What are the best bets in the Northumberland Plate?
This historic race is being run on an artificial surface (Tapeta) for the first time, but that hasn’t made a jot of difference to its competitiveness with a maximum field of 20 set to go to post.
They are headed by Roger Varian’s Steve Rogers who went off favourite for the Chester Cup in May, only to finish down the field in 12th with no obvious excuses. He’s a lot better than that and has won all three of his starts on an artificial surface since joining his current stable, so he’s not one to give up on and especially as he has been handed a low draw in stall four – low numbers have fared best in more recent runnings and an inside draw could still be beneficial given there is bound to be plenty of jostling on the two-furlong run to the first bend.
But a few of these finished a long way in front of him in the Chester Cup and they are all available at bigger prices. The winner No Heretic has since finished well beaten at Royal Ascot, but he can be forgiven that effort on unsuitably soft ground and his jockey didn’t give him a hard time once his chance had gone. Nicky Henderson’s charge should fare better here with ground conditions more suitable.
However, he is 1lb worse off with the Roodee runner-up NAKEETA, who was denied by a mere short head, and Iain Jardine’s charge may well get his revenge here on 1lb better terms. The five-year-old has really taken off since being asked to tackle trips in excess of 1m4f, winning twice over Haydock’s 1m6f, and his latest second needs upgrading as he was forced to race wide from his high draw and pulled his rider’s arms out for the first part of the race. That suggests he is still progressing enough to cope with a 3lb rise and his draw in stall nine could be a lot worse.
That he has never raced on an artificial surface is the only slight concern, but he has won on all types of going on turf and his canny trainer has given him a spin around here in a private gallop to get some experience. He also reports him to be in good form ahead of this, saying: “He’s improving, I don’t think we’ve seen the absolute best of him yet, stepping him up in trip has been the key. If they go a really strong gallop that will suit as he likes to come off a fast pace.”
With the Chester Cup looking the key race – three of the last four Plate winners finished 231 on the Roodee – you also have to respect the chances of the fourth, Gabriel The Hero, who has a couple of all-weather wins to his name and will exit from stall eight. The seven-year-old is competing off a career-high mark, though, and I doubt he’s still improving. Charlie Appleby’s Polarisation might be at the age of four, but that age group has struggled of late with just one successful in the last eight runnings.
A big weight used to be a real stopper with 9st being the ceiling, but two of the last three winners have carried more. Even so, I’m still inclined to put a line through anything carrying 9st 5lb or more and that would rule out top weight Gang Warfare (9st 10lb) and the likes of Seamour and Nearly Caught, although the latter prepped nicely for this when finishing second on the Polytrack at Chelmsford.
The rest are much harder to fancy and, while I’ve got a healthy respect for Steve Rogers (worth a saver, perhaps?), I’m happy to come down on the side of Nakeeta, who ticks all the right boxes and still offers some value at the current 8/1. That said, it might be worth waiting to back him until Saturday morning when the bookies’ price war begins in earnest.