Rumours that Pat Eddery and Willie Carson stood alongside the schoolboy Steve Donoghue high on the city walls here in 1899 as he watched Uncle Mac win the Chester Cup have been grossly exaggerated. But both men have been part of the fabric of the modern game for longer than either of them probably care to remember and both added to its tapestry yesterday.
Eddery, 50, won the 100th Chester Cup on Fantasy Hill, a blinkered six-year-old gelding who finished third in the race two years ago and has since recovered from career-threatening leg problems. In the process the 8-1 shot thwarted, by two lengths, Rainbow High's most gallant bid for an unprecedented three Cups and, to lace injury with insult, lowered the runner-up's 1999 record time by nearly half a second.
Traffic problems caused Eddery to miss the ride on an unplaced horse in the opener but in the 18-runner Cup, two and a quarter miles over two circuits of the tightest course in the western world, he had more or less an open road. If anything, the engine under him was revving too well.
"I had a lovely run round the first circuit," he said, "but second time round he was tanking a bit hard. The leaders kept going in front, though, which helped and once I eased out going into the straight he quickened really well. Obviously, this can be a course when you can get into all sorts of trouble – two years ago this horse was really unlucky with a bad draw and no run at all – but if you're travelling, it's much easier."
It was the second time Eddery had taken away one of the giant cheeses given as prizes (as well as money, of course; the purse for first was £45,000), having won 13 years ago on Grey Salute, but a first truckle for winning trainer John Dunlop, on a brief holiday in Spain. Fantasy Hill, a winner over the Cup course in 2000, had been off the track for 20 months before his warm-up reappearance at Newbury 19 days ago and his heavily scarred forelegs spoke of the physical problems he had overcome.
As resilient is Rainbow High, who started 6-1 joint-favourite with tenth-placed Tender Trap. The seven-year-old, who was giving 18lb to the winner, may be back 12 months hence for a fifth go. "He's run a great race, giving away that weight," said trainer Barry Hills.
Eddery's victory took him to within 16 winners of passing Lester Piggott's career total of 4,493. It is unlikely that even he will get to Sir Gordon Richards mark of 4,800, but retirement is not figuring among his current plans. "I am still enjoying it, I still have good stables to ride for and I still get a terrific buzz from winning races like this," he said. "And besides, I've just bought a new pair of boots."
After more than a century, the attraction of Cup day here on the Roodee, the ancient water meadow that was once the main anchorage for the Roman army's fleet, is as strong as ever.
Willie Carson was in the winner's circle to welcome in Shadow Dancing after the Cheshire Oaks and to tell a three-hanky tale about her arrival in the world. Carson and his former guv'nor Dick Hern bred the filly; they had also ridden and trained her dam Salchow to win this mile and three-furlong trial for the real thing at Epsom 16 years ago.
Sadly, Salchow's efforts in producing her baby proved fatal. "It was all very traumatic and difficult," said Carson, "we sat up with her for two nights in a freezing barn, but she died." The little orphan was brought up by a foster mother, a Cleveland Bay borrowed from Co Durham brewery Beamish. "Cleo the Cleveland did a great job," added Carson.
Shadow Dancing's success was very much in-house and a triumph for horses for courses, or rather their offspring. Her sire, the recently-deceased Unfuwain, won the Chester Vase here for Hern and Carson and in the glory days of him and Salchow at West Ilsley, their daughter's trainer Marcus Tregoning was assistant.
Partnered by Martin Dwyer, the bay filly galloped home strongly to beat fellow Epsom entries Bright And Clear and Sunray Superstar by a length and a quarter and a short-head. She is still available at 25-1 for the Classic; her stablemate Esloob, at around 10-1, impressed layers more with her Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket four days ago. "I hope this one is given the go-ahead to run," said Tregoning, "as she will act on the track and the farther she goes the better she will be. And if she does run, Martin will keep the ride."Reuse content