Top Cees primed to crack the Plate

IT'S not a Derby, and there are precious few pitmen left in the North- east, but the Northumberland Plate continues to hold its own as one of the great handicaps of the season. Today's 154th running of the two-mile race is no exception, with 20 redoubtable stayers assembled at Gosforth Park to contest the beer money. The pounds 100,000-added purse makes it the richest prize of its kind in Europe.

No less a star than the recent Ascot Gold Cup hero Celeric won it last year so there is a fair act to follow. Credible challengers will line up from all points, but the partisan northern crowd can cheer home one of their own this year, Top Cees (3.50). The Lynda Ramsden-trained seven- year-old has taken a hike in the ratings but he seems better than ever this year and will be well-suited by the prevailing going and the thorough test of stamina Newcastle's galloping track provides. He can follow up his runaway Chester Cup victory to succeed where even Sea Pigeon failed.

Others to come into consideration at longer prices are Siege Perilous, who has been running consistently well this season and gets into the handicap proper with the withdrawal of Jiyush, and the Queen's horse, Shaft of Light, who gives the impression of having been brought nicely to the boil, though perish the thought that it should be for a Clarence House punt.

One of the two three-year-olds in the race, Windsor Castle, has been prominent in the betting but older horses have outstandingly the best record.

Luca Cumani acquired a reputation as a handicap specialist in his early days and, though he always used to protest the issue, there is continuing evidence that he still has the touch. His three-year-old Yorkie George (2.45) has sound claims in the Journal "Good Morning" Handicap. He was disappointing over six furlongs last time but should appreciate the step up to seven and can recoup losses.

If Coastal Bluff (4.50) is anywhere near the form he showed last season he should take the Colonel Porter Brown Ale Chipchase Stakes on his seasonal debut. A convincing win for the giant grey should put some life into a rather moribund sprinting division.

Celeric was not the only future champion on view this day last year, for at Newmarket Benny The Dip took the Kris Maiden Stakes. This year John Gosden's stable relies on Laffah, but may have to give best to Exit To Somewhere (4.35).

The third of the weekend's three Derbies (the dogs have their day at Wimbledon tonight) is the real thing at The Curragh. Silver Patriarch would have won at Epsom in another stride and will be ideally suited by the sweeping right-hand track he will face tomorrow. He can give John Dunlop and owner Peter Winfield compensation and in the process become the first grey to win since Nathoo in 1948.

The home side have kept their premier race at home only twice in the past 10 years, and their best hope this year may lie with the Aidan O'Brien- trained pair of Strawberry Roan and Johan Cruyff. Silver Patriarch will start favourite, but not as short as King Of Kings earlier in the afternoon. If O'Brien's colt, a warm order for next year's 2,000 Guineas, is beaten in the Railway Stakes it would be one of the shocks of the season, almost on a par with France's Helissio being turned over by one of his three rivals in tomorrow's Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in Paris.

Three British runners, of which Ferdy Murphy-trained Paddy's Return appears the pick, head to Auteuil today for the French Champion Hurdle. Still on the jumping front, Adrian Maguire, out of action since he broke an arm in February, makes a welcome return at Worcester this afternoon.


NAP: Opaque

(Newcastle 3.50)

NB: Gadge

(Newcastle 3.15)