Northumberland Plate Betting: Glory beckons for Gosden and Thimaar

Thimaar (blue) defeats Gulf of Naples at Kempton.

Timeform's Matt Gardner takes an ante-post look at the Northumberland Plate, and reckons a likely winner has been overlooked in the market...

It is Thimaar, likely to make an impact in pattern staying races let alone handicaps, that gets the final nod...

Established in 1833 and originally run at Town Moor, the Northumberland Plate is well recognised as one of the pre-eminent staying handicaps of the Flat season. The meeting was a holiday for the local mine workers from its inaugural running through to 1949, resulting in the moniker "Pitmen's Derby", and from 1952 the contest was moved to a Saturday from its usual hosting on the Wednesday.

Regrettably, there are no horses entered in the 2012 renewal with a name that instantly sparks a pun relating to the mining industry, so it is most likely best to crack on with a spot of form analysis.

Tominator, winner of last season's contest, will attempt to join Tug of War, winner of the race in 1977/78, in becoming one of only a handful who have landed this prize in successive years. Prior to Tug of War, the most recent consecutive winner was Caller Ou back in 1863/64, with Underhand being the most successful horse in the history of the race, winning from 1857 to 1859 inclusive.

Seemingly exposed on his thirteenth try in a handicap, having also tested the waters in pattern company, Tominator produced an improved performance to see off Montaff by a length and three-quarters in 2011. A well-run race, rather than a first attempt at two miles, can be found at the root of the five-year-old's performance, and he went on to improve further still when second in a listed handicap at Chester. He will compete off the same mark here as for that Chester run, which he is capable of defying, and the suspicion is that on his latest start at Haydock, he was just building himself up to a race of this ilk.

Motivado, trained by Sir Mark Prescott Bt, was much improved when winning a Haydock handicap by seven lengths last year, and went on to record an even better performance when fourth, off a 9 lb higher mark, in a stronger race back there later in September (subsequently gelded). The four-year-old strikes as a strong galloper, one who could do better still, and is likely to be suited by this of test. However, this will be his first run of 2012, and it may be that he has targets of this nature later in the season.

If taking up his engagement Mount Athos will be at the head of the weights, set to carry 9-10. His 2012 reappearance win at Newmarket, in a good-quality handicap, represented a career-best for the five-year-old, the impression being that he may finally be ready to land a valuable contest this season having held his own in competitive events last year. A 6 lb rise for that victory is fair enough but, on the two occasions he has encountered ground softer than good, he has made no impact, something that would be a worry given the conditions he will likely encounter at Newcastle come Saturday.

The only horse still entered to have the Timeform 'p' attached to his rating is Western Prize, a four-year-old trained by Ralph Beckett. Lightly-raced, having made just five appearances, Western Prize's best effort came when recording his second victory in a Newbury handicap, confirming the positive impressions he had made in his first two starts. A below-par effort in a big-field York handicap can be forgiven, most likely coming too soon in his development, and he shaped well on his return when sixth behind Mount Athos at Newmarket. Western Prize remains with plenty of potential, is a more than intriguing candidate, but it is something of a leap of faith to put your support fully behind him.

The Chester Cup, won by Ile De Re, is a race worthy of attention as three possible participants in the Northumberland Plate all took their chance. On his first outing for Donald McCain, Ile De Re proved at least as good as ever in beating stablemate Overturn, a past winner of this race. He looked well-suited by the test of stamina that day and, whilst he is likely to give a good account, he may just get found out dropping two furlongs in trip with an 8 lb rise in the weights to contend with.

Gulf of Naples finished third at Chester, not settling fully but still running well. The four-year-old went on to finish an excellent fourth in the Ascot Gold Cup, putting up a massive career-best, but he very much had the run of affairs there, and taking that form too literally may prove folly.

The 2011 Cesarewitch winner Never Can Tell was back in eighth at Chester on what was her seasonal reappearance, but that run is best overlooked as she was not persevered with once held. It is possible that she is better on a quicker surface than faced at Chester, and what she is likely to meet with once more at Newcastle, so it is difficult to highlight her as the most likely winner.

One who needs no highlighting, his chance there for all to see, is the John Gosden-trained Thimaar, owned by Hamdan al Maktoum. He boasts some strong form from earlier in his career, finishing among the likes of Al Kazeem (now rated 125 by Timeform) and Eagles Peak (102p), and he got off the mark impressively at the fourth time of asking at Newmarket.

Clearly well regarded, connections ran Thimaar in the Great Voltigeur at York and a heritage handicap at Ascot, where he disappointed on both occasions. However, he bounced back with success at the latter track last September when stepped up to two miles, confirming the early promise shown, and went on to beat Gulf of Naples in a useful Kempton handicap.

Thimaar's most recent run, when third behind subsequent Ascot Gold Cup winner Colour Vision and Yorkshire Cup winner and Hardwicke Stakes third Red Cadeaux, reads extremely well, and it says something that, on the day, Thimaar's effort was considered fairly disappointing.

The field for the 2012 Northumberland Plate has all the hallmarks of a riveting, competitive handicap, with it being possible to make cases for any number of contenders. Tominator makes plenty of appeal in his bid to land successive renewals of this event, but it is Thimaar, likely to make an impact in pattern staying races let alone handicaps, that gets the final nod to land a second Northumberland Plate for trainer John Gosden.

Recommendation
Back Thimaar @ 27.026/1 for the Northumberland Plate
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