Racing: Northern Desert to continue Wragg's Chester spree

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Chester racecourse is proud of its records. It is the oldest, smallest and tightest track in the land and the possessor of a run-in of only 230 yards, the shortest in Britain.

Since racing started here on Shrove Tuesday of 1541, when the major prize was a silver bell, big horses have suffered at the Roodeye.

Those that have succeeded on the circuit as tight as a merry-go-round have been those in the image of the wooden horses on the fairground ride – something thin, nimble and keen.

The main race for punters is tomorrow's Chester Cup, but the main race for the future is this afternoon's Chester Vase, which has been a contest of some celebrity ever since the mighty Shergar ran away with it in 1981 on his way to an even greater day at Epsom.

Victory in the Vase, it must be said, is no regular precursor to success in the Derby, but, each year, a handful of Classic entries turn up to test their mettle for the helter-skelter around Tattenham Corner.

This time around we have three Derby considerations in the field, namely Sir Michael Stoute's Researched, Henry Cecil's Sparkling Water and Spanish John, one of two runners from Paul Cole's Whatcombe yard.

Of the others, Barry Hills's Expected Bonus will have his supporters purely on the identity of his trainer. Barry does not come to Cheshire just for the cheese, though he probably takes a chunk with his port when he stays locally with Lord McAlpine (Bobby to Barry).

Mark Johnston's Fight Your Corner was perhaps the best of today's field as a two-year-old, courtesy of his successes in the Listed Autumn Stakes at Ascot and the starting ground of the stars, the Haynes, Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes at Newbury. Those who have been paying attention however, will note those are both galloping tracks and of negligible significance when it comes to assessing capability for the Roodeye.

In addition, as Fight Your Corner performed poorly on his reappearance in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket and his trainer has compiled a modest record in these environs, it could be that he will make the market for another.

The colt to concentrate on is Cole's other runner, Swing Wing (next best 2.55), who was second last season in a Group One race, albeit a beggar's version, the Gran Criterium at Milan in October.

There were no errors either last month on his seasonal debut, when he ventured successfully left-handed and tight in the Blue Riband Trial at Epsom.

The first race is destined for The Lord (1.55), who won the Brocklesby. He is drawn No 3, near the fence, and is guaranteed to get their with his early pace. J R Stevenson (3.25) can be little more than a speculative suggestion considering his wins-to-runs ratio. But the six-year-old has won here, has sunk to a mark from which victorious previously and will be a holiday brochure price.

The best bet on the card comes from another stalwart yard at the May meeting. The Wraggs, from Harry to young Geoffrey, have always done well on the banks of the Dee. Barry Hills has two in the Stanley Racing Stakes but neither have been drawn well, while Abingdon Place's NORTHERN DESERT (nap 2.25) competes from the lowest half and with good form already tucked in his saddle. There was even talk of the Italian Guineas after a Nottingham maiden win, though the temperatures had cooled by the time he provided another thorough display at Newmarket.

Aidan O'Brien's High Chapparal, who was replaced as Derby favourite by Hawk Wing over the weekend, has the chance to reassert his Blue Riband credentials on Sunday in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown.

The winner of the Racing Post Trophy on his final start as a juvenile won the Listed Ballysax Stakes on his reappearance and is advancing along the route of the last two Derby winners – Galileo and Sinndar. Seamus Heffernan will ride as Michael Kinane is booked for Longchamp.

Both Hawk Wing and Rock Of Gibraltar have come out of Saturday's 2,000 Guineas well and could meet again before the end of the month in the Irish equivalent at the Curragh. Though Rock Of Gibraltar has now won both their encounters (he was also ahead in last year's Group Three Railway Stakes at the Curragh) there seems a consensus that Hawk Wing is the better.

The official handicapper further subscribed to the view yesterday. While he raised Rock Of Gibraltar 1lb to 120, Hawk Wing remains on 122, the figure he attained in last season's International Classifications.