Even though the cold winds sometimes pinched your cheeks until they were blue, it was a fine thing to be out on the Carholme in the closing days of March when the Lincolnshire Handicap—first big race of the British flat-racing year—was run off.
The Handicap hasn't been run at Lincoln since 1964 (it's at Doncaster now, and they call it the Lincoln), but it still marks the beginning of the season, with all of the racing man's joys and sorrows, his stimulating surprises and his agonizing disappointments lying ahead. Every racing sportsman's blood tingles with hope and anticipation as the Handicap entries go to the post. The Lord only knows what the season may have in store for him, but there he is, happy after a winter of discontent, and to the devil with the cares of tomorrow!
That was always the spirit animating the crowds at Lincoln in the old days. It was one of the happiest and most genuinely sporting crowds that could be encountered.
It has often been remarked how racing nearly always flourishes best in the neighborhood of Britain's historic cathedral cities. It was a noble thing to start the season close by Lincoln's ancient cathedral. "Lincoln was, and London is" is an old saying, and even the most phlegmatic of racing men felt something of the old traditions when he went down there to start afresh at the beginning of the year.
King James I used to see the horse racing at Lincoln. We are told that one April day in 1617 "there was a great horse-race on the Heath for a cupp, where His Majesty was present and stood on a scaffold the citie had caused to be set up, and withall caused the race a quarter of a mile long to be raled and corded with ropes and hoopes on both sides whereby the people were kept out and the horses that ronned were seen faire."
There was a spirit of fair play in these early races that seems to have been lost. The fifth clause in a code that was established for their conduct, bearing the date 1715, enacts that, "If anye of the matched horses or their riders chaunce to fall in anye of the foure heats, the rest of the riders shall staye in their places where they were at the time of the falle untill the rider so fallen have his foote in the stirrupe again."
A decayed and crumbling newssheet tells us about one race that took place in 1744. "They write from Lincoln," the sheet reports, "that on Thursday, seven night, there was a very extraordinary horse-race on the course of that City, between a six-year-old horse belonging to Southcote Parker, of Blyborough, esquire, and one aged twenty-one years, belonging to Gilbert Caldecote, of Lincoln, esquire. They ran fourteen miles round the said course, and performed it in thirty-nine minutes for one hundred guineas, which was won by only a horse length by Parker's horse. There were great wagers laid, and the greatest concourse of people ever seen there on such an occasion."
The modern era of racing at Lincoln dated from about the middle of the last century. The first Handicap was run at the track in 1853.
At first this great race had trouble establishing its importance and interest. But its prospects brightened quickly, and the '70s were the palmy days of the Lincolnshire Handicap. Even today there is as much heavy betting on it as on any other race of its class, and a great deal more than on most. On various occasions the longest odds of all have been brought home safely in it. One such was the victory of the horse Oberon in 1887.
Oberon was running on behalf of ""Mr. Manton," a nom de guerre of Her Grace, the Duchess of Montrose, otherwise known as the Red Duchess from her partiality to that particular color.