It’s the big handicaps at Newcastle that appeal on Saturday and as is often the case, it’s the consolation race rather than Northumberland Plate that is of most interest. These consolation races usually contain far more unexposed, progressive types and for me at least, they are much better betting races.
The Northumberland Vase is due off at 2.55pm and just like the Plate, will be run over an extended two miles. It’s worth noting that whilst the course has been riding fairly slow, forecast rain on Friday should quicken the surface up a bit.
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A big field and a round course, any hint of a draw bias here?
Newcastle have only been racing on their all weather surface for five years which leaves us with just a limited data set for big field two mile races. What data we do have suggests that there isn’t much difference between middle and high draws but low draws seem to be disadvantaged.
This goes against convention around a bend so let’s see exactly what the data implies. With a relatively limited data sample it doesn’t seem worth investing too much into the win percentage data, but a quick examination shows just a 3.51% win ratio for low draws, with 5.36% of middle drawn runners winning and a relatively massive 10.53% of high drawn horses emerge victorious.
The place percentage data should be much reliable than the win percentage data and this again points to higher draws being favoured with place percentages of 14.04%, 23.21% and 27.19% for low, middle and high draws respectively.
PRB is a much better metric to use in small samples, again the data points to higher draws. Low draws produce a PRB of just 0.44 compared to 0.52 and 0.53 for middle and high respectively.
With some big differences between low and middle let’s see where the sweet spots in the draw are likely to be.
The first thing that stands out here is the top four individual stalls as far as PRB are concerned are 17, 18, 20 and 16 (in that order). It is worth noting though that these stalls have very few runners so the data could be slightly misleading. Having said that the fact that all four of those stalls do so well seems too conclusive to be a coincidence.
At the other end of the scale, the worst two draws belong to stalls 1 and 2. They have individual stall PRBs of 0.39 and 0.33 respectively which is pretty awful. Stall 5 also performs poorly but stalls 4, 6 and 8 have done well in the past so whilst a very low draw might be highly disadvantageous, the low to middle draws shouldn’t be completely discounted even if it's an advantage to have a higher draw.
Looking at the individual stall data group, which is presenting PRB3 data, it does seem that the higher the draw the better with the line steadily climbing as you move into double figure stalls.
Win percentages can be misleading in smaller samples but it is worth noting that the top seven win percentages all belong to stalls 9 or higher.
Now I’ve watched several of these races back to try and determine a reason for this bias. My theory is that the horses that have been going round off the rail tend to deliver their challenges down the middle of the straight whereas those drawn on the rail tend to challenge closer to the far side rail (not necessarily on the rail). In straight course races they tend to come up the middle to near side and there is every chance a higher draw over this distance spits the higher draw runners out onto the fastest part of the straight.
Let’s now examine potential pace biases in this race.
Again not a massive sample, so the place percentage data will be much more interesting than the win percentage data. Looking at the win data though it’s an extremely close contest with just 1.52% separating the best and worst records, which belong to front runners and prominent racers respectively.
The place percentage data is also very well matched with most success gained from the front (26.92%) followed by 24.69% for prominent, 21.25% for mid division and 19.33% for hold up performers. That data does suggest you are slightly better off being closer to the pace than further but there really isn’t a huge amount in it and it looks a pretty fair course and distance.
Northumberland Vase Pace Map
Given that this venue looks pretty fair pace wise, I’d be far more concerned with the individual set up of the race then anything else, which is where the pace map comes in.
This race should be run at a good gallop with two last time out early leaders (Rochester House and A Star From Above) and the likes of Margaret Dumont, Bellatrixsa, Mr Chua, Raymond, Al Kout and Red Force One all also having led on at least one recent start.
By contrast, the likes of Zeeband, Indigo Times, Dreamweaver, Cleonte and Monsieur Lambrays are all consistently dropped out in the rear of the field and that quintet all look likely to be suited by the likely good gallop here. Being extremely patiently ridden didn’t look absolutely ideal according to the place percentage data on the Pace Analyser but granted a strong gallop here it might end up being the place to be, or at least mid division could be.
