Racing: Ellison fears Plate draw will beat Zibeline

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The Independent Online

Ranged against the delights of Euro 2004 and Wimbledon, the only element of exotica racing can offer this weekend is the Irish Derby at the Curragh. For sheer work ethic, however, there will be little compare in the sporting world with the Northumberland Plate and 20 horses thundering around Newcastle's Gosforth Park tomorrow.

Ranged against the delights of Euro 2004 and Wimbledon, the only element of exotica racing can offer this weekend is the Irish Derby at the Curragh. For sheer work ethic, however, there will be little compare in the sporting world with the Northumberland Plate and 20 horses thundering around Newcastle's Gosforth Park tomorrow.

For much of this week, Britain's trainers have been on a weather-watch and the recent rains have either comforted or dismayed those responsible for the fancied runners at Newcastle.

Anak Pekan, Michael Jarvis's much-touted favourite, will appreciate any softening in the ground. Zibeline, who is out to improve on his third place in last year's Plate, would not require any more precipitation. "He's bouncing and in great form but we wouldn't want any more rain," Brian Ellison, the Malton trainer, said yesterday. "The plan was to go to Aintree, give him a break, go to Epsom [when third over a mile and a half] and then go to Newcastle." Zibeline has been drawn in stall 17 and Ellison added: "He drops out last but it's not ideal."

There was a similar moan from the man behind Escayola, a horse shortened this week but one drawn with the North Sea lapping around its ankles. Willie Haggas's representative has pulled the 20 stall on the wide outside. "I think a good draw is crucial, because it's such a short run to the turn," the Newmarket trainer said. "I think the start is only a furlong down or maybe even less, so you've either got to jump him out and be positive, in which case you're probably going too fast, or drop him in, in which case you'd probably get too far behind. We'll just have to leave it to the jockey [Richard Quinn]."

Escayola has shown progressive form this season and ran well to finish second to Star Member at York on his latest run. "That was a great improvement on his first run and he showed he's going the right way," Haggas added. "The horse is a pretty ordinary worker but he did work well on Saturday and he's coming to hand at the right time. so we are hopeful."

The prospect of rain is also in the mind of Roger Charlton, the Beckhampton trainer, as he seeks to scoop the July Cup at Newmarket on 8 July with Patavellian. "Wherever he goes, he doesn't want to run on very firm ground. He came back from the Stewards' Cup last year lame," Charlton said yesterday. "We've nursed him through it, and he's in good form and very sound. But we don't want to risk him. If the ground is good, he'll run in the July."

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Atlantic Viking

(Newcastle 7.25)

NB: Topkamp

(Newmarket 8.40)

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