Royal Ascot left me elated, though my bank balance seriously deflated. It was a killer punting week, despite plenty of fancied runners doing the business. Accumulators were tough to land, with the likes of Churchill, Order Of St George, Limato and Jack Hobbs hitting me hard where it hurts; in the wallet.
But undeterred, the beauty of racing is the instant chance of redemption. And so to the simple task of finding the winner of the 20-runner Northumberland Plate.
One of the most valuable two-mile handicaps in the world, the race originated back in 1833. It came to Gosforth Park in 1882, and was run on an artificial all-weather track for the first-time last year. And it was Antiquarium that landed the spoils on the new surface for Godolphin, when the four-year-old clawed back what appeared an unassailable lead for race favourite Seamour.
Last year’s runner-up returns for another crack, and could well head the market once more. Despite such large fields and a marathon trip, the race has proved quite successful for favourites, with three wins in the last 10 renewals. Only one horse has prevailed at odds of greater than 16s in that time, showing that this is rarely a race for a shock result.
Four, five and six-year-olds have led the way to the winners’ enclosure, with just three from outside that age group successful this century. And despite its location, this is not a race dominated by northern trainers, or those from the south for that matter. No one handler has monopolised the Newcastle showpiece, indeed the successful trainers come from far and wide, with Appleby, Charlton, Fahey, Jonjo and McCain the past five to land the prize.
Weight carrying is often a key factor in these handicaps, but this race has become a classier affair of late, and four of the last five winners carried 9-3 or more. Tominator lumped 9-10 to victory in 2013, though top-weight success remains rare. Nevertheless, I’d be dubious about simply disregarding those at the top of the handicap without a closer look at their form.
It’s no surprise that experience has proved important, and though last year’s winner was only four, he had 10 runs under his belt, and had performed admirably in a big-field handicap at York as a three-year-old. Horses will encounter plenty of hustle and bustle along the way, and experience of such is sure to aid their quest for success.
That brings us nicely to the current favourite for Saturday’s race, as Flymetothestars has only the four career starts. He’s won three of those, with a pair of victories coming at Newcastle. Last time he successfully stepped-up in trip, and looked impressive in the process when beating Endless Acres. That horse went on to finish runner-up at Royal Ascot, so the form certainly stacks-up.
By Sea The Stars out of a Sadler’s Wells mare, this fella is clearly huge on potential though miniscule on experience. He looked a big raw baby last time, hanging left late-on in a race that had been run at a crawl. This will be very different, and despite his undoubted talent, I’d be hugely concerned as to whether he’ll cope with such a race at this moment in his career. He also has a 9lb rise to contend with.
It was a gut-wrenching defeat for Seamour last year, having looked a certain winner a furlong from home, only to be mugged in the shadow of the post. Brian Ellison’s six-year-old has been running well in mainly listed company since, and those that side with this consistent performer are sure to get a great run for their wonga. This will be his third attempt at the race, and he was favourite on both previous occasions. Expect him to come as late as possible, as he barely gets the trip. He’s sure to go close.
Natural Scenery looks to give Godolphin back-to-back victories in the race. She was fancied to win the All-Weather Marathon at Lingfield in April, but rarely looked happy during the race, and failed to pick-up turning for home, eventually finishing a disappointing sixth. Prior to that she had won well at Newcastle, having been ridden more prominently. However, that was a small field, and she managed to get a good position with the minimum of fuss, in a slowly run race. I’m not sure she’ll take to the 20-runner affair tomorrow. She looked a little timid last time.
James Fanshawe took the race back in 1995, and has a leading contender in Higher Power. His second to Big Orange at Sandown last time looks rather tasty form, though prior to that he’d failed to win off a mark of 100 at Kempton. He did have Endless Acres behind him that day, and that form looks strong. He’s up at 107 this time, and that’s a tall order. But he’s improving at a rare old rate of knots, and despite the lofty handicap I fancy he’ll run well. He’s won or been placed in his last nine starts.
Despite the size of the field, I’m struggling to find many that I consider to be serious contenders. Seamour must have a huge chance, in what looks to be a slightly weaker renewal. He came close last year, and I take him to make it third-time lucky. The ultra-consistent Higher Power looks the main danger. Of those at a price, I’d risk a few quid on Suegioo. He was fifth in this a couple of years back, and has hinted at a return to form of late.
Best of luck to those taking a punt.