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Chester May Festival guide: Classic clues from the Roodee

| 10.05.2023

The Chester May Festival always throws up plenty of entertainment over three fantastic days of racing on the unique Roodee course.

With a turf circuit measuring just one mile and one furlong round, the Cheshire track offers up a true test of ability and agility.

That has made it a popular preparation for potential Classic candidates at Epsom, another course where balance is crucial.

We’re taking a look at each day’s key races and what can be expected from a fascinating meeting, while punters can elsewhere check out our ITV racing tips for each day.

Wednesday – City Day

The opening Lily Agnes Stakes always attracts some of the sharpest early-season two-year-olds and a low draw is invariably a big advantage for this race and the following sprint handicap, both run over the minimum trip of five furlongs.

Classic clues will then be on show in the first of the week’s Epsom trials, with some high-class fillies having landed the Cheshire Oaks over just short of a mile and a half.

Light Shift claimed this prize in 2007 for Henry Cecil before going on to win the Oaks, while John Gosden’s mighty mare Enable did the double in 2017.

Forever Together was second in 2018 prior to going one better at Epsom, with other notable scorers who later enjoyed Group One success including Shoot A Line, Swiftfoot, Bolas and Diamondsandrubies.

Champion Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien usually targets this contest, run for the Robert Sangster Memorial Cup, with at least one of his most-promising fillies.

Looking ahead to the 2023 renewal, Coral’s David Stevens said: “Savethelastdance has consistently shortened for the Oaks from 20/1 down to her current 5/1 in recent weeks, suggesting a big run can be expected in the Cheshire Oaks this week.”

Next up is the Chester Vase for colts and geldings over an extended 1m 4f and some outstanding Derby winners have emerged from this informative trial.

Henbit followed up victory here with a Classic success at Epsom for Dick Hern in 1980, while the great Shergar did the double in spectacular fashion for Michael Stoute 12 months later.

Ruler Of The World backed up his 2013 triumph for O’Brien by claiming the Blue Riband event and Wings Of Eagles sprang a 40/1 surprise at Epsom after finishing second to stablemate Venice Beach here in 2017.

Law Society finished second at Epsom before going one better in the Irish Derby, the same feat achieved by Thunder Beach, while Old Vic prevailed at the Curragh and in the French equivalent.

Soldier Of Fortune was another subsequent Irish Derby star, with other notable scorers including Unfuwain, Belmez, St Leger heroes Toulon and Millenary, Derby runner-up US Army Ranger and Sir Dragonet, a dual Group One winner in Australia.

Thursday – Ladies Day

Run over a slightly shorter trip of 1m 2f 70yds, the Listed-class Dee Stakes can serve as another Derby trial for colts which have yet to prove their stamina.

Oath followed up his 1999 victory here for Henry Cecil by winning at Epsom, while Kris Kin did the double for Sir Michael Stoute in 2003.

Sir Harry Lewis, successful on the Roodee in 1987, finished fourth at Epsom before going on to land the Irish Derby, while 2017 winner Cliffs Of Moher was just caught in the final strides of the Derby by Wings of Eagles.

Other notable scorers include future King George winner Pentire, subsequent Irish 2,000 Guineas and Breeders’ Cup Turf ace Magician, plus triple Group One victor Circus Maximus.

Thursday’s Group Three feature, though, is the Ormonde Stakes, a contest run over 1m 5f 84yds for horses aged four or older.

Among the most famous winners was 1984 scorer Teenoso, who had prevailed in the previous season’s Derby for trainer Geoff Wragg.

The race has also served as a warm-up for the Coronation Cup at Epsom, with Saddlers’ Hall, Daliapour and the outstanding St Nicholas Abbey all doing that double.

Other notable scorers include dual Group One ace Ask, future King George hero Harbinger, Michael Owen’s popular Irish St Leger star Brown Panther and the globetrotting Japan.

Friday – Chester Cup Day

There is Group Two action on the closing day with the Huxley Stakes, run over the same distance as the Dee Stakes but restricted to four-year-olds and above.

Frankel’s full-brother Noble Mission was successful at five in 2014 for Cecil prior to securing a trio of Group One prizes in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and the Champion Stakes.

Maraahel completed a hat-trick of victories between 2005 and 2007, while Chester House and Debussy both prevailed here before going on to land the Arlington Million.

However, in terms of betting turnover, the big race of the day – and indeed the entire Chester May Festival – is the 2m 2f 175yds Chester Cup, one of the most prestigious staying handicaps of the entire Flat season.

The most famous winner was Peter Easterby’s 1977 and 1978 scorer Sea Pigeon, who also claimed a couple of Champion Hurdle victories and was only rated behind Red Rum and Arkle with regards popularity among horse racing fans of both codes.

With past renewals dating as far back as 1824, Brown Jack was another Champion Hurdle hero to prevail in 1931, with the prolific gelding also landing six straight wins in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot.

Lester Piggott partnered four winners, while trainer Barry Hills saddled the same number of successful runners.

O’Brien triumphed for the first time in 2022 with Cleveland, 12 months after Dermot Weld’s Falcon Eight had taken the trophy back to Ireland.

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Tony Kelshaw