Draw and Pace Combination
Before we get into the runners and riders here I also want to look at one of my favourite parts of Geegeez Gold, the Draw and Pace Combination Heat Map which is particularly useful for big field races that have either a draw or pace bias (preferably both!).
Given the fairly small sample size we are dealing with here these figures can be taken with a slight pinch of salt but by looking at PRB data from previous big fields we do end up with a fair amount of runners producing data.
The heat map shows that a low draw is easier to overcome with a prominent position but leading from a low draw tends to result in a poor run.
If drawn in the middle, prominent or mid division tends to be best whilst higher draws are also seen to good effect when held up with a high draw seemingly the best starting position for front runners.
Given a likely good gallop here, the middle to high drawn hold up performers seem likely to receive some form of advantage.
A rundown of the leading contenders for this, in early odds order.
On a roll with three wins in a row on turf since joining Ian Williams and has appreciated the step up to two miles on his last two starts, winning both races fairly comfortably. What is interesting here is the fact that he gets to run off his all weather mark which is 2lbs lower than his last winning mark on turf and 7lbs lower than his new turf mark.
The question has to be is he as good on artificial surfaces? That’s a difficult one to answer considering all his previous runs away from turf came on dirt. His best performances on dirt seemed to coincide with the longer trips he tackled, finishing 2nd and 3rd over 13f and 2nd over 2m. Those efforts were off lower marks in the UAE, on a different surface, so there is plenty of guesswork involved.
After this race his all weather mark is either going to look extremely generous or we’ll know he’s much better on turf. Connections are likely to have a good idea if he’s going to be just as good on tapeta as turf so expect a further plunge in the market ahead of a possible success but the early odds are short enough in such an open race for one that has some question marks.
No question marks about Indigo Times’ love affair with an all weather surface, he has won six times on artificial surfaces but he has never raced here and was beaten off 26lb lower marks on his only two tapeta starts (at Wolverhampton). He did where a hood for those starts and it’s possible it held him back or it may have been the surface. Either way his all weather form since coming away from tapeta and having the hood removed reads 1121111. He has been a bit of a Chelmsford specialist but did win comfortably at Kempton last time out.
The fact he ran well enough on turf in a hood between two slightly below par performances on tapeta in the same headgear is a concern, and he’s probably drawn slightly lower than ideal in stall 5. His hold up run style should be suited to this race though.
Lightly raced and representing Roger Varian so commands plenty of respect. He was progressive at 14f last season on turf and his beating of Ispahan at Thirsk (now 8lbs higher) reads fairly well as Zeeband is also 8lbs higher now and he still ran green that day. There was no disgrace in finding the progressive Prince Alex too good on his final start last year.
He reappeared with a solid 3rd and that form has worked out okay. He hasn’t particularly been crying out for further than the 14f he has raced over so far though and he’s also only run exclusively on turf to date. Add to that he’s drawn in stall 2 and connections have reached for a first time visor and the question marks begin to appear and he’s opposable at the price for all he may win, comments which apply to the two in front of him in the market too.
A Star Above
Moved through the ranks nicely last year for William Haggas, running a particularly respectable 4th in the Melrose Handicap at York, staying on well. He was successful when trying that trip this season, for the first time since the Melrose, in what has turned out to be a pretty solid handicap (plenty of placed form coming out of it).
He was dropped back to 12f on his next start though, possibly a sign connections don’t see him as a stayer, and his prominent racing style could leave him vulnerable here with a strong gallop likely.
An seemingly exposed, dual purpose 6yo but on closer inspection he’s had just the six flat starts, producing form figures of 214121. His worst flat performance came at Southwell, so easy enough to write that one off, and he has won here at Newcastle, albeit over 10f in novice company. He has won over an extended 13f at Chelmsford and over 2m at York so has fewer question marks than many of those above him in the betting.
He’s pretty flexible as far as tactics are concerned and was held up in mid division on his most recent start which would seem the best thing to do here.
