Pitmen's Derby gets under starter's orders

Organisers at the launch of today's Northumberland Plate Festival have vowed that the gloomy weather engulfing the North-East will not dampen their spirits.

Organisers at the launch of today's Northumberland Plate Festival have vowed that the gloomy weather engulfing the North-East will not dampen their spirits.

The three-day event at Newcastle Racecourse is expected to attract a record 50,000 visitors to the region.

And as bosses made the finishing touches last night to the marquee, racecourse chief executive David Williamson said organisers would not let the heavy rain spoil their party.

He said: "I think it's well documented that the Geordies will hold a party if it's raining coal or snow.

"The finishing touches have been put in place and everything is ready. The weather is unsettled and is changeable for the time but we had sunshine yesterday."

The centrepiece of the festival is Saturday's John Smith Northumberland Plate which, at £200,000, is the richest two-mile handicap in the northern hemisphere.

The Plate - also known as the Pitmen's Derby - has been running since 1883, but regular festival-goers should notice some changes this year.

The racecourse will also include a huge open-air champagne lawn, as well as a champagne marquee.

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