Saturday will be a sad day for many north-east racegoers as the historic Northumberland Plate, affectionately known to locals as the ‘ Pitman’s Derby,’ will be run on Turf for the last time this weekend with the Flat course at Gosforth Park set to become an all-weather venue from next season, much to the chagrin of many professionals and public alike.
Whether the two mile contest first run in 1833 will continue to retain a place in the public’s heart on the proposed Tapeta surface remains to be seen but the most recent renewal is as strong as ever with a maximum field of 20 set to go to post headed by possibly the most-loved horse in the north at present in the Peter Niven-trained dual purpose gelding Clever Cookie.
A non-runner when quietly fancied for last week’s Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, the mount of Graham Lee was withdrawn due to the fast conditions, a situation which will hopefully not re-occur on Saturday afternoon after Niven has assessed the state of the ground. In a wide-open race most of the field can be given some kind of chance of taking the first prize of £86,226, including southern raiders Oasis Fantasy, Quest For More and Nearly Caught while Irish challenger Max Dynamite is due plenty of respect for the powerful stable of Willie Mullins.
Trainer Brian Ellison, a leading supporter of the race, will be four-handed and has rated the lightly-raced Seamour as his best chance of winning the handicap but that confidence may have been tempered with the news that the horse will be berthed widest of all in stall 22. Totalize, Gabrial’s King and Notarised are three others from the north who are capable of playing a leading role but it is last year’s winner Angel Gabrial who is taken to become the first back-to-back winner of the race since Tug Of War in 1977/78.
The Hurricane Run gelding ran out an easy winner of the race 12 months ago and a rise of just 7lb should not be enough to prevent the mount of decent 3lb claimer Jack Garritty from following up after the six-year-old’s failure to make his mark in Listed and Group company in the second half of last season. Returning to handicaps this campaign Angel Gabrial ran well to finish second over an inadequate 1m 4f at Ripon back in April before an attempt at the Chester Cup where the horse ran far too keenly in the hands of Jamie Spencer.
On his most recent start the Richard Fahey-trained gelding finished an encouraging third behind Clever Cookie at York and is fancied to reverse the form on 5lb better terms and over an extra two furlongs at a track that clearly suits. Available at a top price 16-1 with Betfred, Coral and William Hill, Angel Gabrial can also be backed at 14-1 with Skybet who, unlike most other bookmakers, are paying out on the first 5 horses home.