Today's racecards

Pitmen's Derby

Historic contest now Europe's richest staying handicap

By Ian Ogg.   Last Updated: 25/06/12 5:09pm

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Tominator: Won last year's Plate

Tominator: Won last year's Plate

Sky Bet

The action unfolding on the cambers of Epsom has become nothing but a distant memory and last week's images from Royal Ascot will soon begin to colour with a hint of sepia.

The Victorian Social calendar is no anachronism just yet and many who've enjoyed the racing over the past week will be refreshing the picnic panniers for fare of a different kind at Wimbledon.

They may have images of Frankel etched across their retinas or fallen for a new Australian dame but the names on their lips over the next fortnight will be Federer, Nadal, Sharapova and Williams.

The fare for racing fans is different too - the game is still the same, it's no less historic and no less compelling but there'll be none of these fancy dan 1-10 shots strutting regally across the turf.

The runners that go to post at Gosforth Park for the two mile and 19 yards of the Northumberland Plate are hewn from a different light.

More Than A Race

First run in 1833 when forming part of a meeting that was first staged in 1633, the race commonly known as the Pitmen's Derby has been held on its current stage since 1882.

More than a race, more than a port of folklore, the contest gained its name as - for many years - the local mine workers were given a day's holiday to attend the race which was then held on a Wednesday and formed the centrepiece of a holiday period known as 'Races Week'.

This perk was removed as recently as 1949 and the race's mid-week slot didn't last a great deal longer, moving to a Saturday for the first time in 1952.

Since Tomboy landed the inaugural running, the race has grown in stature and is now the richest handicap run over two miles in the whole of Europe but the stars are the same.

The 1836 winner Cyprian, first had to walk with her owner from her stables in Malton to Epsom where she landed the Oaks before walking up to Newcastle to lift the plate.

Those days may be long gone but recent winners such as Sergeant Cecil and the remarkable Overturn are cut from the same cloth.

This was the first step that Rod Millman's stayer took into the public's affections and a run which saw him lift an Ebor and Cesarewitch in the same season.

Overturn, on the other hand, was better known as a hurdler for Donald McCain but made a successful return to the flat for the National Hunt handler at Gosforth Park before twice repeating the feat at the Roodee.

If victory in those prestigious handicaps were not enough, the remarkably durable campaigner created his own piece of history when lifting Newcastle's biggest jumps race, the Fighting Fifth, at the end of 2011.

Doughty Campaigners

On to this year's renewal and trying to work out who will follow in the steps of the doughty campaigners that went before them.

It has proved a graveyard for the market leaders in recent years with winners aplenty at a working men's price of a working man's race but not all have been unfathomable as those who backed Tominator last year at 25-1 will fondly remember.

Reg Hollinshead's runner became the fourth consecutive winner priced at 14-1 or bigger with two more returned at 33-1 in a decade which has only seen two horses victorious at single figure SPs.

Heading the market this time around is Chester Cup hero Ile De Re and Sir Mark Prescott's Motivado.

The former fairly dotted up on the Roodee when confining new stablemate Overturn to second with Gulf Of Naples, a possible rival on Saturday, to third.

The handicapper has, naturally had his say and a rise of 8lbs to a mark of 101 could do what a mark of 106 did for Overturn last year and leave him vulnerable to lightly weighted rivals.

Indeed, only one of the last 10 winners has been rated higher than 93 (2002 winner Bangalore won off 99) which also raises questions about the chances of the Heath House runner who is 96.

With Gulf Of Naples far from a certain runner and Deauville Flyer only capable of finishing fifth and third in the last two renewals, it's already easy enough to overlook the first four in the market.

Fairytale Winner

With rain in the air and the draw still to be made, many will be tempted to hold fire but High Office takes the eye towards the foot of the weights for Richard Fahey.

High Office was just a 10-1 shot 12 months ago but could finish no closer than eighth and comes into the race off the same mark.

However, you have to go back to 1992 to find the last winning five year old and it could be that he's returned a stronger horse at six with a better chance of seeing out this trip.

He's shaped well on both starts this term and certainly looked in need of a stiffer test when staying on well behind a highly regarded, progressive young stayer at Newmarket.

There would, however, be no more fitting winner than Kazbow.

There's less to commend him on recent efforts although he did shape with a little more promise at Haydock on his second start for Chris Grant and you don't have to delve too deep to find some decent form.

Known as Rambo during his riding career, Grant, like many equine winners of this historic handicap, was cut from a different cloth to his peers, working his way up from the bottom with gritty determination and few would begrudge him a fairytale success on Saturday in a race that will never be handed to you on the plate.

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