With Newcastle’s biggest meeting the Northumberland Plate Festival beginning on Thursday, big money has already been reported for a couple of notable runners in the big one on Saturday with Gibbs Hill and Speedo Boy particularly well backed.

The red hot Roger Varian, who trained Daahyeh, Defoe and Cape Byron to win at Royal Ascot last week, is sending a formidable squad to Tyneside as he seeks to strike while the iron is hot.

On Thursday the Newmarket handlers sends out Daring Venture, newcomer Spreadsheet, Tammooz and Bowerman who are all now favourites for their respective assignments.

They are followed on Friday evening at Gosforth Park by Shenanigans and Rasima in the Group 3 Hoppings Stakes, course winner Turjomaan in the novice race and Gleeful in the closing handicap and it’s Varian’s Gibbs Hill that now holds sway at the top of the Northumberland Plate market.

The six-year-old Mastercraftsman gelding has not been seen on the track since demolishing a handicap field at Kempton Park back in July 2017 but his trainer reports him in good shape and bookmakers across the board have reported big money for him this week.

He now sits as a general 9/2 favourite, around half the price of the next best in the market with Varian claiming he knows nothing of the gamble.

He’s not the only one to have attracted major money for the £150,000 race either as all-purpose trainer Ian Williams has spoken positively about his own well-backed runner, Speedo Boy.

Still available at 16/1, the five-year-old is a real improver and ran a very eye-catching race when chasing home Red Galileo, another leading fancy for the Plate, over 1¾ miles at Newmarket at the start of the month.

The form of that race looks rock solid with the likes of Proschema, Theglasgowwarrior and Williams’ own Royal Ascot winner The Grand Visir all in behind so while the West Midlands trainer has other options for the race, this one may be his first string and it’ll be interesting to see who he jocks up.

Group 3 Races to Follow

There are two Group 3 races at the meeting this week and while prize money for these is something track owners Arc really need to look at, they may finally be getting some real quality into the races starting with Friday’s Hoppings Stakes.

Named after the biggest funfair in Europe which is visible in the background from parts of the track, the Hoppings Stakes this year has attracted nine quality fillies with the likes of Glance, Rainbow Heart and Nyaleti confirmed but the star name has to be Sir Michael Stoute’s Sun Maiden.

Third in the Ribblesdale Stakes last year, she looks to be a typical improving 4yo from this yard and her run at York when third behind Lah Ti Dar and Rawdaa obviously reads well.  She won a minor race very easily last time and could be ready to peak right now so we should see a high quality performance from her.

The six-furlong Chipchase Stakes on Saturday is the other Group contest in which the long-time Group 1 Diamond Jubilee favourite Invincible Army makes a quick return, while Group 2 Curragh winner Mr Lupton is also set to run and there is a major chance for yet another Roger Varian runner in the shape of Laugh A Minute.

It remains to be seen whether Charlie Appleby will choose to come here with his Glorious Journey instead of taking up engagements at Newmarket and the Curragh, but if he does he’d be hard to beat given the form of his Windsor second ahead of The Tin Man and just behind Dream Of Dreams who so nearly ran down Blue Point the Diamond Jubilee last weekend.