At last the flat season is in full swing (despite days with more jump than flat racing), so it’s time to start keeping track of what has been going on and where better to start than with the Chester May meeting.
The meeting started, as ever, with some decent 2yo’s in the Lily Agnes and, even though this is rarely a race that is a great guide to Pattern races later in the season, this year’s race seemed a decent renewal. It looked a match between David Evans’ Silver Wings and Mark Johnston’s filly Rah Rah, from the ‘plot’ draws in traps one and two, with the dash to lead at the first turn likely to be crucial. A slower break than on his Windsor debut for Silver Wings handed a comfortable lead to Rah Rah and the die looked cast, however he showed great tenacity to come from around 4L behind at the 2f pole to take a narrow lead around 100 yards from home, only for those efforts to take their toll as Rah Rah re-rallied to win, with the pair drawing 5L clear. The time of the race was less than a length slower than the older-horse handicap later on the card (admittedly the rain had set in before that race), and it seems solid, if unspectacular form.
The Cheshire Oaks looked, in terms of overall quality, to be the poor heat it usually is, that said, when Aiden O’Brien bothers to send one over for it, it is usually ‘the one’ and so it proved again this year with Diamondsandrubies providing him with his 4th win in 8 years. With 2 solid prep runs behind her the early 2/1 and 7/4 looked too big and it certainly was. I don’t think there is much point dwelling on the form, other than to note that the winner is beautifully bred and sprinted clear on ground that was probably a touch softer than ideal. She could end up an Oaks player if taking up her engagement there, such was her superiority here she looked an above average winner and with stamina assured she may well be the best winner of the race since Sir Henry’s Light Shift, who did ‘the double’ in 2007.
The Chester Cup form looks solid, despite a moderate overall gallop with all the ‘right horses’ coming to the fore at the finish. There appeared few excuses for the 3rd to 6th place finishers with all of them having the run-of-the-race up front and the best performances were, unsurprisingly from the 1st two home. Second placed Quick Jack ran his usual gallant race in a big handicap having raced a little wider than ideal all the way round as mounts of Richard Hughes are oft asked to here, but winner Trip To Paris was given a peach of a ride by Graham Lee. He quickly found the rail from his 11 draw and hugged the rail for most of the way round, quickening up well from moderate overall fractions to win nicely. He is clearly a progressive stayer, but, my concern for him would be quick summer ground (should it be allowed to happen), despite being by Champs Elysee, as he clearly relished the ease in the ground here and his Ripon win (officially good to firm) was on good ground. He has some quality Ascot form, but has disappointed there twice on genuine good to firm.
By Thursday the ground was genuinely soft and the most interesting race of the day for me was the five runner Huxley Stakes. With less than 2L covering the first four home it would be easy to dismiss the race as below standard and the form as inconclusive, but I think that would be unfair. Winner Maverick Wave did have a relatively uncontested lead, but he made it an honest gallop and battled back courageously when headed at the furlong pole. The move up to 1m 2f has been the making of him and he remains progressive. I was at Sandown when second placed Cannock Chase made his debut this season on easy ground, paddock inspection showed that he clearly wasn’t ready that day, but I fear it was the soft ground that was his undoing here, he did little wrong, it appeared simply that he could not sustain his run in the conditions, compensation awaits on quicker ground. Third placed Air Pilot appeared, on paper, to be best suited by conditions and was duly backed as such, but he is a ‘big unit’ and never seemed totally happy in the tight track. He stayed on nicely to the line under fairly tender handling from Kingscote and looks a major player in this type of race for the rest of the season whenever he gets his conditions.
Having saddled 5 of the previous 8 winners, it was a little surprising to see Aiden O’Briens Hans Holbein so easy to back. O’Briens runners in this tend to turn up and win or run a shocker, but as the figures show, it’s more often the former. This may have been due to the inference by Tom Segal in his Pricewise piece that Hans Holbein was the 5th choice of connections to run in the race (I wish I could tell their preferred order from the 5 day decs !!). The cheekpieces applied at Leopardstown seem to have really helped his concentration and under an aggressive ride from the gate, Ryan Moore was able to dictate matters and kick clear from the home turn. He looks all about stamina and has plenty on either side of his pedigree. The Queens Vase at Royal Ascot would be the race for him if he was mine as I doubt that beating maiden winner Storm The Stars is Derby winning form. Time will tell…
On Friday the ground at Chester had turned to what I like to call ‘proper soft’, the forecast rain had arrived ahead of schedule and conditions were thoroughly testing. Attempting to unravel the 4 runner Dee Stakes looked a waste of time and attentions were focused firmly on the Ormonde stakes. The only thing in my mind that stopped Tac De Boistron from being an odds on poke was his 7lb penalty and even with that I couldn’t make him much more than an 11/10 shot. The early 11/4 and 5/2 available shows just how poor the odds compilers of today are (yes I am aware it got beat ! Just because it got beat doesn’t mean these were good prices !) Bets were struck and all was well as he breezed 3L clear into the straight. The 1.1 hedge was cancelled and I had the pleasure of watching him trade 1.03 before getting kippered by Clever Cookie, he will still be the horse to beat in all the top staying races this season when the ground is soft. The winner deserves much credit too as this was, in my eyes at least, as good as his Doncaster form last year. Given cut in the ground, he could have his best ever year, even at the age of seven.
