Saturday 30th June
"The current hot spell of weather and the proliferation of turf flat meetings has left us with very few opportunities of tackling some big-field contests with many races not even having enough runners to trigger 3 places for each-way punters.
The meeting up at Newcastle is, however, an exception to this and there are a number that we can look at to assess potential opportunities.
In general, I'm not a big fan of all-weather racing and, like many, I was very disappointed a few years ago when ARC took the decision to rip up the turf flat track at Newcastle and replace it with a Tapeta surface. I will say, however, as all-weather tracks go, it is probably the fairest of the 5 we now have in the UK and, having re-visited the course early last month, it is one of the most friendly venues to go to as a race-goer, in a nice setting, and the facilities are good.
It is their big day of the year, of course, on the flat and we are tackling the big race (Northumberland Plate) and one of the supporting handicaps on the card:-
Newcastle 2.05: NATURAL SCENERY / WATERSMEET / AMAZING RED – 1pt e/w
Skybet paying 6 places, many other firms paying 5 places
This race is nearly 200 years old but this is only the third running on the Tapeta surface and whilst, for many (including me), it was seen as backward step when the turf course was ripped up and replaced with this surface, there is a very good quality field for this year’s renewal.
The strong favourite is WITHHOLD for Roger Charlton who was an impressive winner of The Cesarewitch and, although up 12lbs, is thought a lot better than this grade and has bigger targets later in the year. The price, however, is not a great one for a large-field handicap of this nature and he has limited form on an all-weather surface. In addition, the vibes from connections in recent days have not been strong and is reported to have had a set-back a month or so ago, so, with the extended place terms on offer, it’s worth looking for some horses at nice each-way prices as an alternative.
NATURAL SCENERY was placed 2ndin this contest last year and runs here off a mark that is 2lbs lower. This means she is 3lbs better off with the winner on that occasion, HIGHER POWER, who carries top weight here. Later in the season, she was 3rdin The Ebor at York where, after being short of room about 1 furlong out she finished strongly over the 1m 6f trip. She’s now 4lb lower than for that, after some modest runs in Meydan over the winter, and looks very well handicapped to me. Another positive is her form on a Tapeta surface and here at Newcastle, in particular, where she has 2 wins and a 2ndplace from 3 runs. She has run well after a break before so the 3 months that have passed since Dubai should not be an issue.
A horse who has had this as a target for a very long time is WATERSMEET. Unusually for one of Mark Johnston’s horses, he has not had a lot racing in recent months as they prepared him for this. He was kept busy over the winter months, however, and performed with credit in a number of races on the all-weather, culminating in an excellent front-running 3rdin The Marathon on All-Weather Finals Day.
This horse is, clearly, a much better animal on an artificial surface than on turf and in 22 runs on the all-weather he has only been outside the top 3 on 2 occasions (winning 11 times). That’s just the sort of horse I like on my side when looking for an each-way angle.
His record over 2 miles (or just over) is excellent, too, with 4 wins and 3 places from his 7 attempts at the distance.
I’m hoping he can get across from his draw in stall 13 to lead and stack them up behind him before kicking on up the long straight for home and, whilst it would be a nice bonus if he were to hang on for the win, at current odds, he must have a good chance of gaining some each-way money with the enhanced terms on offer.
With 20 runners going to post, it’s probably worth having a third dart at the race and I can’t see AMAZING RED out of the frame, given luck in running etc. He has only tried this 2 mile trip once and that was at Kempton in May when he was victorious. He really caught my eye, however, last time at Newmarket when scooting away with a handicap under Frankie Dettori without the jockey really needing to pick up his stick. Given a 5lb penalty for that win he is officially 4lbs “well in” as he was raised 9lbs for the victory. With better luck the time before that Newmarket win, he may have been coming here on the back of a hat-trick and he looks to be a horse who is getting better with age.
Newcastle 12.20: SHANGHAI GLORY (7/1) / VOLATILE (9/1) – 1pt e/w
Ladbrokes/Coral paying 4 places
The opening race on the card is a very competitive sprint handicap up the straight 6 furlongs and a maximum field of 14 are set to go to post.
I did look very closely at the only 3 year-old in the line-up here, STAXTON, who ran well in a valuable race last time at York but, whilst he could go well, I think this may be a difficult race in which to get his head in front up against older horses on all-weather debut.
The race looks as though it could be run at a strong pace which may suit the likes of GOLDEN APPOLLO who often runs over 7 furlongs and really does need a fast-run race over this distance. Another who should be suited by this is SHANGHAI GLORY. He looked to be a very unlucky loser last time at Epsom when his rider had to sit and suffer waiting for a clear opening as they approached the final furlong only to find himself hampered when eventually looking to get a run. By the time he was in the clear it was too late but he finished well to come 3rdbehind a horse who has since franked the form by winning again. He has some decent back-form, including a good 3rdin last season’s Great St Wilfrid at Ripon. He is 4lbs lower than for that run, having been kept on the same mark as at Epsom and he must have a good each-way chance here. The one concern I did have was the form of the trainer, who actually does do well here with limited runners, but closer inspection reveals that, whilst his last 24 runners have only produced 1 winner, he has had 7 horses placed 2nd in that sample so it's not like they are running very badly.
One of the horses who could be setting a strong pace is VOLATILE for trainer Jamie Osborne. He is a horse that does need to race handily and, whilst this can sometimes be a disadvantage at Newcastle up the long straight, the recent hot weather means that the surface is likely to be riding slower than standard and, sometimes, when that is the case it is not always easy for hold-up horses to reel the prominent racers in.
Although in a slightly higher grade of race here, the horse has been running consistently since joining his current yard in December, winning 3 times, all on the all-weather, and finishing ahead of some of today’s rivals at Ascot when finishing 4thbehind Dreamfield in May. The jockey is one I rate highly and if he can judge the pace correctly I see no reason why he can’t be there in the places, at least, at the finish."