Lee weaves his magic on defiant Tominator
Jonjo O'Neill's Tominator defied top weight to become the first horse since Tug Of War in 1977 and 1978 to win two John Smith's Northumberland Plates in thrilling fashion at Newcastle.
The grey was trained by the late Reg Hollinshead when he claimed the richest two-mile handicap in Europe two years ago, but was bought privately by Patsy Byrne and sent to O'Neill as a hurdling prospect.
On his first run for the prominent National Hunt trainer, he finished third in the Cesarewitch, but despite winning two of his four starts over timber, he failed to hit the expected heights. A fine third in the Chester Cup on his return to action this Flat season suggested the fire still burned bright, but he had to defy a 12lb higher mark than two years previously.
Victory looked extremely unlikely in the home straight as Mark Johnston's Oriental Fox shot three lengths clear, but Lee was weaving his way through the field and got up close home to win by a short head. It gave O'Neill a second major win on the level inside two weeks after Well Sharp's success at Royal Ascot.
"Graham is a brilliant jockey and a great tactician. He knew everything that was happening and did everything right. He's a very good rider and the horse produced on the day," said O'Neill.
"I thought he had plenty of weight, but it came right. It's brilliant. I couldn't be happier. Patsy (Byrne) has been a very lucky owner for us. He was the first owner to buy a horse for me when I had cancer. Reg and Andrew (Hollinshead) did a great job."
Former jump jockey Lee said: "Massive credit to the horse and massive credit to Jonjo. He told me to be brave on him. When you're given instructions from a man like Jonjo, you're better off following them.
"I always wanted to win an Eider Chase here and I managed that on Philson Run, and I desperately wanted to win a Fighting Fifth, but Harchibald beat me when I was on Inglis Drever. This is a very nice substitute."
Andrea Atzeni picked up a three-day (July 15-17) ban for careless riding on the unplaced Arch Villain, while Paul Mulrennan was found guilty of the same offence on Noble Alan and will sit out July 15. The day had started well for Lee as he just held on in a tight finish to the Betfred Chipchase Stakes on Jim Goldie's Jack Dexter.
Sent off the 4/5 favourite having turned in what was a career-best effort to finish fourth in the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot last week, he was all out to hold off the late challenge of Mass Rally, winning by a head.
"He's got there and idled a bit in front. Eleven days ago he ran in a Group One, so maybe those exertions have taken their toll," said Lee. Goldie added: "He's in the July Cup so we will see how he comes out of this and we will just hope the rain gods smile on us like they did here."
The Derek Shaw-trained Baby Strange made the most of his light weight to spring a minor 12/1 surprise in the Betfred "Watch Fred's Pushes On Betfred TV" Handicap. The victory will prove a welcome tonic for Shaw, who had to be rushed to hospital with internal bleeding and underwent emergency surgery to remove a ruptured spleen after being kicked by a horse at home last week.
Diescentric (9/2) looks ready to handle a step up in class after he ran out a comfortable winner of the Betfred "Still Treble Odds On Lucky's" Handicap for trainer Julie Camacho and jockey Paul Mulrennan. Steve Brown, Camacho's husband and assistant, said: "The plan now will be to freshen him up for the (Betfair) International at Ascot (July 27)."
David Barron's Fast Track (5/4 favourite) was a comfortable winner of the Betfred Maiden under Graham Gibbons.