By contrast, the ground at Ascot was lovely quick summer flat ground with plenty of fastish times recorded. It is perhaps ironic then that the most eye catching performance of the night came in the slowest run race. The Millgate Maiden Fillies Stakes often throws up some nice types for the future and this year looks no exception, but I thought the performance of winner French Dressing was little short of spectacular. In a race run at little more than a hack canter she was very green at every stage, after ‘jumping’ prominently she immediately pricked her ears and was allowed to drift back through the field, so much so that she turned for home in 7th place and appeared to have plenty to do, especially as she was initially checked when attempting to start her run just over 2f out, but that is when it all changed, it took William Buick about half a furlong to get her organised again, she then grabbed hold of the bridle and quickened clear in the space of a 200 yards, pricking her ears again throughout the final furlong. She has a pedigree to die for and a stride to match. Time may show that all she did was beat ‘trees’, but I very much doubt it.
Fast ground again at Ascot on Saturday, but markedly slower times due to a stiff headwind, a day to ‘mark up’ any performances you noted by runners ‘on the pace’ For me the race to take from the card was the opening 1m 4f handicap won by 230k gns purchase Penhill for legendary football punter Tony ‘The Lizard’ Bloom. Penhill, like 3rd horse Oasis fantasy, ran free throughout, a more patient ride in a better race will surely see him to much better effect and the fact that he won by only a short head will hopefully mean that the handicapper will not be too harsh on him, he could win a big prize this year. Oasis Fantasy did not have the excuse that Penhill had for his freshness in that it was not his first run this year, he was equally intractable on his reappearance at Thirsk (off another moderate pace), which was his first run back from a gelding operation. If they can get him to settle he remains feasibly handicapped and has some fair fast ground form at Ascot. Third placed New Year’s Night ran a nice race in 3rd having been given too much to do by Kevin Stott, but he looked very straight in front to me and fast ground may be essential for him.
Despite protestations of good ground at Lingfield, both days of their 2 day meeting were run on ground no better than good to soft. The only race that interested me was the Oaks Trial. It’s rarely much of a ‘trial’ and normally doesn’t take much winning, to that end the Evens on offer about Wedding Vow looked fair to me as either of her previous runs looked good enough to win a standard renewal. I was expecting her usual tardy start, but similarly I was expecting Moore to go forward on her, unfortunately after early crowding he made no effort to improve his position until the home straight and then attempted to make ground up the congested ‘inner’, a rare tactical faux-pas from Moore, but an expensive one for me, I really should know better than to take short prices round that ‘dog track’……
Nice quick ground at Windsor on Monday night saw a return to the winners enclosure for Shifting Power, he traveled well and was well on top at the end, but I found the performance a little underwhelming. He was another that I saw at Sandown who definitely needed the run that day and did nothing wrong here, I suppose someone will want him at a big price in the Queen Anne if he takes up his entry, it just won’t be me.
As for ride of the week, that surely goes to Tom ‘The Stable Lad’ Queally on Stolen Story in the last at Windsor on Monday night. A confirmed hold-up horse he had him running keenly and prominent early and then decided to give up ‘cheap lengths’ by dropping him in as the pace slowed approaching the turn’ he challenged wide in the straight with his whip in his left hand, thus ensuring 3 bumps with 3rd placed Vanishing on his inner, only when all was lost did he switch his whip to his right hand. If this was a ‘stopping ride’ it was almost flawless, if it was a genuine effort to win the race, it just shows the value of ‘the man who almost got Frankel beat’. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions…..
If time permits, I will attempt a similar piece next week (if anyone is interested !!)