Northumberland Plate: Mullins charge Piques our interest

Racing comes from Newcastle this weekend
Racing comes from Newcastle this weekend

Joe Rendall takes a look at the prestigious staying handicap from Gosforth Park on Saturday...

"Basically, Pique Sous is one of those 5/1 shots in a big handicap that you want to discredit and discount, but can’t..."

I don't know about you, but I'm finding that keeping up with the wealth of sport on offer at the moment slightly overwhelming. Racing is a given, though pitched in with a constant stream of football, cricket and tennis supplemented by regular F1, golf and rugby there is a fair amount to keep on top of. Although keeping across all the results and permutations feels like a task of Sisyphean proportions, one major advantage from the vast array on offer is the ability to see certain themes which overarch and intertwine across different disciplines and competitions.

One such theme - namely the nature and condition of the varied surface - ties rather neatly into a discussion of Saturday's Northumberland Plate. Whether it's the transition to grass courts for Wimbledon, the spray-painting of the Manaus pitch in Brazil, Pinehurst's super-slick greens for the US Open or, most painfully, the lively pitch conditions for the test match at Headingley,  the summer sporting surface dictates the action to such a large extent.   

Given that Newcastle's last race meeting was called off due to waterlogging, it may come as something of a surprise to hear that they are currently watering ahead of the flagship Plate festival to ensure the going doesn't get too quick.  As of Tuesday morning the course is good to firm, firm in places and with most of the forecast rain due to fall south of the Tyne, the chance of a sound racing surface for the meeting's climax on Saturday is looking increasingly likely. This is particularly good news for our main selection for the Plate, emphatic Royal Ascot winner Pique Sous.

Although he comes from an hurdling background in Ireland, which virtually guarantees soft-ground racing, Pique Sous is evidently at least as effective away from the mud such was the decisiveness of his display when winning the Queen Alexandra Stakes last week. Well settled under Ryan Moore, Pique Sous travelled powerfully into the race and took charge in hugely-impressive fashion. Even under the 5-lb penalty he receives for that success Pique Sous still comes out on top of the Timeform weight-adjusted ratings and he looks to have an excellent chance to notch up two big-race victories in the space of a week.

Concerns do exist over Pique Sous, though most can be assuaged. The different trip is a clear red herring, Pique Sous having proved his effectiveness over 14 furlongs on the Flat and two miles over hurdles; if anything, he'd have been a doubt to see out the 21 furlongs of the Queen Alexandra. The quick turnaround may put some off, though that Pique Sous comes here a fresh horse after missing the latest jumps season due to colic helps to offset that.  Besides that, the fact that Ryan Moore won't be available to ride this time is a downer, though it's fair to assume that Mullins won't be short of options.

Basically, Pique Sous is one of those 5/1 shots in a big handicap that you want to discredit and discount, but can't. He deserves to be that sort of price, if not shorter in truth, so it's recommended that you have him onside.

Those looking for an each-way bet at a bigger price could do worse than Nearly Caught, as there was a lot to like about his latest effort at Haydock. He benefited from a reappearance run at in the John Porter at Newbury and back in handicap company that day he stayed on strongly to finish a fast-closing second to Noble Silk. Nearly Caught was progressive as a three-year-old and remains unexposed over staying trips. The unknown of ground conditions (he's never raced on firmer than good) are only of minor concern and certainly aren't enough to put us off recommending Nearly Caught at prices around 14/1.

There are plenty of dangers as you would expect in a competitive handicap of this nature, with Chester Cup one-two Suegioo and Angel Gabrial arguably top of the list. The former showed a much-improved level of form to win that contest and deserves extra credit for coming out on top despite being carried right in the closing stages. Suegioo has only been raised 3 lb for that win, but he too won't have Ryan Moore on his side come Saturday and given that he still carries a Timeform squiggle there are enough doubts about his temperament to look elsewhere.

Angel Gabrial came out of the Chester Cup with his reputation enhanced more than the result might suggest, faring a lot better than the rest of the held-up horses with a sweeping last-to-first run on the home bend. He did hang markedly right which arguably cost him the race, but Richard Fahey had relatively little time to reinvent him as a stayer before Chester and he's sure to be much better for the experience. He remains unexposed now his attentions have been solely focussed on this sphere and he might be the one to give the selections the most to think about.

The Northumberland Plate has been a fertile hunting ground for jumps trainers in recent years with Jonjo O'Neill, Donald McCain and Tony Martin all lifting the prize since 2008. Records for winning National Hunt trainers which don't feature Willie Mullins are something of an anomaly nowadays, and Pique Sous has an excellent chance to ensure normal service is resumed on Saturday. With firmer ground likely to make for a Northumberland Plate that puts the emphasis on speed, which will surely suit Pique Sous, you can watch him come in without missing so much as a couple of games at Wimbledon.


Back Pique Sous & Nearly Caught in the Northumberland Plate


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