A historic renewal of the Northumberland Plate takes place on Saturday.
The event was established back in the early 1800s and held at Town Moor. It moved to Gosforth Park in 1882, and famously became known as the "Pitmen's Derby", during a period when mining played such a huge part of the lives of local people, and indeed people throughout the land.
The Northumberland Plate is now one of the richest two-mile handicaps in the world, and tomorrow will take place on an all-weather surface for the first time. The issue of moving from Turf to Tapeta has been covered at length, but the track has now been widely accepted as a success. Trainer Mark Johnston, one of the most fierce critics, had to concede: “It’s exactly as I expected. I don’t think anyone doubted that with Michael Dickinson providing Tapeta and a layout like this, it would be a fantastic all-weather track.
Putting the running surface to one side for now, let’s take a look at known trends in an attempt to find a likely winner.
Five and six year-olds have become dominant in recent years, winning six of the last seven renewals. Last year’s race saw the first five home come from that age group. Jumps trainers are worth a close look, when searching for a potential winner. Donald McCain has won two of the last six, and Jonjo took the race in 2013. In last year’s race, the Willie Mullins trained Max Dynamite finished second at 16/1.
Weight has proved a strong trend over the years, with only Tominator carrying more than 9-4 to victory in recent times. However, the handicap from top to bottom has become compressed over the past few years, and Saturday’s lowest race weight will be 8-12. Indeed, 12 months ago the first five home all carried 9 stone or more. I’d therefore be less likely to dismiss any contender on account of weight being carried.
It also makes sense to look for horses that have experience of running in mid to long distance events. The last ten winners had all won at trips from 1m5f up to two miles.
Big-priced winners have been a common feature in the past decade or so, but in the last four years the winner has either been the race favourite or sent-off at 8/1 or less. This probably feeds into the narrative of stronger fields in recent years, with a compression of handicaps, giving top weights as much of a chance as those carrying less.
The markets have taken something of a re-shuffle in recent days with ante-post favourite Dannyday failing to make the cut for Saturday's £150,000 handicap. Sir Michael Stoute's lightly-raced four-year-old had been the 8-1 favourite, but will not be among the 20 starters.
Steve Rogers has taken over at the head of the betting. Trained by Roger Varian, the five-year-old ran a stinker last time in the Chester Cup, having been sent off favourite for the race. He’d looked progressive prior to that run, and could bounce back, though there’s every chance that he is now in the grip of the handicapper. No Heretic took that race at Chester, but was then sent to Royal Ascot by Nicky Henderson, and ran poorly on ground that would have been unsuitable. It’s asking a lot for him to bounce back so quickly after such a poor run just over a week ago.
Iain Jardine’s Nakeeta, chased home No Heretic at Chester, getting within a short-head of victory at the line. Another five-year-old, he is currently second-favourite for the race, and appears to have been laid out for the event. Not out of the first two in his past five appearances, he has the right type of profile for this, and should run well. He clearly likes these big handicaps, and I’d be surprised if he’s not in the frame.
The Hughie Morrison trained Nearly Caught is fancied by many to go close. Third in the race 12 months ago, he warmed up for this with a run at Chelmsford in May. He’s on the same handicap mark as last year, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t run well. It’s notable that George Baker takes the ride. He won the race last year aboard Quest For More, and is terrific in this type of event. Expect him to play his cards late.
Antiquarium is an interesting runner for Godolphin. As a three-year-old he got within two lengths of Dartmouth, giving the Hardwicke Stakes winner 8lbs. That form looks incredibly strong now, and with a warm-up run under his belt the four-year-old is sure to be open to plenty of improvement. I think he’ll run a huge race, and at 14/1 looks a very fair price.
Godolphin also have Polarisation in the race, and he’s another with a realistic chance. He ran a solid race at Epsom last time, showing his liking for these big field handicaps. He’s on a fair mark, and should go close.
As always, there’s plenty in with a chance. I’m putting my faith in Antiquarium for Godolphin, a team that are flying at the moment. I’ll also have a little on Nakeeta, who looks sure to be in the shake-up.