The Donald McCain-trained Ile de Re powered through atrocious conditions at Newcastle last year to complete the rarely-achieved double of the Chester Cup and Northumberland Plate, showing plenty of stamina and guts to triumph in a race full of established stayers. Ile de Re may bid to defend his crown this year but he is likely to face vastly different ground conditions, not to mention a couple of up-and-coming stayers that could prove to be ahead of their marks.
The upwardly-mobile Tiger Cliff shaped extremely well over two and a half miles in the Ascot Stakes last week and was at the head of the ante-post market for the Northumberland Plate prior his owner stating that he is an unlikely runner.
On his latest start, Tiger Cliff, to his credit, responded well to pressure, staying on well in the closing stages to finish second having been poorly positioned as the race developed; he looked as if he still had a few pounds in hand of the handicapper. Although that was probably a career-best effort at Ascot, Tiger Cliff's victory on his penultimate start over 14 furlongs at Newmarket - in a race that has worked out well, incidentally - shows that he has plenty of pace for a stayer, but, unfortunately, doubts surrounding his participation mean that he cannot be advised as an ante-post selection.
Biographer is one of two other horses in the contest that retains the Timeform 'p', indicating that he is capable of improving on his current rating. He finished fourth behind Tiger Cliff in that strong Newmarket handicap on his return, shaping as if he would come on for the run and possibly prove even more effective over two miles. Biographer was actually declared to run in the Ascot Gold Cup, hinting at the esteem in which he is held by trainer David Lanigan, but was withdrawn on the day due to the prevailing fast ground, so his participation on Saturday has to be in some doubt.
One horse that is unlikely to be inconvenienced by a sound surface is the David Simcock-trained Montaser. Montaser was largely progressive as a three-year-old, proving his stamina by comfortably winning a two-mile event at Ascot in July, and he was sent off as a well-fancied 10/1 shot in the Cesarewitch on his final start of the campaign. Though disappointing in that premier handicap, the relatively-unexposed Montaser picked up the progressive thread by winning on his return (having been gelded in the interim) in a 14-furlong handicap at York, and he seemed to have a fair bit more in hand than the winning margin of one length would suggest. The style in which he made rapid headway to tackle the leaders a furlong from home certainly caught the eye and the step back up to two miles is unlikely to prove a problem.
It is worth pointing out that Montaser has a 5 lb rise in the weights to deal with, and this is undoubtedly a stiffer task than the one he faced at York, but we arguably haven't seen everything the four-year-old has to offer having made just nine career starts.
Arch Villain, representing the in-form stable of Amanda Perrett, has notched up a hat-trick of wins, benefitting from his yard's upturn in fortunes this term. He arguably deserves extra credit for winning at Goodwood, coming from behind in a race that was dominated by those ridden prominently, and merits consideration with the step up to two miles likely to suit a horse that responds so generously for pressure. He does, however, have a further 5 lb rise in the weights to deal with and, on balance, Montaser makes greater appeal.
Lieutenant Miller and Mubaraza, third and fourth in the Ascot Stakes respectively, would be entitled to plenty of respect if lining up as they are both young stayers in good form.
Lieutenant Miller, in the same ownership as Tiger Cliff, has been declared as a likely starter and, although he had no excuses at Ascot, simply beaten by better horses, it represented a career-best effort for the lightly-raced seven-year-old. Quick ground is of no concern to Nicky Henderson's charge and he is likely to give a good account, though, similarly to how he performed at Ascot, he might find a couple too good on the day.
Stamina always appeared to be Mubaraza's strong suit so it was little surprise to see him fare well at Royal Ascot, although his chances would have improved somewhat had he not taken such a strong hold. Based on his effort behind Tiger Cliff at Newmarket on his penultimate start and in the Ascot Stakes last time, Mubaraza remains fairly treated and should once again put up a bold show, but, considering how recently he ran, you would want to hear connections committing him to the race before parting with your cash at the ante-post stage.
The prospect of fast ground has had a significant impact on this year's renewal of the Northumberland Plate, probably ensuring that Tiger Cliff, the most likely winner of the race, will not compete. In his absence, Montaser appeals as the best alternative being a progressive, lightly-raced type effective on a sound surface.
Back Montaser in the Northumberland Plate
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