Saturday’s Horse Racing Tips: Can Tom Collins kickstart the flat season with a bang?

22 March 2024

Twenty weeks have passed since the last turf flat fixture in Great Britain, but the grass returns with a bang at Doncaster this Saturday after a long and wet winter. Absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder.

It is time to swap stamina and steeplechases for speed and strategy. Soft ground is predicted underfoot when a maximum field of 22 runners leave the stalls for the 168th Lincoln (3.35 Doncaster), the first big race of the season which is run over the straight mile on Town Moor. 

Finding the winner has proved pretty tough. There have been just five successful favourites since 2000 - 13 of those successful in that timeframe went off at 10/1 or bigger - while four-year-olds have the upper hand with 11 victories since the turn of the century. The draw has proved critical in recent years with seven of the last eight winners breaking from a double-digit gate.

Last year’s hero was Migration (stall 12), who thundered home down the stands’ side rail to beat Awaal in a driving finish. David Menuisier’s eight-year-old will try to retain his crown this year and is sixth in the market at the time of writing, but trends suggest he has an almighty task given only two horses have carried more than 9st 4lb to win since 1985 and no horse has won back-to-back Lincolns since Babur in 1957/58.

The aforementioned Awaal is strongly favoured to reverse the form and looks to have been lined up for another crack at this prize. He ran a great race off the front last season and clearly handles the track, trip and testing conditions. The handicapper is allowing him a chance to compete off the same mark of 102, but stall five isn’t an ideal starting point and therefore I have to look elsewhere given his price.

My first bet will be on a horse who ticks a lot of boxes in Liberty Lane. An improving four-year-old with winning course-and-distance form who will break from stall 20, Karl Burke’s runner is pretty difficult to miss. He is unbeaten in two outings on soft ground and should get a lovely tow into the race in around fourth or fifth position early. 

I was at Newmarket for his seasonal reappearance last year when he ran a good second to Waipiro, who subsequently won the Group 3 Hampton Court at Royal Ascot, and I was impressed by his physicality. We didn’t get to see the best of him on the track for the majority of last season, but he drastically improved when the rain came and I loved the tenacity he showed to win here in September. 

He won’t get his ideal conditions too often this campaign so I would be shocked if this wasn’t his main target in 2024. With solid efforts to his name when fresh to go with the aforementioned list of positives, Liberty Lane has to be my first choice. 

Thunder Ball is the other runner who catches my eye. Paul and Oliver Cole’s gelding has a similar profile to Liberty Lane - he’s a four-year-old whose best efforts have come on soft ground - but he’s more exposed, runs off a career-high mark and hasn’t drawn as well in stall seven.

 Those negatives are factored into his price, though, and I think some value remains at around 16/1 as we probably haven’t seen the best of him just yet. He may not be the most talented rider in the race, but Alec Voikhansky has plenty of experience in the saddle and his 5lb claim increases Thunder Ball’s chances.

Let’s move onto my NAP on Saturday, which is the George Boughey-trained Baradar in the Listed Cammidge Trophy (3.00 Doncaster). Stamina is wrongly overlooked in six-furlong sprints on a straight track when the ground gets deep and the fact this horse has spent much of his career running over further will undoubtedly help him in the latter stages. 

He ran an excellent third in the Lincoln last season - he perhaps should have won that race but made his move too early away from the favoured stands’ side rail - and strengthened his CV with an impressive victory in the International Handicap before backing up at this track on soft ground.

Baradar has form figures of 14313 after breaks of 95 days or longer, so he evidently goes well fresh, and I expect him to pounce late on Marshman, who is yet to prove that he really stays this trip.

Finally, I’m going to have a few quid on Wild Waves in the 1m2f maiden (4.10 Doncaster) later on the card despite several of his rivals boasting sexier profiles. Many punters will look towards Ancient Myth, Harpers Ferry or King’s Reign, but the value lies with Andrew Balding’s runner and I’m hoping that he can put his experience to good use. 

This son of Crystal Ocean is bred to go long, so it would be fair to expect significant improvement from what we saw in two attempts over seven furlongs last season. Nevertheless, he ran creditably on both starts - he finished behind three nice horses on debut at Sandown before proving he handles testing conditions when filling the same berth four weeks later. 

Balding doesn’t run too many horses on turf at this time of year, so Wild Waves must be pretty forward in his work, and it interests me that he holds an entry for a €200,000 sales race at Gowran Park later in the season.

Saturday’s Horse Racing Tips

Baradar (3.00 Doncaster) @ 9/4
Liberty Lane (3.35 Doncaster) @ 5/1
Thunder Ball (3.35 Doncaster) @ 16/1
Wild Waves (4.10 Doncaster) @ SP

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