Take Tantalus to put Epsom within reach

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The Independent Online

As the discontent over Newmarket's new Millennium Grandstand rumbles on - ''the stand is rubbish, you can't see anything and there is nowhere to sit'' was the opinion of one racegoer quoted in yesterday's Racing Post - we should all give thanks that not every course in the country is like Newmarket.

As the discontent over Newmarket's new Millennium Grandstand rumbles on - ''the stand is rubbish, you can't see anything and there is nowhere to sit'' was the opinion of one racegoer quoted in yesterday's Racing Post - we should all give thanks that not every course in the country is like Newmarket.

Because there are still some tracks staging major races which retain an intimate feel, where it is possible to see what is happening, and where ordinary punters are not seen as a nuisance for occupying space which might otherwise be used for corporate hospitality, we should, in other words, give thanks for Chester.

The Roodeye is, of course, blessed with considerable natural advantages in any match-up with Newmarket. Its location smack in the middle of one of Britain's most historic cities, with the magnificent old walls adjoining the home straight and the Dee in the distance, could hardly be in sharper contrast to the windswept Heath. The only obligatory requirement for anyone turning up for the May meeting this week is that they are determined to have a good time, and while winning some money is always pleasant, Chester remains one of the few tracks where losing does not seem too painful.

And while Chester's record of producing future big-race winners does not quite stand comparison with the Dante meeting at York next week, the Roodeye has hosted many fine horses down the years, the most recent being Oath, last season's Derby winner, who won the Dee Stakes in impressive style on his way to Epsom. That was an unusual route to the Derby, however, and this year the Classic trial which matters should, as usual, be this afternoon's Chester Vase.

That said, the Vase too has failed to identify many Derby contenders in recent years, with several of its winners galloping almost immediately into the ''Where are they now?'' file. The last horse to run at Chester and win at Epsom remains Quest For Fame, who was beaten by the estimable Belmez in 1990, while the ill-fated Shergar, who trotted up by 12 lengths in 1981, was the last colt to win both.

On paper, though, today's field could prove to be one of the best for a while, with only one of the eight runners - Il Capitano - not entered for the Derby. Another, Tantalus, was in the same position a few weeks ago, until Barry Hills, his trainer, thought it wise to pay an £8,000 supplementary fee to get his colt into the Epsom Classic.

Both the costly second-stage entry fee, and the name of his trainer, are tips in themselves for Tantalus (3.10) this afternoon.

No-one saddles more winners at this meeting than Hills, and while three of his rivals also arrive unbeaten this season, there are reasons to doubt Kingsclere, who may not stay, and Jolly Sharp, whose maiden win came on a flat track and on very heavy ground. Tantalus is currently a 50-1 chance for Epsom, and while he is unlikely to be the favourite by tonight, expect him to be a good deal shorter.

The other standard procedure for Roodeye punters, apart from backing anything with B Hills after its name, is to start all deliberations with the horse drawn in stall one. Work outwards from the rail, and as soon as you find one with a reasonable chance, look no further.

Neither theory seems all that reliable in today's big handicap, however, since Hills' entry was removed overnight, and there is little among the horses drawn low to quicken the interest. As a result, it may be worth taking a chance on Ocean Rain (2.40), who is in stall 11 but likes to be up with the pace and generally gets out smartly.

Another front-runner, FORTY FORTE (nap 3.40), has an almost ideal position in stall four for the 10-furlong handicap, and stands a fair chance of reversing recent Epsom form with Night Venture, the City And Suburban Handicap winner, who likes to come late and may find trouble in running.

In the opening Lily Agnes Stakes, meanwhile, the two-year-old Charlie Parkes (2.10) should have the speed to burn off his rivals and give Alan Berry a winner at the May meeting at his first attempt.

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