It's been a week in which Rick Astley arguably offered more hope for the months ahead than the racing at Chester.
That’s not to decry the May Festival at the remarkable Roodee – but the action there epitomised the theme of the season so far. We were served up a muddling set of Classic trials in which no three-year-old emerged at a single-figure price for Epsom. And the door was left wide open.
Nobody walked through it at Lingfield either, the rain fell and Sherbert Lemon sprang a 28/1 surprise in the Oaks Trial but at least Third Realm was more decisive half-an-hour later in the colts' equivalent.
We’d already seen a QIPCO 2000 Guineas in which the three horses who raced together down the far side of the field dominated, not one of whom have serious pretensions of staying further.
The 1000 was won, as expected, by Aidan O’Brien but not with hype-horse Santa Barbara. She was unbalanced and green in the Dip as stablemate Mother Earth claimed a first Group One victory at the fourth attempt.
Perhaps the winner got lucky, barely having to improve her Timeform performance figures to taste Guineas glory, or perhaps she’s going to be one of those seemingly exposed O’Brien three-year-olds who gets on a roll and reinvents herself on a Group One-winning spree through the summer.
Perhaps Santa Barbara is going to justify the hype in the Cazoo Oaks. She’s bred to thrive at middle-distances but will need to be much more streetwise to cope with everything Epsom will throw at her.
Perhaps stablemate Bolshoi Ballet will thump Mac Swiney and lay down a Cazoo Derby marker in the Derrinstown Stud Trial.
Perhaps High Definition will show the abnormal blood test of midweek, which not only sparked a flurry of google searches for SAA (Serum Amyloid A) but also forced him to miss the Lingfield Trial, was a mere blip by winning the Dante, and suddenly give O’Brien an embarrassment of Epsom riches.
But as I write favourite in places for the Derby is Mohaafeth, who won the Newmarket Stakes in a hack canter for Shadwell Estates. He could be anything and while it’s clearly a case of style over substance so far – that could easily be enough in this strangest of seasons.
But then you think of another Shadwell blueblood, Mutasaabeq, impressive winner of a small-field conditions race at the Craven Meeting, who found himself fleetingly as 2000 Guineas favourite on the morning of the race. He was style over substance and finished seventh.
At least at Chester the older brigade did deliver – both human and equine.
Fresh from his own 1000 Guineas success, Frankie Dettori won the Chester Cup on Falcon Eight for Irish trainer Dermot Weld. Some years of combined experience in that team and some performance from a horse who was shuffled back at the start and had to take the wide route to Roodee glory. It needed a Group-class dash down the short final straight to win the heritage handicap. He delivered.
Armory landed the Huxley Stakes in a manner that had Ryan Moore bordering on enthusiastic in his post-race interview. He’s going to be dining at the top table this term. Japan will return there too fresh from his Ormonde win although it was the run of Trueshan in second and the prospect of his Gold Cup clash with Stradivarius that really whetted the appetite.
There’s Battaash inching towards defending his King’s Stand Stakes crown too – but the feelgood factor for 2021 won’t return because of the action on the track.
It wasn’t there at Chester. The lady running the “Refreshment Zone” commented “it’s so quiet isn’t it? So, so sad”. And it was.
This is a racetrack that is all about the crowd, the party atmosphere. It’s intoxicating in more ways than one on a beautiful sunny afternoon.
It’s what made Dr Marwan Koukash fall in love with the sport. On Thursday he watched Dettori and Falcon Eight win the Chester Cup from a spot next to the winning post, alone, in front of empty stands. It was a picture that epitomised racing in the Covid lockdowns.
But from the 17th of this month the stands will start to fill again, not to capacity, but it’s a start. The BHA and others have done a wonderful job in keeping the show on the road and racing is one of the sports to have thrived during lockdown in terms of TV numbers.
That’s down to great coverage and also to it being a fantastic TV sport. Follow the action on ITV, Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing and you'd hardly know there was anything different from previous years.
But the gates are about to be reopened. Redcar are among those doing so on that very first afternoon, 800 will be allowed to attend their Monday meeting. Royal Ascot hope to be in a position to admit 10,000 racegoers each day of their five-day showpiece and then...
On Wednesday, York announced their acts for the Music Showcase Weekend in July and even if Astley and McFly don’t float your boat, their booking is another nod towards what’s around the corner.
If a track like York, who have suffered so badly over the last 14 months with their hospitality and wedding businesses closed down alongside paying racegoers, can see the light, then so can we.
They’re confident enough to start planning ahead with conviction. Tickets are on sale for every meeting from the 22nd May through to October 8th, taking in the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival.
It’s close now and for one year only maybe a live rendition of ‘Never Going To Give You Up' at the Knavesmire will mean more than a three-length Dante winner.
We are committed in our support of safer gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline / GamCare on 0808 8020 133.