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Andrew Mount’s Myth Busters – Is the Draw the Most Important Factor in the Northumberland Plate?

Saturday’s feature race is the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle, a two-mile heritage handicap run on the Tapeta surface. Having spent much of last week stressing over the likely draw bias at Royal Ascot, is it safe to ignore the draw in such a long-distance contest and concentrate on other factors? Let’s have a closer look…

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Since the Tapeta surface was introduced at Newcastle back in May of 2016 the track has staged 147 Flat races over the two-mile trip, with the draw of the winners as follows…

At first glance there looks to be a fairly even spread, or maybe even a bias towards low draws but these figures don’t take the size of the field into account. Let’s look again but this time in fields of ten or more runners only…

The profit and loss (P/L to SP) figures look pretty grim for those drawn low, especially in stall 1 (one winner from 62 runners, -£60.27 to a £1 level stake at SP), while those in stall 8 or higher have fared well.

As a group, backing all runners drawn 8+ would have returned the following results…

…a profit of £191.33 to a £1 level stake at SP and plenty more at Betfair SP or Tote win odds (TEW_PL).

Conversely, those drawn in stall 7 or lower showed a big loss…

Now let’s just study the Northumberland Plate itself, by draw, since the Tapeta was introduced…

…we’ve had a couple of lowish draws prove successful (stalls 3 and 7) but the remainder of the winners were drawn in double figures – stalls 10, 11, 12 (twice), 16 and 17. The PRB (% of rivals beaten) figure for those drawn in stalls 1-5 is on the low side and suggests that a very low berth is a disadvantage.

Another important factor when assessing races over the 2m trip at Newcastle is pace. Generally, it’s very difficult to make the running on the round course (distances of 1m2f or further), regardless of how steady the early pace is, and this has certainly been the case in the Northumberland Plate. Splitting the runners by pace abbreviation using the Proform database makes very interesting reading (H = held up, L = led, P = prominent)…

…hold-up horses (i.e. those ridden patiently) have landed seven of the eight runnings while those who led or raced prominently had a combined record of just one winner from 45 runners. That winner was the Roger Charlton-trained Withhold (5-1) in 2018 who made all of the running off a handicap mark of 99 before going on to score twice in Listed company and achieve a rating of 113.

We can use the Proform Pace Rating to give us an idea of those likely to be ridden patiently. This figure is an aggregate of the last three running styles for each contender (L =4, P =2 and H = 0), so a horse who had made the running in its last three races would receive the maximum score of 12 and one who had received comments such as ‘held up, ‘in rear’ and ‘held up’ in its last three starts would have a total of zero. The following table shows the pace ratings for the previous runners…

…seven of the eight winners had a Pace Rating of 4 or less and, once again, 2018 winner Withhold (8pts) was the exception.

To sum up the story so far – a middle to high draw is helpful in the Northumberland Plate but a patient running style is probably more important. One other angle that has helped to point us towards the winner of recent Northumberland Plates is recent form. The following table shows the last time out finishing position of the runners…

…seven of the eight winners ran first or second in their prep race, with the exception (16-1 shot Antiquarium in 2016) finishing fourth. Those who finished fifth or worse last time out were 0-80 against an expected winners score of 2.44.Backing all runners who finished in the top four last time out would have found eight winners from 76 bets for a profit of £25.00 to a £1 level stake at SP (expected winners = 5.66). Throw in the proviso that they had a pace rating of 4 or less and that improves to seven from 51 for a profit of £44.00. Adding a further caveat – the horse must have been in the first four in the betting in its prep race, improves the strike-rate to seven from 28 for a profit of £67.00.

At this early stage, the Michael Bell-trained DUKE OF OXFORD is on my shortlist, despite not starting in the first four in the market last time. He could never get involved under a patient ride from a poor wide draw in the Chester Cup and has won four of his nine previous starts on the all-weather. Chester Cup winner ZOFFEE bombed out in this race last year but did too much too soon and he did win the consolation race in 2022 on his only other Newcastle outing. Kevin Ryan’s FORZA ORTA has yet to race on the all-weather but the son of Fastnet Rock is bred to appreciate Newcastle’s Tapeta surface and he remains open to improvement after just three runs over two miles or further. I’ll take a closer look at this race once the draw is known and will be discuss my findings on GG’s Weekend Watch podcast.

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