Racing: Stevenson looks Sangster's rocket

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The Independent Online
FOR MUCH of the last decade, racegoers walking through the gates at Chester in May have stepped straight into a time-warp back to the mid- 1970s, when Robert Sangster's colours carried all before them and Sheikh Mohammed was just another Middle Eastern prince. Even when Sangster had conceded defeat to the Maktoum family on most of Britain's racetracks, the Roodeye, just a short hop from Sangster's base on the Isle of Man, was one patch of English turf which remained forever green and blue.

This did not merely bring a smile to Sangster's face. Punters, too, were well aware that his trainers took particular care with their entries for Chester, and placed their bets accordingly. A meeting with fewer than three winners was a bitter disappointment, and when he left Cheshire with just one success 12 months ago, some backers fretted that his domination might be on the wane.

As Sangster arrives at Roodeye today, though, the omens are promising. Peter Chapple-Hyam, his principal trainer, finally saddled his first winner of the season when Tobruk trotted up at Kempton yesterday, and the maiden at least seems to be at their mercy with Storm Hill.

But the race which they will really want to win is the Chester Vase, for which J R Stevenson will start among the favourites. The colt finished third to Glamis over 10 furlongs at Kempton last time out, but was finishing so strongly that today's mile and a half will bring out the best in him.

Cynics will point out that one factor against him is an entry in the Derby, since this traditional Epsom trial has in recent years been won several times by horses who were not in the Classic. This is also the most competitive renewal of the Vase for quite a while, with horses like Housemaster, whose run in the Fielden Stakes was franked by Gold Academy in the 2,000 Guineas, and the unbeaten Doonaree also in the field. It is J R Stevenson (3.10), though, who has the greatest potential.

With no Sangster runners in the remaining televised races, punters must revert to another favourite system at Chester - start at the inside rail, and when you find a horse with a solid chance, stop. It can never be emphasised enough that a low draw on this almost circular track is an immense advantage, particularly if the horse in question is a fast starter who can make his own running. In nine races over less than a mile here last year, only one winner was drawn higher than five - and he was immediately disqualified for crossing over to the rail too quickly after the start.

This knowledge quickly cuts down a 15-runner field like the one for the Stanley Leisure Stakes to a very short list. Glanwydden, right against the rail in stall one, could not have a better draw, and is also a regular front-runner, but he may not have the class to deal with SPORTING LAD (nap 2.40), another fast starter in box five. Paul Cole's runner met the likes of Enrique and Brancaster as a two-year-old, and should have the measure of today's less exalted opponents. King Priam (next best 3.40), meanwhile, is drawn eight in the 10-furlong handicap, but over this distance, and with Kieren Fallon in the saddle, is tempting.

Today's Chester Vase will launch a long sequence of Derby trials, with the Lingfield Derby Trial this Saturday the next on the list. The five- day entries yesterday hinted at a strong renewal, with Daliapour and Beat All, who won well at Newmarket's Guineas meeting, among 15 names put forward.

Daliapour will attempt to follow the path of his stablemates, High-Rise and Kahyasi, who both took the Trial and then the Derby itself for Luca Cumani. ``He's perfectly all right after [his seasonal debut at] Epsom,'' Cumani said yesterday, ``and Gerald Mosse will come over to ride him again on Saturday. He doesn't compare with Kahyasi and High-Rise yet, but he will if he wins.''

Godolphin, too, are beginning to sort out their Derby horses, and there was an easy success yesterday for Dubai Millennium, who appears to be their second-choice for Epsom behind Adair, who runs at York next week. Dubai Millennium, whose name alone has already persuaded some superstitious punters to part with hard cash, beat Ettrick by nine lengths.

n Val Royal, an Andre Fabre-trained Derby entry, kept his unbeaten record yesterday in the Listed Prix Matchem at Chantilly. The colt trotted up by five lengths from Eighty Two in the nine-furlong contest.


Nap: Final Trial

(Chester 3.40)

NB: Zindabad

(Chester 3.10)