Newcastle Racecourse looks set to take centre stage this weekend as the famous Gosforth Park venue hosts its feature event of the racing calendar, The Northumberland Plate.
Also known as the Pitmen’s Derby, the race is steeped in history and often attracts a stellar field as it is one of the richest two-mile handicaps run worldwide.
However this year’s renewal could be of great significance as it is looking very likely this could be the final time the race will be run on turf, with imminent plans to tear up the flat turf course and replace it with an all-weather surface.
Malton trainer Brian Ellison, who has always been a big supporter of his local boyhood track, has ‘mixed feelings’ regarding the impending switch from turf to all-weather, which would result in the Northumberland Plate being run on a synthetic surface for the first time.
He said: “I have mixed feelings about the plans for an AW surface at Newcastle as we are in desperate need of AW surface up in the North but at the same time it will take away from the prestige of the Plate.”
Nevertheless Newcastle- born Ellison is responsible for eight of the 46 entrants left in at the five-day declaration stage in a race he openly targets every year along with York’s Ebor Handicap.
“I obviously target the Northumberland Plate and the Ebor Handicap because a lot of my better horses are well suited to the distance and the prize money on offer is very good.”
Current 10/1 favourite Seamour is under the stewardship of Malton-based Ellison and after a successful Juvenile hurdling campaign this winter he arrives fresh on the back of a very impressive performance last time out at Haydock in which he beat stablemate Totalize and a number of other reopposing rivals.
Seamour was raised 8lb by the handicapper for his authorative success at Haydock, but his trainer feels this lightly raced Azamour colt could find further improvement to give him his first taste of victory in this prestigious race
He added: “He is young and obviously the most progressive and he goes there in super form after winning well last time out at Haydock, he has a good chance, Sylvester De Sousa will ride.”
With the Ellison stable in flying form in recent weeks it would be impossible to rule out the chances of any of his string as Totalize, Montefeltro, Buthelezi, Apterix, Top Of The Glas, Carthage and Full Day are all set to take their chance if they make the cut for the feature race.
He said: “We have eight horses entered (for the Northumberland Plate) and they are all in super form at home, if they all make the cut they will all run.”
It’s looking very likely to be a vintage renewal of this year’s Pitmen’s Derby as last week’s Ascot Gold Cup absentee Clever Cookie looks set to shoulder top weight for trainer Peter Niven, who will be currently be doing a rain dance at his Barton-le-Street base to aid his stable star’s chance.
Last year’s winner Angel Gabrial will again take his place in the line-up for Richard Fahey who is mob handed with Gabrial’s Star, Gabrial The Duke, Gabrial The Terror, Modernism and English Summer all set to represent while the all-conquering Willie Mullins interestingly sends over Max Dynamite, who is the only Irish contender in the field.
The runner-up from last year’s contest Suegioo will look to seek revenge for Marco Botti, while the in-form Hughie Morrison saddles the intriguing Nearly Caught.
Gold Cup-winning trainer Ed Dunlop sends out Oasis Fantasy who will be very prominent in the market as he bids to reverse form with Roger Charlton’s Quest for More.
Oasis Fantasy beat him last time out at Goodwood but I feel it will be worth siding with the Ellison-trained favourite Seamour, who is defenitely value for more than the winning margin last time out at Haydock and is a race that Ellison notoriously targets.
I think he could be the one to give Ellison his first victory in the race on the final time it will be run on turf which would be very fitting.
Seamour, Northumberland Plate, Newcastle, Saturday, 10/1.