Northumberland Plate Ante Post Preview
|Tuesday 21st May 2019|
The Northumberland Plate is the richest two-mile handicap in Europe and it always attracts some of the finest stayers in the business. It is the biggest event of the year at Newcastle Racecourse and around 50,000 punters will pack into the stands to watch the action unfold. It marks the culmination of the three-day Northumberland Plate Festival, which features well-heeled Geordies, cracking racing and a great party atmosphere. This year’s Northumberland Plate takes place on Saturday, 29 June, and the excitement will continue to mount among punters as that date draws closer.
The race began life as the Pitmen’s Derby all the way back in 1833, when it formed the centrepiece of the Race Week holiday for Tyneside’s miners. It was initially held at Town Moor and Tomboy romped to victory in the inaugural race, beating five rivals to earn the princely sum of 100 sovereigns for his owner. It continued to entertain the miners and their families throughout the 19th century, and Underhand went down in history as a superstar by securing a hat-trick of victories between 1857 and 1859. It also provided a launchpad to greatness for 1877 winner Hampton, who went on to seize the Epsom Gold Cup, Goodwood Cup, Doncaster Cup and Queen’s Plate.
A Leading Contest for Stayers
In 1882, it moved to its present venue, Newcastle Racecourse in the leafy suburb of Gosforth. Crowds went wild the following year as the fabled Barcaldine drew his glorious, unbeaten career to a close by winning the Northumberland Plate on his final start. The meeting finally ceased to be a holiday and the Northumberland Plate moved to a Saturday in 1952. It takes place on the left-handed Tapeta track over 2 miles and 56 yards, and it is well established as a leading contest for stayers, attracting a great deal of interest from the national media, tipsters and experts at blogs hosted by leading bookmakers like Marathonbet.
Newcastle Brown Ale sponsored the Northumberland Plate until 1999, when Australian lager brand Foster’s took the title role. Ale returned to the fore in 2003 as John Smith’s became the sponsor, and Stobart Rail Ltd has been the backer since 2017. By 2005, the prize money stood at £180,000, so it has actually gone backwards since then. However, prize money cuts are rife in horse racing due to a shortfall in the levy and bookmakers losing out on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in stores, so the Northumberland Plate has actually done well to retain prize money of £150,000 in 2019.
It means that the race holds onto its status as the most lucrative two-mile handicap in Europe and it is sure to draw a strong field. Last year, the magnificent Withhold displayed his class by obliterating his rivals at the Northumberland Plate. He was given a hike of 12lbs in the weights and he had not raced since triumphing in the Cesarewitch the previous year, but he shook off the cobwebs, made a mockery of his rating and ran his rivals into the ground. He was then among the favourites for the legendary Melbourne Cup, but he had to be pulled out of the big race after bleeding from both nostrils and he has not seen action since.
Northumberland Plate Historical Trends
The Northumberland Plate is open to all thoroughbreds aged three and above, but no horse has won it back-to-back since Tug Of War in 1977 and 1978. An eight-year-old has not won the race since Len Lungo’s 33/1 shot, Mirjan, in 2004. The last three-year-old to secure victory was Archduke Ferdinand in 2001, so the sweet spot really is horses aged four to seven. Arc Bleu was actually the last seven-year-old to triumph and that was back in 2008, so horses aged four to six might be an even better group to look out for. The last two winners, Higher Power in 2017 and Withhold last year, were aged five.
This is not a race that typically sees long shots defy the odds and soar to victory. Tominator was 25/1 in 2011, while 2006 champion Toldo and 2004 winner Mirjan were both priced at 33/1, but those are the longest priced winners over the past 35 years. Withhold was the 5/1 favourite, and Higher Power was 11/2. Favourites have a reasonable record here of late, as Angel Gabriel won at 4/1 in 2014 and Ile De Re won at 5/2 in 2012. It is too early to know who the favourite will be for this year’s renewal, but a few key runners are in fine form ahead of the big race.
Leading Contenders for Northumberland Plate Glory
Mark Johnston’s Watersmeet won the All-Weather Marathon Championships Conditions Stakes at Lingfield last month, after finishing second in 2017 and third in 2018. He is now being lined up for another crack at the Northumberland Plate. “I don't know how many times he has run in the Northumberland Plate before, but he should be well capable of winning a race like that,” said Johnston. Watersmeet has actually only ever made one appearance in the race, when he finished fourth last year, six lengths behind Withhold.
He looks to be improving, but he is eight years old now and that might count against him. Another option could be Who Dares Wins, who finished second behind Making Miracles in the £150,000 Chester Cup Handicap over 2m 2f 140y earlier this month. Trainer Alan King said he will go in for the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot if the ground is soft, otherwise he will go in for the Northumberland Plate.
Making Magic is also part of the Johnston stable and he could well head up to Newcastle too. Strong filly Eden Rose is four years old and she fits the bill after securing her third win in four starts at this month’s Queen's Prize Handicap, despite being hit with an 11lbs hike in the weights.
The final declarations will take place just before the race, but a strong field is guaranteed. Northumberland Plate Day at Newcastle also includes the Group 3 Chipchase Stakes, a 6-furlong sprint, and plenty more intriguing races. There will be a prize for the best dressed racegoers, while iconic band Madness will entertain guests once all the action has drawn to a close.