Racing: Sendintank returns for a crack at historic Plate

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If the Northumberland Plate was antipodal, the last Saturday in June would be the day that stops a nation. The venerable contest, first run in 1833, bows in value and prestige among two-mile handicaps worldwide only to the Melbourne Cup. The inaugural winner at Newcastle, Tomboy, had five rivals to beat to earn 100 sovereigns for his owner; in this weekend's 162nd running yesterday's 54 penultimate declarations will be whittled down to a maximum of 20 to compete for a purse of £180,000.

If the Northumberland Plate was antipodal, the last Saturday in June would be the day that stops a nation. The venerable contest, first run in 1833, bows in value and prestige among two-mile handicaps worldwide only to the Melbourne Cup. The inaugural winner at Newcastle, Tomboy, had five rivals to beat to earn 100 sovereigns for his owner; in this weekend's 162nd running yesterday's 54 penultimate declarations will be whittled down to a maximum of 20 to compete for a purse of £180,000.

The early favourites are the Mark Johnston-trained Golden Quest, beaten a head in the Ascot Stakes at York's Royal meeting a week ago, and Alan Swinbank's charge Far Pavilions, going for a four-timer on the Flat. Last year's third, and beaten favourite, Anak Pekan heads the weights; for the second successive season the Michael Jarvis inmate will be trying to become the first Chester Cup winner to follow up at Gosforth Park since Attivo in 1974. The winner 12 months ago, Mirjan, will be bidding for a Plate double uncompleted since Tug Of War's in 1978.

The marathon is the finale to a three-day meeting and, with the track having missed Sunday's thundery showers, the ground is firm in places and the fallout from York's going fiasco still echoing, watering started yesterday. "We are hoping to produce ground no quicker than good to firm by Thursday," said the clerk of the course, James Armstrong.

That will be good news for the connections of one of the Plate's front-rank contenders, Sendintank. The remarkable little five-year-old narrowly missed going into the history books last year, when he won 10 handicaps - four on dirt, six on turf - and galloped more than three stone up the ratings, from 50 to his present 96. He has not run since eight days before Christmas, when he finished a gallant third on his final attempt at a record-equalling 11th handicap success.

"He was on the go for a long time last year," said his trainer, Stuart Williams, "from early January to late December, so we decided to give him a real nice long break. It's throwing him in at the deep end a bit to start off in a race like this, but he's got to start somewhere and there are not many places to go with him. He seems well enough, and he's won off a break before, though not in such hot company.

"But he's not hard to get fit, he's light-framed and wiry, definitely a long-distance runner. He hasn't been in such a big field too often, but arguably the best race he ran was the last time he was, at Haydock, where he was held up in his run but was in front a stride past the post. He tends to take a bit of a tug in a small field so I'd hope for a good draw on Saturday so he can settle and travel."

Of course, the so-called Pitmen's Derby is not the only one to bear that name at the weekend. On Sunday, the Curragh hosts the 140th running of the third of the season's major European middle-distance Classics, the Irish Derby. The 12-furlong contest has taken on a number of guises since its financial upgrading for Tambourine's victory 43 years ago put it, and Ireland itself, on the international racing map. It can be a consolation prize, a revenge match, a decider or simply a lap of honour.

This time, with both the Epsom and Chantilly victors absent, it is seen as the former, at least by the moguls of the Coolmore bloodstock empire, who have acquired ownership of the narrow runner-up in the French Derby, Hurricane Run. The colt, odds-on for Sunday's race, will continue to bear the colours of his former German owners for the rest of his racing career and will remain with André Fabre, but the breeding rights are now firmly in Co Tipperary.

Hurricane Run will be ridden by Kieren Fallon and his acquisition by the Tabor/ Magnier axis may seem a sad reflection of the three-year-old colt firepower at Ballydoyle - the nearest of the four Aidan O'Brien contenders in the Derby was fifth-placed Gypsy King - but has as much to do with the fact that Hurricane Run is a son of Montjeu, the Coolmore-based new stallion sensation of the season.

It took his own sire, Sadler's Wells, 13 crops to get a Derby winner; Montjeu did it with his first issue when Motivator scored, and had the runner-up Walk In The Park to boot. Most Coolmore stallions are home-grown at Ballydoyle, but not all (the most notable example being ultra-successful Danehill) and club-owned Motivator, heading for the Eclipse Stakes, will be up for grabs in due course. And although Coolmore have admitted to no move in that direction yet, the operation is, according to spokesman Richard Henry, "always interested in top prospects".

Gypsy King will lead the O'Brien brigade on Sunday, and Walk In The Park, trained by Fabre's Chantilly neighbour John Hammond, will also try his Derby luck again. Bahar Shumal, from Clive Brittain's yard, fronts the British challenge.

Comments