David Cleary likes the claims of Andrew Balding's unexposed 4-year-old in Saturday's big race at Newcastle...
"So far, Opera Gift has raced at distances up to fourteen and a half furlongs, but he's tended to finish off his races strongly and that, coupled with his pedigree, indicates a runner that will benefit from the step up to two miles."
Like so many of the really big handicaps these days, the Northumberland Plate, staged at Newcastle, tends to feature a field of high-quality but exposed runners. It takes a handicap mark in the mid-90s or higher to get a run and there aren't many 4-y-o+ horses that have reached that level without showing their hand to the handicapper to a large extent.
If one of those runners comes out on top, shortly after 3.30 on Saturday, then the outcome may well have turned on the draw, luck in running or a good piece of jockeyship. Not ideal for an ante-post play, in truth.
So, in looking for a bet at this stage, it's probably best to concentrate on those that are slightly less exposed. Though few in number, such types have largely got the better of the more exposed runners in recent renewals. Of those declared at the five-day stage, there are a handful that fit the bill, though one that stands out, and that is Opera Gift.
Opera Gift is just five runs into his career, each one an improvement on the one before. Having only made his debut as late as last September, he managed four races in six weeks, winning a maiden at Pontefract and a handicap at Yarmouth and finishing a close second to the smart Ocean Wind at Doncaster. Opera Gift returned at the start of May to win a useful handicap in style at Salisbury.
So far, Opera Gift has raced at distances up to fourteen and a half furlongs, but he's tended to finish off his races strongly and that, coupled with his pedigree, indicates a runner that will benefit from the step up to two miles. As about the least exposed in the field, a really positive profile and from a stable in cracking form, Opera Gift has a lot going for him and must be top of the picks for the Northumberland Plate, at 9.08/1 with Betfair Sportsbook.
Prince Alex: Still on the up after Goodwood second
One of those behind Opera Gift at Salisbury, Prince Alex could also take his chance in the Plate and would be worth considering, at longer odds. He needs a couple to come out to guarantee a run. He's had more racing than Opera Gift but he too has yet to try two miles. He rose 20 lb in the handicap in completing a five-timer last year and his latest effort, going down by a head to Nuit St Georges at Goodwood suggests the handicapper still hasn't got his measure
Trueshan: a leading player despite welter burden
While it might seem ridiculous to say it, Trueshan, off a BHA mark of no less than 118, also counts as one of the less exposed. And yet, he has had just the one try at two miles, running out a wide-margin winner of the Long Distance Cup at Ascot on Champions' day. On his reappearance and only start since he ran a cracker in finishing second to Japan in the Ormonde at Chester.
Trueshan is due to run in the Plate after his bid to land the Gold Cup at Ascot was scuppered by the firm ground - what might have been a day later! He will have to shoulder 10st 4lb, which is almost unheard of in the modern age, but in pure form terms he is a strong candidate for the prize. He is, though, the clear favourite and surely won't be much shorter on the day.
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