No course in Britain can trace its ancestry further back than Chester for it was in 1511, two years into the reign of Henry VIII, that the annual Shrovetide Fair on the Roodeye was first enlivened by a horse race, with the reward to the winner of a painted ball. By 1609, the ball had become a silver bell - presumably the subjects of James I were more sophisticated as far as prizes were concerned - and the annual contest moved to coincide with the St George's Day festivities.
There was a hiatus during and after the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell's views on fun and games being what they were, but once the monarchy was restored the country's gentlemen were free to skylark once more. It is claimed the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II's illegitimate son, rode his own charger to victory in a Cup at Chester in 1683. He could probably have done with the speedy beast two years later when, having claimed the throne from his uncle James after his father's death, his army was defeated in battle at Sedgemoor and he was captured trying to flee the scene, and beheaded.
That year, 1885, the Mayor and Corporation of Chester put up an £8 silver trophy to be run for "five times round". Today's top prize, in the reign of James II's 10-great's granddaughter, on that same "island with a cross" hard by the city walls in a loop of the River Dee, is worth rather more, £74,784 (and a 50lb truckle of Cheshire cheese) and thankfully the modern jockey has to cope with passing the winning post only thrice.
This afternoon's renewal is the 173rd since the two and a half mile contest attained more or less its present form in 1824 ("starting at the Castle pole, twice round and ending at the coming-in Chair") and the race's tapestry is as colourful as that of the track on which it is run. By 1836 it was the biggest betting race in the calendar, with a local paper reporting "upwards of a million of that sterling stuff which keeps the world going round changing hands".
A monster huge punt was landed in 1844, in deeply dubious circumstances, by the 7-2 favourite Red Deer, carrying 4st. His rider, the boy Kitchener, weighed 3st 4lb - less than a giant truckle - and was virtually run away with as his mount grabbed a flier and scorched off to score by 12 lengths. There were four false starts and one of the main beneficiaries in the coup, with winnings of £100,000, was Lord George Bentinck, manager to winning owner the Duke of Richmond. Bentinck was also the starter for the day.
The race is not a good one for market leaders, Red Deer being one of just 37 successful, with a mere five in the past three decades, most recently Anak Pekan two years ago. Greenwich Meantime, on a five-timer, picked up the poisoned chalice when he made the cut by winning over two miles at Ripon 11 days ago.
He is progressive, but his starting position in stall 11 may not help. The course is a carousel of a circuit, only a mile and 60 yards round, and although Cup winners have come from across the course, the lower-numbered boxes on the inner are favoured, with only three double-figure winners and 11 placees in the past 10 years.
Preference is for another horse on an upward curve, The Nawab (2.50). The late-foaled son of Almutawakel (he is not four until next week) did not appear at two, but climbed steadily through the handicap ranks last year, breaking his maiden when upped to 15 furlongs at Warwick, then winning over two miles at Goodwood and two and a half at York.
Stamina is not an issue, if the forecast rain arrives it will be a plus (although he copes perfectly well with good to firm), he is drawn towards the inside and he has experience of the idiosyncratic track in the form of a second place last year. His stable - that of John Dunlop, in whose colours he also runs - is not sparking like some, but The Nawab has a prep run under his girth, and a good one, when he carried a big weight into second place at Kempton last month. He can be, and take, today's big cheese.
Four of the 12 runners for the Cheshire Oaks hold the engagement in the real thing, but the nearest any recent winner has come to following up at Epsom was when Dance A Dream (whose son Elusive Dream is well fancied for today's Cup) chased home Moonshell 11 years ago. Beautifully bred Allegretto (2.20) can enhance her Classic claims.
The new era at Pond House began in perfect style at Kelso yesterday, when David Pipe's first runner, Standin Obligation, came home a winner in the novices' chase. The yard made it a double with Wee Dinns.
FAKENHAM: 2.10 Mezereon 2.40 Ballyrainey 3.10 Maryscross 3.45 Ryders Storm 4.20 Ruggtah 4.55 Stocking Island
KELSO: 5.50 Bedlam Boy 6.20 Dalaram 6.50 Bollin Thomas 7.20 Primitive Way 7.50 Circassian 8.20 Carriage Ride 8.50 Watch My Back
Nap: Cav Okay
NB: Greenwich Meantime
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