After two flawless summer days, the gods had a vicious fit of jealousy yesterday. Divine weather and dresses can give mortals ideas above their station, and the men and women of Chester were punished with a furious thunderstorm before racing. Fortunately the deluge had abated by the time the runners in the Derby trial were splashing round the parade ring, but by then the damage was done.
This turning track is tricky at the best of times, and the downpour on baked ground had made the turf loose. Ivy Creek could never find a rhythm in the Cheshire Regiment Dee Stakes and, by the time he gained space and confidence in the short straight, Art Deco had already stolen the prize. The chestnut held on by a neck under Frankie Dettori, pulling Ivy Creek seven lengths clear, to give Charles Egerton much his biggest success on the Flat.
Two recent Epsom winners, Oath and Kris Kin, announced themselves in this race, but Art Deco can be backed at 40-1 and Egerton's precision has long been evident over jumps. "Realistically, he has to improve again, and if you miss in the Derby you can ruin a horse," he said. "He will be better over a mile and a half, though, so we'll see what happens in the other trials and sleep on it. I'm just so relieved. The owners have bought me some very nice Flat horses and it's nice to deliver a Group winner."
Art Deco is a measure of their purposeful interest, having cost 140,000 guineas as a yearling, but it was Ivy Creek who stood out beforehand as a priceless specimen on looks. His reputation only gained from this first defeat, and Steve Drowne was not alone in reckoning him the best horse in the race. "I thought we would win turning in, but he just took 100 yards to click on that ground," the jockey said. "They certainly wouldn't beat us again on a more galloping track."
Ivy Creek is not in the Derby, and Geoff Wragg will now prepare him for Royal Ascot. The stooped, snowy-haired trainer went on to win the Blue Square Ormonde Stakes with another spry veteran in The Whistling Teal. "A great old boy," Wragg said. "He won't ever give in." The horse doubtless feels much the same way about his trainer, and certainly has a more spirited attitude than Orcadian, who pulled himself up to a walk at one point but still went down only narrowly.
The odds-on favourite, Mubtaker, trailed home last to compound the worries of Marcus Tregoning, who has been oiling Sir Percy's wheels since he finished second in the 2,000 Guineas last Saturday. He is quite stiff," Tregoning said. "He did hang left at Newmarket, and seemed to be changing his lead quite a bit on that fast ground. Obviously, he couldn't go to Epsom unless he is 150 per cent and I hope he will be by next week. But I won't be making any commitments until then. At least he's a very fit horse, and it's hardly as if I'd be going after him so soon after a hard race anyway."
Tregoning may come up with an alternative candidate at Lingfield today. Botteen beat no less a colt than Papal Bull in a maiden at Salisbury last September, despite dozing in the stalls, never galloping more strongly than at the post. The success of Papal Bull in the Chester Vase on Thursday reflects the progress he has made since, but Botteen (nb 2.40) certainly merits respect as a colt from a family of gifted stayers. "He's by Singspiel, a sire I like a lot, and will stay every yard," Tregoning said. "He's a late-maturing type, and whatever he does at Lingfield, he will be better by the end of the summer. But I do really like this horse."
The Oaks trial has greater quantity but less quality, with several trainers seeking some cheap distinction for these future broodmares. Sir Michael Stoute sets a more suitable standard with his two runners, of which Sindirana (3.10) seems the far more likely stayer.
Stoute's stable is flourishing and provides the best opportunity of the day in ECHELON (nap 4.15). Her half-sister, Chic, developed into an élite performer from very similar foundations and Echelon is also likely to thrive with maturity.
The Epsom trail diverts to Leopardstown tomorrow when Aidan O'Brien has three runners in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, a race that yielded three consecutive winners between 2000 and 2002 in Sinndar, Galileo and High Chaparral. The Ballydoyle trainer has mustered four colts for the French 2,000 Guineas at Longchamp, the destination for his stable jockey, who rides Aussie Rules. Kieren Fallon is still limping with the foot injury he suffered nine days ago, however, and surrendered his other ride yesterday after a ragged start on City Of Troy in the Dee Stakes.
As the storm returned, he was not the only one making an early departure - a sadly soggy end to a meeting that had otherwise confirmed itself one of the quintessential experiences of the British Turf.
Nap: Echelon (Lingfield 4.15)
(Lingfield 2.40)Reuse content