First run in 1833 The Northumberland Plate has never been an easy heat to solve, but, with four “jollies” in the last decade getting their head in front perhaps it’s getting a little more punter friendly. Last year saw the inaugural running of the contest on Newcastle’s new, All-Weather Tapeta surface, and the hugely valuable prize went to the Charlie Appleby trained Antiquarian for the “boys in blue” from Godolphin. Significantly his only experience of the Tapeta Surface had been gained at Wolverhampton in his first two races. He came second first time up, and then won next time, demonstrating his ability to handle the surface. Current market leader, Flymetothestars has had a similarly happy experience of the Tapeta Surface, winning his two races on it, both here at Newcastle.
The Sir Mark Prescott trained 4yo showed plenty of pace to win over 12f at Newcastle last October, and then demonstrated his strong stamina credentials, when winning on his reappearance over Saturday’s course and distance six weeks ago. Racing off a mark of 91 he stayed on strongly to beat Endless Acres by 2L, with Saturday’s opponent, Champagne Champ, 7L back in third. Beautifully bred, by Sea The Stars out of the Saddlers Wells mare Precious Gem, (won four of her eleven starts for Dermot Weld), Flymetothestars almost certainly, after only four runs, has plenty of improvement to come, and doesn’t look badly treated off a mark of 100. The one slight reservation would be his lack of experience, but his canny trainer knows how to prepare one for these big handicaps.
Top northern handler, and local boy, Brian Ellison, would dearly love to win “The Plate” and did go very close with his doughty stayer, Seamour, in last year’s renewal where he raced off a mark of 99. The 6yo son of Azamour, looked home and hosed when going 3L clear at the furlong marker only to be run down by Antiquarian in the shadow of the post. He only had two more runs last season, resulting in a fine second in a Class2 14f Doncaster handicap off a mark of 103, and then went down by a diminishing nose, when just failing to get up in a 2m Newmarket listed contest. He made a highly satisfactory start to this year’s campaign when finishing third to Dal Harraid over 14f at York five weeks ago, a race he used as a prep for last year’s contest. Despite being 4lbs higher this time around, but with the benefit of last year’s experience, (was also 6th in 2015 ) Seamour has to have a serious chance of fulfilling his talented trainers dream.
James Fanshawe won this in 1995 with Bold Gait carrying the welter weight of 9-10, and following the heroics of Big Orange in last week’s Ascot Gold Cup, must be hopeful that his Higher Power, who ran second to the Gold Cup winner in a Sandown Group3 last time out, might provide him with a second success. However Big Orange won that Sandown contest very easily and as the Fanshawe horse was beaten off a mark of 100 in his previous race, Saturday’s 107, giving him a racing weight of 9-9 looks a big ask. Indeed the only animal to carry more than 9-5 since his illustrious predecessor in 1995, was the Jonjo O’Neill’ trained Tormentor (9-10) in 2013, so perhaps the second Fanshawe contender, Lord George, is of greater interest, as he looks the type to improve for the step up in distance.
National Hunt trainers, with four wins in the past decade, have had their fair share of success, and the above mentioned O’Neill has an interesting runner in the ex French, Minotaur. With a win and two seconds at Listed level in France, he has a touch of class, and after a relatively slow start, the JP Mc Manus owned gelding seems to be getting his act together over hurdles, with two easy wins in his last two races. The 5yo son of Azamour was particularly impressive fifteen days ago, easily winning an Aintree 2 1/2m Novices, and with a win on the All-Weather in France on his CV, is worth considering.
Godolphin are attempting to repeat last year’s success, this time with the 4yo filly Natural Scenery, and significantly her record on a Tapeta surface is 3/3, winning at Wolverhampton and twice here at Gosforth Park. Last time out she started favourite for Lingfields very valuable All-Weather marathon in April, but drawn wide and having to come from behind, she met plenty of trouble and could only finish sixth. She is probably better judged on her previous run over course and distance when ridden by Josephine Gordon she won a Class2 handicap very easily by 2L from subsequent Imperial Cup winner London Prize off a mark of 95. Indeed Gordon has a 100% record on the filly having ridden her to all three wins on Tapeta. Natural Scenery is another beautifully bred animal, by Dubawi out of a Saddlers Wells mare, and it’s not too difficult to imagine her defying her mark of 103 on Saturday, and maintaining her talented riders 100% record.
Selection : Flymetothestars
E.W. : Natural Scenery (if abs Seamour)