Strong list is submitted for Doncaster’s curtain-raiser

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daivd O’Meara’s stable star Penitent is a leading light among 91 entries for the William Hill Lincoln at Doncaster on March 23.

Although the National Hunt season is still very much in full flow with another meeting today, the Flat campaign’s curtain-raiser is on the horizon and has unsurprisingly attracted a strong entry at the initial stage.

Penitent, winner of the race in 2010 when trained by William Haggas, enjoyed a fantastic first season for O’Meara and Middleham Park Racing, winning two Group Two prizes before signing off with a superb second in the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp in October.

If he is to revert to handicap company on Town Moor next month, he will have to concede lumps of weight all round as he boasts a rating of 115.

The second-highest rated horse in the field is Richard Fahey’s dual Listed-race winner Majestic Myles on 107, with Dance And Dance, Trade Commissioner, Arsaadi and Prince Of Johanne all with three-figure marks.

There are plenty of less exposed horses further down the list, with John Gosden’s Lahaag and the William Haggas-trained Nine Realms both catching the eye.

O’Meara, whose stables are based at Nawton near York, said Penitent’s entry in the Lincoln was “only speculative”.

“He’s doing really well,” said the North Yorkshire handler. “He’s had a good break and we are very happy with him. We’ve put him in the Lincoln, but it’s only speculative at this stage as there’s a long way to go.”

Today’s Doncaster card is sponsored by corporate hospitality firm Eventmasters whose director Denise Sheasby is one of the lucky co-owners of 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander.

The 12-year-old will bid to regain his crown next month after finishing a very brave second to Malcolm Jefferson’s rapidly-improving Cape Tribulation in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham nearly a fortnight ago.

He is trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies who could have a successful day on Town Moor today with novice hurdler African Gold and handicap chaser Hunters Lodge. Both will be ridden by the trainer’s jockey son Sam, one of the rising stars of the weighing room.

African Touch faces stiff opposition, however, from Close Touch who will attempt to provide Nicky Henderson with some compensation following Darlan’s fatal final flight fall in Monday’s Champion Hurdle trial at Doncaster. It is significant that stable jockey Barry Geraghty intends to fly over from Ireland to take the ride.

Schinken Otto could take the finale for the aforementioned Jefferson and Malton-based jockey Harry Haynes who intends to run in this year’s London Marathon in aid of Racing Welfare.

Meanwhile Captain Chris, just touched off by Long Run in the King George VI Chase, has been allotted top weight of 11st 12lb in the Racing Plus Chase back at Kempton on February 23.