if Brian Ellison is to fulfil a lifetime’s ambition and win his home-town race, Seamour will have to do it the hard way in today’s John Smith’s Northumberland Plate at Newcastle.
After saying that he never had a better chance of winning the historic Pitmen’s Derby, Ellison was then dealt a blow when his heavily-backed horse was drawn widest of all ahead of the two-mile heritage handicap.
Yet, despite this, Seamour’s case is still a strong one on three counts. A winner of a juvenile hurdle at Wetherby last Christmas, this dual purpose horse – owned by Phil Martin – confirmed his form and fitness when finishing a promising sixth at York’s Dante meeting before winning at Haydock. His handicap mark is very competitive.
The booking of Silvestre de Sousa is significant; the Brazilian-born jockey appears to be back to his best after being relinquished of his high-pressure responsibilities with Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation at the end of last season.
And then there is Ellison’s obsession with the race. He has been fascinated by the Plate since being born on Pitmen’s Derby day 63 years ago and victory for Seamour – or any of his other three runners – would add a certain frisson to the Malton trainer’s birthday celebrations tomorrow.
“I’ve tried a few times and I haven’t done it, but I would say this is my best chance,” said Ellison, who says victory would eclipse the win of Moyenne Corniche in the 2012 Ebor at York.
“Seamour will still take all the beating. I’ll be surprised if he isn’t a Cup horse one day. You can win from out there. It’s Catch 22. You could be drawn low and miss the break and you’re way behind anyway. At least he won’t have any trouble from the outside and he’ll drop in. He’s only run six times and won four, been second once and the other time he ran at York and was badly drawn.
“He’s in great form and we go there very happy. He’s fresh and well and has only had two runs this year, he’s working brilliant. We stepped him up in trip last time to see if he got it and he got it well. He won well and went up high enough in the ratings to get in the Plate which is good, so it’s fingers crossed. I think he’s still got a lot more to give.”
Ellison backs up Seamour’s challenge with three other hopefuls – Totalize, Montefeltro and Buthelezi. “Totalize will be dropped in. Buthelezi is not always the quickest away, so where he is doesn’t concern me,” said the handler who said stable star Top Notch Tonto could reappear in the Skybet York Stakes on July 25 if the Knavesmire ground is not too fast. “I think Montefeltro will run well. He’s in great form. I do fancy him each-way and he’s got a good draw in six.”
The Northumberland Plate was first run at its present venue in 1852. It originally took place on a Wednesday, and for many years the meeting was a holiday for local mine workers. However the meeting ceased to be a holiday in 1949, and the race was switched to a Saturday in 1952. Today’s renewal will also be the last time that the Plate is staged on turf – an all-weather track is being installed this winter, to the chagrin of many racing traditionalists, and the 2016 renewal will be run on the Tapeta surface pioneered by legendary Yorkshire trainer Michael Dickinson.
Even though Peter Niven’s Clever Cookie will not run unless there is significant rain, Ellison’s task is a formidable one as Angel Gabrial bids to become the first horse since Tug Of War 37 years ago to win back-to-back renewals.
“I feel he’s going better now. This has been his long-term target all year,” said Malton trainer Richard Fahey. “I was keen to claim off him again and that’s why Jack Garritty is on him.”
Fahey is also keen on his two other runners, Gabrial’s King and Gabrial’s Star. Both also run in the colours of last year’s winning owner Dr Marwan Koukash who needs no introduction to rugby league devotees.
“I was a fraction disappointed with Gabrial’s King behind Seamour at Haydock. For no apparent reason he was just a fraction disappointing,” he said. “He ran in the Chester Cup and didn’t get home. Turning in, he was the winner, but didn’t get the trip, the extra two furlongs, I know it’s a different race, but over two miles at Chester I think he’d have won. He’s in great form.
“His run at Ripon against Trip To Paris, the Ascot Gold Cup winner, is solid form.
“You can’t knock it and Paul Hanagan rides. His agent rang up for the ride and we said okay, that’s fine.
“Tony Hamilton is mad keen on Gabrial’s Star. When he got off him at Chester he felt he was a bit unlucky. He got stopped at the wrong time.
“It’s a race we always try to win. We were lucky enough to win it last year and I’ve been second in it a couple of times. It’s a great race and great to be involved in it.”