The form of his latest win has worked out well with the 3rd and 4th both winning since so a 4lb rise looks lenient – the handicapper agrees as he’s since put him up another pound but that new mark hasn’t kicked in here.
Stall 13 looks good and could encourage his pilot to drop him in which will probably be advantageous and he looks to have a solid chance at a fair price.
Lightly raced and shed his maiden tag last time out over 14f at Yarmouth. He won comfortably last time out and is 2lbs well in here under his penalty but that form has taken a few knocks since, not necessarily a massive worry as those behind him weren’t particularly competitive.
He ran over course and distance last season, finishing 4th, in a race won by Bellatrixsa who reopposes here. He’s well enough drawn in 12 and his run style should suit the pace of this race. He looks the sort to run with credit but there have to be some doubts about how well handicapped he is, for all he is relatively progressive.
Hugo Palmer’s 4yo has looked a thorough stayer since her very first starts (when racing for Mark Johnston). Since joining Palmer she’s raced almost exclusively on the all weather with her only turf run seeing her well beaten over this trip. Fast ground was blamed.
Her all weather form does look the most relevant with a view to this race and she’s been pretty consistent with form figures of 3212. The win came at Chelmsford, no real surprise given she looks a real grinder and she bounced back from her poor run on turf with a solid 2nd to a big improver last time out.
She looks pretty one paced and could get caught out against some speedier types here, even in a race that could bring out her stamina. She won’t get an easy lead either and she’s drawn low in stall 3. Probably one to note when tackling this trip at Chelmsford.
Blow Your Horn
A Golden Horn gelding that has improved as he’s gone up in trip since the winter. The majority of his starts have come on the all weather (has won here) but he seems equally good on turf, softer ground blamed for his latest lacklustre effort. Before that he won on his first try at 14f (at Chelmsford), his second win on the bounce.
He’s now gone up 10lbs for his two wins so needs to not only prove himself at this trip, but also off this mark. Being held up from stall 11 could bring about the best in him though.
All five runs since winning over course and distance have been over hurdles and a hurdle mark of 122 means she could be well handicapped here off 77. Venetia Williams has already plundered the Chester Vase this season and given Bellatrixsa had several future winners in behind her on her last flat run, and has improved since over hurdles, she seems slightly overlooked by the bookies. There is plenty to like about her form and she holds Byron Hill on her last win but she’s likely to be close to the pace from stall 4 which could be her undoing.
Won this in 2018 off a 4lb higher mark and went close here off a 2lb higher mark in December. He’s run a total of thirteen times over course and distance alone, meaning he has more experience here than many of these have had in their entire careers. His record is two wins and five places from those thirteen runs and he could run well here although he’s not always the most consistent and is definitely vulnerable to an improver.
Finished last when only 10/1 for the Chester Vase and has only beaten one rival home in two starts at two miles plus. He does have a solid profile on the all weather (form figures of 1221) and does still look well handicapped at 14f on artificial surfaces but based on his turf form he looks an unlikely winner at this trip.
All four of his wins have come over Kempton’s two miles and ten of his eleven placed efforts have come at that venue too. His one placed run away from Kempton was here at Newcastle over an inadequate trip but that was off a 21lb lower mark.
His form seems to have plateaued at his favourite venue now too so he’s opposable here against more progressive types.
This 8yo has been a credit to connections and although he’s unlikely to ever run to his peak rating of 108 again, he won’t need to in order to get his head in front as he’s rated just 89 here. He was a comfortable winner off a 2lb lower mark at Kempton in March and ran well enough twice on turf after that before finding very soft ground against him at Ascot last time out. That run is forgivable but it came just a week ago and that effort may have left its mark on him.
He only made his all weather debut in November as a 7yo and he steadily ran himself into form over the winter. He ran a good 2nd here in February over course and distance behind a progressive Sir Mark Prescott horse running up a sequence, that runner won on his next two starts. He’s well suited by a good stamina test so a strong pace here would suit and he’s likely to be dropped out from stall 14 which is no problem. He’s one that should be able to outrun his odds if that latest effort hasn’t left its mark but he’ll probably find a few too good regardless.
