With the superb Newmarket Guineas meeting only just behind us, our attention switches to the beautiful Roman city of Chester where the traditional three-day May Festival gets under way on Wednesday afternoon, culminating on Friday with the biggest betting race of the week, the two-and-a-quarter mile 188Bet Chester Cup Handicap.
The sharpest course in the country with the track measuring only one mile around, the draw is particularly important at Chester in sprint races, and even has a big effect in the 17-runner Chester Cup where wide runners often have difficulty moving to the inside rail and end up running a lot further than those drawn low. There’s an unsettled weather forecast following the heat of the Bank Holiday weekend so the ground is unlikely to be any quicker than good for the opening day.
Hunting Horn The Call in Chester Vase
The three classic trials of the week are the Group 3 Chester Vase, the listed Cheshire Oaks, and the listed Dee Stakes. It will come as little surprise to hear that world record-breaking trainer Aidan O’Brien has an enviable record in these races, but leading British trainer John Gosden has also enjoyed his share of success in recent years.
In last year’s Group 3 MBNA Chester Vase Aidan O’Brien saddled the 1-2-3 , Venice Beach holding off the subsequent Derby winner Wings of Eagles, with The Anvil in third. Indeed, he’s won this key Derby trial six times in the last seven years!
It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Ballydoyle-based genius could repeat a clean sweep, but the question is, with which horses, and in what order? This time he saddles Family Tree, Flag of Honour, and Hunting Horn.
Family Tree won his only start last year, taking a Gowran Park maiden in good style. He’s reportedly well regarded, but the form of that race hasn’t worked out so it’s hard to know quite how good this son of Galileo actually is. Flag of Honour has better form, winning a Group 3 over nine furlongs at Leopardstown last October then running respectably when a close third on heavy ground in a Group 3 at Longchamp last month (see video below).
There was plenty to like though about the way HUNTING HORN stayed on in the closing stages of the Group 3 bet365 Classic Trial at Sandown 10 days ago won by Sevennah Star. He has a length to find with Godolphin’s Ispolini, but I fancy him to turn the tables with that rival and run a very big race on Wednesday. He could be a Derby horse.
The Charlie Appleby-trained Ispolini lost out by just a short-head at Sandown, going down with all guns blazing. He is respected, but Hunting Horn may improve more for this step up in distance.
Of the others, Young Rascal, described by trainer William Haggas as “gormless” as a juvenile, won in fine style at Newbury last time. This is tougher, but connections are optimistic he’s going the right way and will benefit form the learning experience of race on the ‘Roodeye’.
If there were to be a deluge, Tom Dascombe’s locally trained mud lover Proschemma wouldn’t be a total no-hoper, while Mark Johnston’s tough Dee Ex Bee may improve for the longer trip, It is interesting that the shrewd Andrew Balding runs unbeaten Perfect Illusion, winner of two lower grade events, but clearly expected to give a good account of himself.
On balance, HUNTING HORN is the choice, with Ispolini and Flag of Honour expected to be in there pitching as well.
ADVICE: Hunting Horn (4/1 with Paddy Power)
Award Winning to Lift Cheshire Oaks Prize
Earlier on Wednesday, in the listed Arkle Finance Cheshire Oaks, there appears to be no outstanding Ballydoyle candidate among their three declared runners; Dramatically, Together Forever, and Magic Wand. Ryan Moore’s chosen mount will likely be the best of the Ballydoyle runners, but last season John Gosden brought no less a filly than the subsequent superstar Enable to this race.
It’s unlikely the Newmarket-based handler will have such a star turn on his hands here once again, but his Dubawi filly AWARD WINNING (7/1 with William Hill) won a Wetherby mile-and-a-quarter novice stakes in good fashion last month and could well be capable of better. This half-sister to Memphis Tennessee, fourth in the 2011 Investec Derby and third in the Irish equivalent, before winning the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes at Chester in 2012, runs in the colours of the Ballydoyle partners who also own O’Brien’s three runners. It would not surprise though to learn that Gosden’s charge is the pick of the owners’ four contenders.
Both Ralph Beckett and Andreww Balding saddle once raced unbeaten fillies, Beckett being represented by Kinaesthesia, who landed nottingham maiden in the last week of last term, and Balding with the Rip Van Winkle filly Shailene, who scored in a Lingfield AW maiden a fortnight ago.
ADVICE: Award Winning (7/1 with William Hill)
Rostropovich to Call The Tune in Dee Stakes
Run over two furlongs less than the Chester Vase, Thursday’s mile-and-a-quarter Homeserve Dee Stakes was won last year by O’Brien’s Cliffs of Moher who was agonisingly caught close home in the Investec Derby by Wings of Eagles on his next start. That classic result served to emphasise just how important the Chester trial races are, although you have to go back to 2003 and the victory of Sir Michael Stoute’s Kris Kin to find the last horse to do the Dee Stakes/Derby double.
On the face of it, there don’t appear to be no standout colt this time around, so if O’Brien’s Kenya takes his chance he would have to be seriously considered. He won last season’s Group 3 Killavulan Stakes at Leopardstown before finishing a distant third in bad ground to Gustav Klimt at the same track last month.
Rostropovich is a potentially interesting contender for the Irish handler, having finished third in the Group 1 National Stkaes at the Curragh last year, and he was not knocked about (see video below) when fourth to French star Wootton in Group 3 company over a mile in heavy ground at Longchamp on his seasonal return last month.
As ever, Ryan Moore’s choice will guide the market, but ROSTROPOVICH might just have the edge assuming he will encounter better ground this time and at a generous 16/1 each-way with Paddy Power he might be worth an interest.
William Haggas’ My Lord and Master, could be a big danger having lost out by just a head in the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom, and Andrew Balding’s Fortune’s Pearl went down by only half a length to Mildenberger in the listed Feilden Stakes at Newmarket last month and is no slouch.
Godolphin’s gelding Rastrelli looked to have really progressed when scoring at Newbury last month and might prove the biggest danger to the Ballydoyle colts.
ADVICE: Rostropovich (16/1 each-way with Paddy Power)
Prince Worth Considering for Chester Cup
53 horses remained in the race at the five-day declaration stage for Friday’s feature £154,000 188Bet Chester Cup Handicap, but only 17 will face the starter.
Our orginal first choice, Euchen Glen, does not run – in fact, he’s been declared for the consolation race later in the day (5.15) and could well be worth an interest despite a tough draw – so our second choice, Prince of Arran, is left alone to represent us.
Charlie Fellowes’ classy PRINCE OF ARRAN (20/1 each-way with Bet365) hasn’t run in a handicap for a long time in Europe, but won a hot handicap at Meydan in Dubai this winter (see video below) before being beaten little more than five lengths by the high-class Vazirabad in the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup six weeks ago.
A fine runner-up in last term’s Group 3 Sagaro Stakes, the gelded son of Shirocco only faded inside the final furlong of the Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup won by Big Orange, and that effort gives him a sporting chance from a decent draw (stall 8) despite the steadier of 9st 9lb.
ADVICE : Prince of Arran (20/1 each-way with Bet365) Euchen Gen (also recommended) does not run
Written by Paul Alster
Paul Alster has been part of the British and international racing media for more than three decades working as a race commentator, TV/radio presenter, journalist, betting correspondent, SP returner, and form analyst. He’s always sought out overpriced runners in handicap races, a quest that excites him as much now as it did at the start of his career.