There's a week to go until our pinnacle flat-season fixture, the BetFred Northumberland Plate Festival, and there’s a buzz around High Gosforth Park as preparations take shape for the prestigious three-day event, which begins on Thursday.
The picture is very different at High Gosforth Park compared to this time last year when weather was a dominating factor in the build-up.
The recent dry spell is very much the opposite of conditions we were experiencing last year, when we already had soft ground a week before the big meeting due to a very wet quarter between April and June, which saw almost 12in of rain – nearly half of our annual rainfall.
Then, as we will all remember, the skies turned a dark green on the Thursday afternoon and the supercell struck, leading to a torrential downpour of two inches in 20 minutes. As a result the remainder of the Thursday fixture was abandoned and the Gosforth Park Cup night was cancelled, before a Herculean clean-up operation by staff and volunteers ensured that the Plate race day went ahead on the Saturday.
Racing fans will be pleased to hear that it’s a much more optimistic outlook this year. In fact with little rainfall of late and a dry forecast, we have had to water the course a little to maintain the turf and wash in fertiliser and wetting agents.
The break in racing between June 1 and the three-day festival has served as a good spell in which to prepare the course, and by next week it will be in top condition, with the grass going to seed in the last week. At present we are Good to Firm, Firm in places and we will be able to manage conditions to suit from there should we need to artificially irrigate.
Aside from the work that’s going on to prepare the course, marquees are sprouting like mushrooms all over the site and appear to be bigger and grander than ever as we prepare for three days of spectacular racing, and a performance by Madness, who will take to the stage to entertain fans after racing on Friday’s Betfred Gosforth Park Cup Night.
It is difficult to predict at this stage who will line up for the big race. Montaser, a recent winner at York, looks like possibly topping the betting alongside Tiger Cliff, now trained by Lady Cecil, wife of the recently deceased Sir Henry Cecil, probably the greatest trainer of our era.
Plenty has been written about him in recent times and it would make for a wonderful story. I remember his impressive strike rates here at Gosforth Park in the 1980s, and although runners from his Warren Place stables were few and far between in recent times, it would be great to see connections back in the winner’s enclosure here on Saturday, landing the £150,000 Plate.
Before racing on Saturday, the Retraining of Racehorses Charity will have a parade of ex-racehorses to give the public an insight to what happens with racehorses after a life of racing.
Colin Brown, former National Hunt jockey of Desert Orchid fame, will be running a commentary on them and running through the history of around 10 former racehorses. Philson Run, an Eider Chase winner in 2006, and Arcalis, the 2005 Fighting Fifth winner, are two notables who I am sure some of the betting public will have an affinity with.
Tickets for the Northumberland Plate Festival’s three days of racing – Thursday’s Betfred Seaton Delaval Raceday, Friday’s Betfred Gosforth Park Cup Night with Madness and Saturday’s John Smith’s Northumberland Plate Raceday, are still available. For more information, or to buy tickets for racing, call 0191 236 2020 or go to www.newcastle-racecourse.co.uk.
JAMES Armstrong is clerk of the course at Gosforth Park.