Weekend Preview – Northumberland Plate, Irish Derby & More

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Withhold (Blue)

Racing fans were really spoiled by all the top tier racing from Royal Ascot last week so you could be forgiven for assuming this weekend would be thin on quality and quantity. Although nothing could be further from the truth, there is Group action from Newmarket, the Northumberland Plate takes pride of place at Newcastle and its Irish Derby weekend at the Curragh.

Higher Power winning the 2017 Northumberland Plate

Northumberland Plate

This 2-mile 56-yard contest is the flagship flat race at Newcastle and is always a target for smart stayers that may have “Cup” aspirations. Top stayers such as Overturn, Angel Gabrial and Quest For More have all won this fiercely competitive handicap in recent years.

Among the leading fancies for this year’s renewal are Withhold, Amazing Red and last year’s winner Higher Power. Withhold hasn’t been seen since landing a massive gamble in the Cesarewitch for owner Tony Bloom and champion jockey Silvestre De Sousa. Robert Winston takes over the reins this time with SDS on duty at the Curragh to partner Dee Ex Bee in the Irish Derby.

Roger Charlton will have left no stone unturned in his pursuit to land back to back top staying handicaps with this improving son of Champs Elysees so a 259-day absence wouldn’t bother me.

He will face stiff opposition, in particular from the ante-post “money” horse Amazing Red who won a 1-mile 6f handicap impressively at Newmarket under Frankie Dettori earlier this month. Ed Dunlop’s inmate has been trimmed from 25’s into 7/1 in recent days and looks primed for a huge run.

Higher Power is looking to defend his crown and become the first horse to win back to back victories in recent times. He runs off just 1 pound higher than last year and with regular jockey Tom Queally in the plate, a strong bid looks assured.

Of the outsiders, I quite like the chances of Byron Flyer who hails from the in-form Ian Williams yard looks to hold strong claims of landing this prestigious handicap following some consistent runs in top handicaps over the past two seasons.

The son of Byron hasn’t won since early 2017 but a host of runner-up placings suggests if he keeps knocking on the door a big handicap surely lies in waiting for this likeable gelding.

Selection: Higher Power                               Outsider: Byron Flyer

2000 Guineas Winner Saxon Warrior

Irish Derby

For those of you who missed the Irish Derby Preview, you can read it here. A few days on my views haven’t changed, I think that Saxon Warrior is justifiably favourite and will take a lot of beating but I predict that O’Brien Jnr will upset the apple tart with the improving Latrobe.

Latrobe who was runner-up to Platinum Warrior in the Gallinule has taken four runs to shed his maiden tag but he was runner-up to some quality colts and looks the overpriced colt.

Duke of Firenze

Rockingham Handicap

This five-furlong handicap is going to be one of the quickest contests that’ll be run on the Curragh this year. The home brigade will be hard pushed to keep the €100,000 prize in Ireland with a host of British raiders looking to plunder this ultra-competitive handicap.

David Marnane will be looking to continue his hot streak following his victory in the Royal Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot by claiming the Rockingham with the improving Alfredo Arcano.

This progressive four-year-old was a somewhat snug winner over course and distance when last seen earlier this month and with his favoured, underfoot conditions the son of Arcano looks sure to run a big race.

Ger Lyons’s lightly raced Blue Uluru who’s a daughter of Choisir looks set to start favourite on the back of two recent wins at Navan and The Curragh.

Blue Uluru has won four of her eight career starts to date, three of which were over the minimum distance. She seems to have been laid out for the race and no doubt will give her backers a run for their money.

One of the old-timers in the race that shouldn’t be overlooked is Duke of Firenze. Dave Griffiths nine year old has been a real stalwart of the yard and although he hasn’t won since May last year, he showed that he still retains a lot of his ability with a fourth-place finish in the Prix De L’Abbaye last season.

Duke of Firenze now runs off a mark of 102 which I think he will prove is quite lenient considering he’s been slightly unlucky in his most recent runs and has the back class to exploit it.

Selection: Blue Uluru                               Outsider: Duke of Firenze

Beckford winning last season’s Railway Stakes

The Group 2 Railway Stakes looks like a very interesting race on Saturday, where surprisingly Aidan O’Brien has only trained one of the last eight winners. Land Force looks his most likely candidate to bring the prize back to Ballydoyle, having run really well in the Norfolk last week. He was actually a bog eye catcher for me which those of you who read The Royal Review will already know.

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