Red Force One
Beat Raymond in a muddling small field handicap two starts ago, winning on the bridle, but didn’t back that up last time out on softer ground at Epsom. Going back up in trip should suit but probably not this far, he was well beaten at Ascot over two miles when trying this distance last season. He might not be well enough handicapped anyway and could be one of those involved in an early speed duel.
Something to prove after being beaten 22 lengths at Epsom last time out but his better turf form had come on better ground and he seems better over further than a mile and a half these days. Autumn War hadn’t run for a year before making his stable debut in October last year on soft ground, a run that did nothing but blow the cobwebs away. Next time out, up in trip with a visor fitted, he ran out a comfortable winner at Wolverhampton and he followed that up with another win, beating much of the same field again.
That last win worked out very well with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th all winning shortly after, meaning Autumn War has to be considered at least fairly handicapped here off just a 4lb higher mark. He hasn’t progressed since then but all his subsequent starts have come over shorter than his last win and he was found to be lame and to have bled on his last two starts on the all weather respectively. Hasn’t looked to be crying out for this trip but did seem to find 12f too short on his penultimate start so there is some hope of staying this far.
Yet to win in seven starts off marks in the 80s and certainly needs to improve for the step up in trip here, which is a substantial one. He doesn’t look well handicapped or a certain stayer so not difficult to put a line through him.
Ran well over this trip on seasonal debut but hasn’t performed to the same level in two starts over further since (does stay further than two miles). He’s rated 4lbs lower on the all weather and although he’s never shone at Kempton (beaten exactly 46 lengths on both starts) he was a winner off a 1lb lower mark over this trip at Lingfield and was beaten only a length off this mark on his only start over course and distance so does have some fair all weather form. He’s likely to get taken on for the lead and is drawn in stall 1 which is enough to look elsewhere.
Has improved with racing and finished last season on a career high mark of 92 having picked up two wins in 2020, including one over this trip at York. He’s barely beaten a rival in three runs since that win but got a lot closer on his only run this year, finishing last of four but beaten less than 4 lengths. That form has worked out okay and he’s entitled to improve on that run so he’s probably overpriced, especially as he’s unbeaten in two tapeta runs (both at Wolverhampton at a much lower level admittedly).
Habitual front runner who has been in fairly decent form this season but was well beaten last time out on soft ground (did have previous form on that going). He doesn’t find winning easy with only two career successes and the fact he’s finished second nine times suggests he’s a bit of a thinker. He has been in the frame in eleven out of seventeen all weather starts though and his course and distance runs have produced form figures of 232 off similar sorts of marks. He’s best when dominating small fields though and could get swamped here.
Progressive last season until flopping in the Cesarewitch and ran no sort of race last time out on his first start since wind surgery. Potential to improve for that and resume progression but he’s going to get taken on for the lead and hasn’t proved he’s as good on the all weather as he is on turf, even if he is back to form.
Fair to say this is wide open, I couldn’t confidently rule out more than a few of these.
I am fairly keen to back Autumn War back on the all weather and I’m happy to forgive his latest run on softer turf but I’m fairly certain 14f is his trip and I’m willing to leave him alone, even at a big price here.
Blow Your Horn seems to have better claims of staying this far, the offspring of Golden Horn have a massive PRB of 0.74 at this trip, admittedly from a sample of just eleven runners. He’ll need to improve for the extra trip but Jamie Spencer could be seen to best effect here holding him up off a strong gallop.
A more reliable option in a difficult race could be RAYMOND though. He’s one of the only market principles with proven stamina and proven all weather form and he won a good handicap last time out, good enough that the handicapper has regretted only raising him 4lbs for the win. He doesn’t have much big field form on the flat but he did win two 14 runner contests over obstacles. There don’t seem any real negatives other than the slight lack of ‘sexy’ profile some of these have and he’s worth an each way wager at around 12/1.
Bellatrixsa is also interesting but the draw and competition for the early lead is off putting.