Gertrude Bell puts her mark on Oaks map

The Gosden-trained filly establishes base camp on ascent to Epsom with cosy victory in Cheshire Oaks
Click to follow
The Independent Online

As a rule, the racing community would be deemed too insular, too set in its ways, to offer much in the way of useful counsel to society at large. On the eve of polling, however, came a reminder that the Turf does have its enlightened minds, properly engaged with the world beyond their parish boundary.

A few years ago there was a filly in training named Rosa Parks, honouring "the mother of the Civil Rights movement". Now we have Gertrude Bell, whose success in the Weatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks yesterday means that the memory of another pioneer among her sex can be renewed among a still broader audience, when she proceeds to Classic competition at Epsom.

Whether this filly will prove first among equals is another matter, but she confirmed her eligibility for the Investec Oaks by sustaining the improvement shown on her reappearance at Newbury last month. And John Gosden, who trains Gertrude Bell for his wife, Rachel Hood, recognised that her comfort with the peculiar demands of this track was auspicious for Epsom.

He also acknowledged that William Buick had done well to shadow the slow pace set by Richard Hughes on Acquainted. Johnny Murtagh, in contrast, for some reason preferred to restrain Dance On By in last place, so offering little encouragement that he has been remotely chastened by a hostile press at this meeting last year. Sure enough, at the business end it was Buick who challenged Hughes on the turn, leading a furlong out, to win by three-quarters of a length. Acquainted just held Champagnelifestyle for second.

Gertrude Bell remains 25-1 for Epsom with Totesport. "But I think we should go," Gosden said. "She wants a truly run mile and a half, and would prefer more of a test. Hughsie turned it into a bit of a sprint out there, and if you win a Chester trial you should go to Epsom."

He expressed due pride that his wife's first home-bred runner – they found a mare named Sugar Mill, carrying this foal by Sinndar, at the Deauville sales – should prove of such calibre. "I think she should retire immediately," he declared. Hood reciprocated with compliments of her own for his training, but it was her filly's namesake that she particularly hoped to exalt. Traveller, writer, archaeologist, linguist and diplomat, Gertrude Bell did not just anticipate the freedoms of the intervening century but transcended them, a humbling example to men or women of any era. She had a hand in the creation of Iraq, and the winners of today's election would no doubt be grateful for someone of her ilk to send there now.

Otherwise it was not, in truth, a vintage start to this most pleasant of racing carnivals. Happily, Ladies' Day this afternoon is already sold out, but yesterday a smaller crowd huddled in the drizzle and looked up enviously at the Manchester United players in their hospitality suite. Even the Totesport Chester Cup, one of the most venerable races in the calendar, proved less of a spectacle than usual, those kept handy to another steady gallop duly proving invulnerable in the brief straight. Credit was again due to Hughes for keeping Mamlook within striking distance of Tastahil, given an excellent ride by Richard Hills, and just wearing him down in a duel to the line.

Something was clearly amiss with Nemo Spirit, tailed off at halfway, but his trainer had made the perfect start to what is now his big local meeting when Julius Geezer came good in the Manor House Stables Lily Agnes Stakes. Tom Dascombe's patrons, who include the England striker Michael Owen, had sponsored the race and he felt corresponding satisfaction to saddle his first juvenile winner since moving from Lambourn. "It's a massive relief," he said. "We would have run all 56 two-year-olds in this race, if we could!"

It must be hoped Murtagh is on his game today, for he rides perhaps the two most interesting runners on the card. Rocket Man (2.45) is a Montjeu colt whose arresting maiden success at the Curragh leaves him greater scope for progress than some more exposed rivals for the MBNA Chester Vase.

Having so few miles on the clock, likewise, South Easter (2.15) and Redwood stand out in the other Group race, the Betfair Huxley Stakes. The former returns to the scene of his breakthrough success in the Dee Stakes last year.

The Manchester United manager's fondness for this meeting, reiterated by yesterday's squad outing, identifies Last Three Minutes (1.45) as a fascinating candidate for the opener. This horse, who carries the colours of Sir Alex Ferguson, became rather exasperating for his previous stable but has now entered the care of no less a trainer than Sir Michael Stoute. Having repeatedly hinted at better to come, this is surely his red-letter day.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Luc Jordan (5.05 Chester) Took time to bloom last term but certainly did so in the autumn, and similar types from his stable have been quick to resume where they left off this time round.

Next best

Elliptical (3.0 Goodwood) Perfectly suited by the conditions of the race, and can dictate round this sharp track.

One to watch

Kensei (R M Beckett) Looked better than his current rating at Salisbury on Sunday, his first start since castration.

Where the money's going

Ceilidh House is 12-1 from 14-1 with Ladbrokes for the Investec Oaks.