Panama can crack the Vase: Racing

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The Independent Online
If the Romans who built Chester ever raced horses on the Roodeye, you can be sure that someone was forever complaining that the big race on the first day of the May meeting was a lousy pointer to forthcoming events at Londinium and Eboracum. A similar charge will no doubt be levelled against the Chester Vase today, as pundits with a persistent grudge against the track's unique contours remind us that no Vase winner has gone on to win the Derby since Shergar in 1981. Those with a more broad-minded view of the future, however, will pay close attention to its outcome.

It may not be wise to adjust ante-post interest in the Derby too dramatically after today's feature (and with Entrepreneur, the 2,000 Guineas winner, now at odds-on with Ladbrokes, the premier Classic appears something of a formality). Statistically, though, at least one of today's runners is likely to develop into a Group One winner, as the list of horses which have competed here in the last 10 years indicates. Old Vic, Belmez, Quest For Fame (who did win the Derby), Moonax, Toulon and Luso have run in the Vase and gone on to record victories at the highest level, and two of today's runners - Panama City and Ghataas - are sufficiently unexposed to be capable of almost anything between now and the autumn.

Ghataas was second to Poteen - third in the 2,000 Guineas - on his only start as a juvenile, and broke his maiden last month with more ease than a half-length margin suggests. Yet it is Panama City (next best 3.10) who should prevail today, and not simply because he carries the green and blue silks of Robert Sangster, who looks on this as his local meeting - he is a resident of the Isle of Man - and likes his trainers to prepare his horses accordingly. Peter Chapple-Hyam's colt has just a single maiden win to his name, but he was runner-up both in the Group One Gran Criterium in Milan and the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket's Craven meeting, a race won by Fahris in a useful time. It is form which should give him the edge as the field hits this short home straight.

Aside from following Sangster and his principal trainers, Barry Hills and Chapple-Hyam, the other traditional pursuit of punters on the Roodeye is to pore over the draw, a vital consideration on a track which is basically just one big bend. In particular, they look for a favourite in a wide stall in a race with a decent alternative drawn between three and eight, near enough to the rail to get a good position but not so close that a slow start will remove all hope.

It seems unlikely that any horse all week - perhaps all season - will fit the first requirement more completely than Break The Rules, who is the morning-line favourite for the Walker Smith & Way Handicap but will be closer to the River Dee than the running rail as he leaves stall 17. Rockforce, another with a major form chance, is next door in 16, and both must be taken on with GAME PLOY (nap 3.40), who makes his seasonal debut but improved throughout last year and is a previous winner over course and distance. The remaining televised events are both maidens and difficult to call, though Solo Mio (2.40) must go close.

Assuming that Entrepreneur remains sound, there will be few major upheavals in the Derby market between now and 7 June, but the same seems unlikely to be true of ante-post betting on the Oaks. Two of Henry Cecil's leading candidates for the fillies' Classic, Fascinating Rhythm and Fiji, were announced as doubtful runners yesterday, while another, Jean Lesbordes' Mousse Glacee, was also the subject of disturbing rumours, although these proved harder to substantiate. Mousse Glacee is due to run this weekend and future plans should then become clearer, but Cecil's Oaks challenge seems sure to be restricted to Reams Of Verse, sixth in the 1,000 Guineas, and Yashmak, 14th of 15 runners in the same race.

"Both Fascinating Rhythm and Fiji have lung infections and are being treated," Cecil said. "I don't know how long it will take them to recover completely. It looks unlikely that they will be able to run in the Oaks, but they are not definite not to run. I want Reams Of Verse and Yashmak to run in one of the Oaks trials, they are fine after the Guineas, though Yashmak was very disappointing. I think the trip was too short for Reams Of Verse."

Reams Of Verse is 8-1 from 12-1 for the Oaks with William Hill, who continued to offer prices on the race through the series of stories and rumours, unlike some other firms, who preferred to suspend their betting until the going was safer.