Newcastle prize on a Plate for Montaff
Despite Newcastle experiencing apocalyptic scenes that left large swathes of the racecourse flooded on Thursday, officials were last night optimistic that Tyneside's biggest meeting of the year would go ahead today.
Provided the fixture gets the all-clear this morning, the John Smith's Northumberland Plate promises to be an especially gruelling renewal.
Staged over two miles, the prestigious feature is already one of the most competitive handicaps run all season, so the added extremity of heavy going will ensure a proper war of attrition.
With that in mind, identifying horses that are equipped to cope with the prevailing conditions will be crucial to deciphering the 20-runner event. Unusually for a premier handicap, because of the stamina premium, the Northumberland often goes the way of battle-hardened campaigners, so that is something else to factor into the equation.
The Don McCain-trained favourite Ile De Re fits both criteria but, with 9st 3lb, has plenty weight following his Chester Cup triumph. Crackentorp and The Betchworth Kid, a pair of durable seven-year-olds with a lot of miles on the clock, are two that appeal for a place at double-figure odds.
The Betchworth Kid, in particular, ought to show up well, with the useful claimer Adam Beschizza taking three pounds off after an encouraging reappearance third at York. If Alan King's charge comes on for that, he should be thereabouts.
Montaff, however, is the one that strikes as being overpriced at odds of around 12/1.
Representing Mick Channon, who won this with Som Tala in 2009, the six-year-old posted a career-best effort to be second here 12 months ago, when he endured a troubled run before flying home on good to soft ground less than two lengths behind Tominator.
Kept typically busy by Channon in the meantime, he has tumbled down the handicap, and lines out off an 11lb lower mark this time round.
As a measure of just how much his rating has eased, he is 17lb better off with last year's fourth Petara Bay, which is burdened with top-weight despite labouring home on its Ascot reappearance.
On Montaff's two most recent starts, he made no real impression on fast ground, but was a respectable third on soft at Ripon prior to that, and he has plenty of other decent bits of form on similar going, not least a maiden victory on heavy at this very track in '08.
All things considered then, with just 8st 7lb to carry, the six-year-old could be poised to bounce back to form under Sam Hitchcott.
The sole Irish-based runner across the water this afternoon is David Nagle's Maarek in the opening Chipchase Stakes.
A real mud-lover that scored at Newmarket in May, Maarek was undone by the drying ground when a respectable sixth in the Wokingham at Royal Ascot, and Nagle may have found him a very winnable Group Three here.
Of his eight rivals, Our Jonathan, which split Libranno and Definightly at Sandown, is feared, but nothing will relish the underfoot conditions more than Maarek.
With the excellent Graham Lee up top, then, he should make the journey from Fethard pay.
Another old bruiser that might be worth a speculative foray is Tajneed in the six-furlong handicap.
Dandy Nicholls' Ripon specialist is well past his peak now at nine years of age, but he has done plenty of winning on this type of ground, including in a claimer at his favourite track last time.
Admirably, that was the third time that Tajneed has made the frame in seven starts this term.
Off a mark of 87, the lowest that he has competed off for four years, he might again have a say here under the trainer's son Adrian.
Best Bet: Maarek