Top commentator Simon Holt previews day one of the Chester May Meeting and he's backing Aidan O'Brien to land the Chester Vase yet again.
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Aidan O'Brien has won the Arkle Finance Cheshire Oaks six times in the last 11 years, but there is a doubt whether his representative on Wednesday Secret Thoughts will stay whereas MANUELA DE VEGA looks all about stamina and is unlikely to be bothered if the forecast rain falls on the Roodee.
Ralph Beckett's filly, who was unbeaten in two starts at Salisbury and Pontefract (listed) last season, is a full sister to Isabel De Urbina who scored twice at a mile and a half and probably got further.
Although Harry Bentley's mount has to shoulder a 3lb penalty, her form could be best of the British-trained runners with the Pontefract runner-up Three Comets, who she beat comfortably by nearly three lengths (receiving 5lb) rated 95. She was doing all her best work at the finish that day over a stiff mile on good to soft ground, and there must be every chance of a big step forward now over a longer distance.
John Gosden fields a couple of runners in Fanny Logan (Frankie Dettori) and Mehdaayih (Robert Havlin) with the former Sea The Stars filly likely to stay well but now up in class after winning at Wetherby last month. Mehdaayih beat Fanny Logan at Yarmouth last October but there was only a neck between them and she had the benefit of greater experience.
The big question surrounds Secret Thoughts who was up against some smart fillies when fifth to subsequent 1000 Guineas runner-up Lady Kaya in a Group Three at Leopardstown on her reappearance.
The form of that race was further boosted by stable-companion Happen at The Curragh on Monday but this is a big jump in trip now from seven furlongs to nearly a mile and a half and, while Secret Thoughts is out of the Irish Oaks winner Chicquita, her sire War Front is best known for faster horses.
Indeed, it is quite difficult to find a decent stayer by War Front and, even those out of Galileo and Dynaformer mares, have seemed best at shorter distances.
O'Brien's record in the MBNA Chester Vase is superb with eight winners in the last 12 runnings including the Derby winner Ruler Of The World.
The latter's full brother NORWAY is the mount of Ryan Moore and looked another useful middle-distance performer in the making when landing the Zetland Stakes in workmanlike style over a mile and two furlongs at Newmarket last October before starting favourite and finishing only fourth behind Wonderment in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud.
Along with stable-companion Sir Dragonet who steps up in class after his debut win against modest rivals at Tipperary (1m4f), he looks a certain stayer in this field and the fitting of cheekpieces for the first time indicates he may have been working and running a bit lazily. Ruler Of The World seemed to handle any going and, if the rains come, it may actually help Norway.
Sir Dragonet's pedigree by Camelot out of a half sister to Oaks runner-up Wonder Of Wonders is attractive and Donnacha O'Brien, who won last Saturday's 2000 Guineas on 'second string' Magna Grecia, is aboard.
Gentile Bellini is the third O'Brien representative having made all in a maiden at Cork (1m2f) last month. He is a son of Dubawi out of the high class miler Sky Lantern and Wayne Lordan, successful on Hermosa in Sunday's 1000 Guineas, takes the mount.
Of the home defence, King Ottokar beat the re-opposing Dashing Willoughby and Kaloor at Newbury first time out and handles cut in the ground while Technician looked a little hard done by before finishing second to Bangkok in the Classic Trial at Sandown and has already won over this trip. However, the Sandown third Persian Moon didn't do much for the form at Newmarket last Saturday and, overall, the British trials have been a bit underwhelming so far.
- Preview posted at 1100 BST on 07/05/2019