Northumberland Plate predictions: Balding's Spirit set to be in the Mix
The big race of Newcastle's flat season arrives this afternoon when the Gosforth Park circuit stages the historic Northumberland Plate.
Affectionately known as the Pitmen's Derby, the race is run over an extended two miles on the Tapeta track at Newcastle and is one of the toughest handicaps to call in Britain.
They will go to post for the feature at 3.30pm with a field headed by Group 1-winning stayer Trueshan for Alan King and Hollie Doyle.
Weight a worry for top-class Trueshan
Without doubt, Trueshan is the class act in this field.
King's runner ended last season with three straight wins, landing Group 1s at Glorious Goodwood and Longchamp before nabbing the Long Distance Cup at Ascot on Champions Day.
He was too strong for three rivals in a Listed race at Nottingham on his comeback run in April despite conceding plenty of weight and that form has been boosted since.
He did, however, miss intended engagements at Royal Ascot last week on account of the ground and he was no better than sixth in this contest 12 months ago when rated 2lb lower.
It would be a truly extraordinary effort if he and the brilliant Doyle can hold the rest at bay now — Trueshan would become the highest-rated horse ever to win a Flat handicap in Britain with victory.
Rajinsky heads likely contenders
It is easy enough to make cases for plenty of other contenders — none more so than Rajinsky for Hugo Palmer.
He was a close third a year ago when in the care of Tom Dascombe when Nicholas T won, arguably unlucky not to be closer on that day as he was left short of room inside the final furlongs.
Such was the level he was inconvenienced, Island Brave — who passed the post in third — was disqualified and placed fourth by the stewards.
Rajinsky has returned in fine fettle this term, winning at Ripon in April before finishing a good third under a penalty in the Chester Cup last month.
Jockey Harry Davies' claim has been eroded since, but they are players nonetheless.
Mark Prescott runs Summer's Knight, who should be sharper for his comeback at Newmarket six weeks ago and could have a role to play, while Brian Ellison's Onesmoothoperator ran well here on All-Weather Finals Day in April and will find this more to his liking after contesting a York Listed event in one outing since.
The aforementioned Island Brave has tried and failed in this twice before (fifth in 2018, fourth last year) but should give another good account.
Balding's pair in the mix
Andrew Balding has yet to lay his hands on this prize but he has got two strong contenders this year in Valley Forge and Spirit Mixer.
The former, partnered here once more by David Probert, stayed on stoutly to win at Haydock last month and could have more in his locker off a 4lb higher mark now tackling this trip for the first time.
He is untested on a synthetic surface, however, and so stablemate Spirit Mixer is given a chance to shine.
The Frankel gelding was very strong through the line when scoring at Chester in May and his return to the Roodee this month over two miles did not go to plan as he was wider than ideal.
He is not harshly judged on that run and with an impressive six-length Chelmsford win in May on his CV, he looks very likely to handle this track.
He is definitely worth another go at this staying trip and could be a key player.
Trueshan needs a herculean effort on these terms and while Rajinsky is a factor on form and with his previous in the race, Spirit Mixer might be the coming horse in his quest to be the Plate's third four-year-old winner in seven years.