course Roderick Duncan expects the going to dry out to good or even faster by Saturday.
“It’s good to soft at the moment and drying,’’ said Duncan.
“It’s a dry forecast, so temperatures are not expected to drop for a bit. I anticipate it drying out to achieve good ground, possibly a bit quicker than that.’’
While Appleby took this traditional curtain-raiser with Secret Brief in 2016, it was back in 1983 trainer David Elsworth struck for the one and only time so far with Mighty Fly.
He now looks to bridge the gap with Ripp Orf, who won two valuable seven-furlong handicaps at Ascot last season.
Gabrial, the winner in 2015, is one of eight standing his ground for Richard Fahey. Others for the Musley Bank handler are Third Time Lucky, Great Prospector, Brian The Snail, Starlight Romance, Crownthorpe, Delph Crescent and Calvados Spirit.
David Barron has a leading contender in Kynren as the Thirsk handler goes for a second success in the Town Moor showpiece after Amenable in 1991.
Other horses prominent in the ante-post betting include the David O’Meara-trained Humbert, Andrew Balding’s Zwayyan, Philip Kirby’s South Seas and Chiefofchiefs from Charlies Fellowes’s stable.
The weights are headed by Remarkable from the O’Meara yard following the defection of Hathal.
The sole Irish representative is Saltonstall, who would be having his first start for Dublin trainer Adrian McGuinness after leaving Michael Halford’s stable.
For horses that fail to make the cut for the Lincoln there is a consolation race, the Unibet Spring Mile, on the same card.
John Gosden will tread a familiar path with Stradivarius in his attempt to win the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million for the second successive season after earmarking the Matchbook Yorkshire Cup as his first port of call.
The son of Sea The Stars claimed the Group Two prize at York in May, ahead of recording victories in the Ascot Gold Cup, Qatar Goodwood Cup and the Weatherbys Hamilton Lonsdale Cup back at Knavesmire in August to scoop the seven-figure bonus.
After making it five wins from as many starts last season in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot on Champions Day, the diminutive five-year-old was yesterday reported by Gosden to be in good shape ahead of his seasonal return.
He said: “He is in great order and has just started cantering and building up his preparation, and all being well we go to the Yorkshire Cup. We’ve just been doing the usual canters on Warren Hill. He has had a great winter.”
Looking back at last season, Gosden feels there is one race that stands head and shoulders above all the victories Stradivarius achieved.
He said: “I think the defining moment was the Ascot Gold Cup. He really got down low and dug deep. He (Frankie Dettori) timed it to perfection, particularly going into unknown territory.”