The Lincoln Handicap has historically signalled the start of the flat season. One of the most remarkable races at the Carholme course in Lincoln took place in 1948 when 58 ran in the Lincoln.
The Lincoln Spring handicap was first run in 1853 over a mile and a half (it was reduced to its current distance of a mile in 1865). In 1965 the handicap moved to Doncaster Racecourse after the Lincolnshire course closed in 1964.
The 1948 race remains the largest field in history to run in a British flat race. To give this incredible tally some perspective the maximum number of runners now allowed to race in The Lincoln is 22.
The 1948 race was held on Saturday 13 March, the opening day of the season, on firm going. The tight one-mile course favoured horses drawn in the middle to middle-high numbers between 12 and 26. Single figure numbers had a major disadvantage unless they were very quickly away as the straight mile had a slight elbow at halfway.
The betting for the 1948 Lincolnshire handicap was headed by the four-year-old Clarion III at 100/9 ridden by Harry Carr with Flexton, who had run in the previous year’s 2000 Guineas 2nd favourite at 100/7 with 20/1 or upwards the rest of the field. The race had been a graveyard for favourites over the past two decades with only three of them tasting victory while nine horses priced over 33/1 had won the first half of the ‘Spring Double’. The 1947 winner Jockey Treble had been returned at 100/1 carrying only 6st.
An interesting outsider at 33/1 was the eight-year-old sprinter, Commissar, who had won the 1946 Stewards Cup at Goodwood. Irish bred, Commissar was by sprinting star Sir Cosmo, who had won the 1930 July Cup at Newmarket. Commissar was ridden by Bill Rickaby, (cousin of Lester Piggott), who had just arrived back the day before from a highly successful stint riding in India.
Bill’s trek back had involved a flight in a Maharaja’s private Dakota from Bombay to Karachi, a service flight to Damascus and a divert to Paris because both London and Manchester airports were closed due to bad weather before he arrived at Hurn near Bournemouth at 2am. He even had time to ride work at Newmarket on the morning of the race.
The Lincoln weights ranged from the top weight Vagabond II with 9st 7Ib to the bottom weight carrying 6st 1Ib. Indeed only thirteen horses including Commissar (8st 9Ib) carried more than 8st.
Captain G R Chandos-Pole had got them away well on an overcast spring day. Barrier starts had been introduced by Lord Durham and went into general use at the beginning of the 20th century.
Commissar was in front by halfway but three furlongs out was passed by Clarion III. However, the favourite failed to stay home and was worn down by Rickaby on Commissar who regained the lead in the final furlong to win by two lengths with Flexton, two lengths further back. Trained by Arthur Budgett at East Isley, Commissar drawn favourably at 17 had become the first horse over six to have won the Lincoln in the 20th century.
The Times newspaper report on the Monday afterwards captured how it must have felt before the race.”There seemed to be horses in every nook and cranny in the small paddock” said their racing correspondent.
Records as they say in sport are there to be broken but some like the 58 runners in a British Flat race will remain forever.
Watch the race live on ITV