Ben Linfoot picks out five key things to consider ahead of the Chester May meeting from the draw to some significant trainer records featuring Aidan O'Brien and Hughie Morrison.
With 26mm of rain over the last 24 hours changing the ground to Good to Soft with more precipitation forecast, we’re looking at a wet May meeting at Chester and not for the first time.
It certainly wasn’t an ‘I was there’ moment when Orchestra won the Chester Vase for Aidan O’Brien in soft ground in 2014, but I was there and stood wet and cold as I watched The Hooded Claw win the sprint handicap later on the card despite his tricky draw in stall nine.
I’ve often wondered if softer ground on the Roodee lessens the advantage of a low berth so what better time to do a bit of digging than when the grey clouds are gathering on the cusp of the first May meeting at Chester in two years.
With the week being synonymous for its longer distance races – the Chester Vase, the Cheshire Oaks, the Ormonde Stakes and the Chester Cup – the first set of data I’ve looked at is races over a mile and a half or further at the track (all meetings) over the last 10 years.
Those races run on what was officially ‘Good’ or ‘Good to Firm’ ground produced what you would expect – very few winners from out wide and with the bulk of the horses first home drawn in stalls 1-4.
The picture does change when there has been cut in the ground with stalls 7-9 notably more successful on Good to Soft or worse and, with the Chester Cup in mind, stalls 11 and above have been more prosperous from fewer runners than when conditions have been quicker.
Stalls 11-17 are 2/71 over a mile and half and further on Good or Good to Firm ground the last 10 years, while the same starting berths are 5/30 on Good to Soft or worse – with three of those (Ile De Re, Trip To Paris and Making Mircales) winning the Chester Cup from out wide.
On the right hand-side of the table you can see the data for Chester races run over the last 10 years over nine furlongs or less and there is very little to see here other than a confirmation of the low draw bias.
But if conditions turn on the soft side it’s worth bearing in mind that those drawn out wide have a better chance of overcoming their starting berths than they usually would – in those races over a mile and a half and further at least.
Getting into the specifics of this year’s meeting and there’s no better place to start than the opener as a select batch of juveniles bid to roar to Lily Agnes glory.
Being on the speed here is usually vital and there could be a right old tussle for the lead with three of the seven coming into this on the back of making all to win last time.
The one I’m fascinated to see is BEAUZON for David O’Meara who looks to be already taking after his dam, Pepper Lane, in some respects, including her love for all things Ripon.
He blasted to maiden glory up the stands’ rail at that track over five furlongs on April 24 and though his liking for softer ground is unknown – that win came on Good to Firm – his stable are 2/2 with two-year-olds at the Chester May meeting.
Full Authority landed the maiden here in 2019, while the same year the same stable won the Lily Agnes with Great Dame – a horse who was twice-raced and had won at Ripon on her previous start.
Beauzon has an identical profile and while it’s slightly surprising O’Meara has only ever had two two-year-olds run at the Chester May meeting, he clearly chooses his Roodee raids carefully – underlined by the fact Beauzon is his only runner at the track this week.
Talking of careful Roodee raids brings us nicely onto Hughie Morrison who prudently plans the arrows he aims north westerly from his East Ilsley base.
Three wins from 16 runners (18.75%) for his career at the Chester May meeting is not a bad return at all but that only tells part of the story as two of those wins were big ‘uns and he’s had many a near-miss, as well.
Banoffee won the Cheshire Oaks for Morrison in 2013 and two years later Not So Sleepy – who has a fine chance in the Chester Cup on Friday – won the Dee Stakes by a short head when he was up against it on official ratings.
Five of his beaten horses finished in the first three and they include a second and third for Fun Mac in the Chester Cup (a horse who has finished fifth in the race, too), so it’s clear the Morrison team are worth close inspection.
Those Fun Mac close calls temper his enthusiasm a little over NOT SO SLEEPY’s chance, but there’s no doubt last season’s Cesarewitch fourth and this year’s Champion Hurdle fifth has plenty going for him.
He's been really well backed on Tuesday - into 6/1 second favourite in places - and the plunge continues as those grey clouds gather.
“It’s a very competitive handicap and he has to prove he gets the trip,” Morrison said on Tuesday.
“We’ve also had them absolutely spot on before and been second or third, so we’re realistic, but he has a chance.
“We’d ideally like some more rain on the day, we don’t want drying out ground. We just hope the horse that turned up at Pontefract and in the Cesarewitch and at Ascot over hurdles turns up at Chester.”
If he does he’ll have a great chance of notching jockey Graham Lee his second Chester Cup victory after Trip To Paris in 2015, but it’s a trip to Melbourne that Morrison has in mind for his other Chester runner, KIPPS.
This horse runs in the Group Three Ormonde Stakes on Thursday, but is the lowest-rated in the field by some distance on 93 and takes on a couple of 118 horses in Trueshan and Japan – making him a 20/1 chance generally.
Third in the Sky Bet Melrose last season as a three-year-old, he’s been gelded since and much better is expected of him this campaign.
I asked Morrison why he was prepared to potentially blow his handicap mark.
“He’s on the way to Australia so we want to upgrade him before he goes over,” Morrison said.
“He might run in a Royal Ascot handicap, but we’re not interested in winning £3000 in a 0-110. His handicap mark is of no interest.
“He’s been fine, we always felt he was a good horse and that’s why he’s running in a Group race rather than a handicap. We’ve put the cheekpieces back on just to wake him up a bit.”
Interesting stuff. And it’s worth remembering Not So Sleepy was rated 93 when he beat horses rated 106 and 109 in the Dee Stakes six years ago…
It wasn’t a great 2000 Guineas for Aidan O’Brien but he quickly made amends in the 1000 Guineas and he brings a strong team over as usual for Chester.
I’ll reserve opinion on his three-year-olds until after they’ve run but his older horses are an interesting bunch and he rarely wastes a Chester ticket with his four-year-olds and over.
He’s six from 20 at 30% with his older horses at this meeting and the Percentage of Rivals Beaten ratio stands at 71.68%, with only one of the 20 runners being out of the first five home.
Macarthur, St Nicholas Abbey, Memphis Tennessee and Idaho have won the Ormonde for him, while Await The Dawn and Deauville were successful in the Huxley Stakes, and he looks to have a great chance of doing the double this year.
JAPAN was entered in both but has been declared for the Ormonde over the extended 1m5f, new territory for the son of Galileo in terms of distance.
He’s needed his first run of the season the last two campaigns, but this would be an easier assignment than both the Dante and Prince of Wales’s Stakes, and his class advantage – and the 5lb he gets from chief threat Trueshan – could be crucial in the final analysis.
In the Huxley Stakes O’Brien looks likely to run ARMORY who could be in for fruitful campaign over 10 furlongs.
He caught the eye when running a huge race from off the pace behind Magical and Ghaiyyath in last season’s Irish Champion Stakes and he backed that up on the other side of the world when he chased home former stablemate Sir Dragonet in the Cox Plate.
Those efforts give him a big form chance and it will be an interesting battle with Sir Michael Stoute’s Sangarius if both are declared.
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