Timeform's Ben Fearnley picks out two bets for Saturday's Northumberland Plate, the last to be run on turf.
"It’s already been a week to savour for Ed Dunlop, who won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot with the unstoppably-progressive Trip To Paris last week... Oasis Fantasy boasts a very similar profile and is one that very much catches the eye in the betting for Saturday’s race."
Now nearly 200 years old, the Northumberland Plate is set to change forever from 2016, when Newcastle's controversial new Tapeta all-weather surface is scheduled to be in place. The race affectionately known as the "Pitmen's Derby" will become the Sandpitmen's Derby.
Taking away the wider implications that installing the North's first all-weather track will have, it means that Saturday's Northumberland Plate will potentially be the last-ever on turf. How this will change the race remains to be seen, but it certainly makes the 2015 renewal one to savour.
It's already been a week to savour for Ed Dunlop, who won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot with the unstoppably-progressive Trip To Paris last week. That four-year-old, ridden by Graham Lee, was beaten from a BHA mark in the 80s on his seasonal reappearance but hasn't looked back since on his march to a big staying prize. Oasis Fantasy boasts a very similar profile and is one that very much catches the eye in the betting for Saturday's race.
Although Oasis Fantasy's mark has continued to climb this season without him managing to add to his win tally, he has shaped like a winner in waiting on more than one occasion, significantly so when conceding first run to Quest For More at Goodwood over 14 furlongs, where his strength at the finish showed his potential for this extended trip- that it remains his only start beyond 12 furlongs also shows how unexposed he remains as a stayer.
Oasis Fantasy caught the eye again on his most recent start when third at Epsom on Derby Day, faced with a wall of horses two furlongs from home, yet finishing with a strong burst once clear. Graham Lee threaded the passage that allowed Tominator to win his second Plate in 2013 and few seem better qualified to steer Oasis Fantasy to his first victory of the season on Saturday.
Current Favourite Seamour is the most obvious danger to the selection and remains open to improvement after making just his fourth Flat start a winning one over two miles at Haydock last time. He looks a confirmed runner with Silvestre De Sousa booked for the ride, but having already shown much of his hand at Haydock he'll need to keep improving to defy a BHA mark of 93 in even stronger company. That being the case, we can afford to leave him alone at the prices.
Top of our adjusted ratings is currently Gabrial's Star, who has strong claims judging by his run in the Chester Cup (won by Trip To Paris) in which he finished well after encountering a troubled passage. The issue with him is the ante-post trap: with trainer Richard Fahey currently having seven other horses entered, divining which will run is the biggest unknown.
This race is not certain to be on Swnymor's radar, either, but at current prices (generally double those of Gabrial's Star) he could still be worth a small bet. It would be only a little harsh to say that Swnymor's career has been one disappointment after another, though now he's with John Quinn the signs are that that could change. He was an impressive winner on his debut for Quinn and has been unlucky more than anything since, forced wide at Galway, failing to stay in the Cesarewitch and too free/unfit at Hamilton last month. Proven over two miles and well-treated on what he showed on his first two starts for Quinn, Swnymor is one you may wish to take a chance on.
Time might be short to win a race of this nature, after all. Many of Britain's best staying handicaps are already niche enough and Newcastle's switch to Tapeta will only add to that. It remains to be seen how Arena Racing will attempt to make sure the Northumberland Plate doesn't suffer in terms of its competitiveness next year, as most punters enjoy tucking into the sort of challenge the race presents. Come what may, here's hoping that Oasis Fantasy, or Swmnymor, can make the final Northumberland Plate on turf a memorable one.
Back Oasis Fantasy 1pt win
Back Swnymor 0.5pt win