Hills savours fourth Chester Cup
Daraahem hands veteran trainer 150th career win around his favourite course
Thursday 07 May 2009
You can tell by the way he dresses that Barry Hills has a decided sense of how the world might be, if only it matched his own, orderly ethos. In a walk of life governed by such haphazard fortunes, of course, it is a perspective generally doomed to disappointment. Just for the moment, however, Hills must feel as though the world around him has suddenly discovered its most pleasing potential. Yesterday, just three days after crowning the most prolific of his 40 springs as a trainer with a Classic winner at Newmarket, he came to this cramped, gaudy precinct – acres he cherishes more than any on the Turf – and had yet another afternoon where everything fell immaculately into place.
Daraahem's success in the Totesport Chester Cup was Hills's fourth in one of the most venerable prizes in the calendar, and his 150th round the Roodee all told. Escorted into the winner's enclosure by his dapper, septuagenarian trainer, the horse seemed as coherent a part of the tableau as the tilted trilby, the pert handkerchief. Hills surveyed the familiar scene, aglow with satisfaction. The elegant throng of spectators, admittedly, seemed somewhat thinner than in headier times, but beyond stood less transient witnesses: the ancient city walls, and the idling River Dee itself.
Hills himself has recently endured testing times, with his own health, but the residual rasp in his voice permits no doubt that he has come to relish every new day. And here was what life could be like, if only it tried – his own son, Richard, bringing home the Chester Cup in a finish so desperate that the runner-up, Ajaan, was still being backed on Betfair at 1-50 as he went down by a neck.
"That was the plan," Hills declared. "Since a long time ago. It's a race dear to my heart, and I thought this was a horse that might win it. We had him gelded in the winter, and that has helped him a lot. He has improved, there's no doubt. And once they start improving at that age [four], there's no telling where they might end up."
Daraahem is a big, brawny creature, the very antithesis of the type conventionally associated with this claustrophobic circuit. But Hills long ago discarded such assumptions, and did not demur when it was proposed that this horse might make a cracking hurdler – a notion that would doubtless cause his patron, Sheikh Hamdan, to furrow those heavy brows of his.
Hills Jr testified vividly to Daraahem's strength, hanging his arms limply by his side. "He was travelling so well that three times I had to take him off horses," the jockey said. "Dad was confident, and who's going to argue with him? It's just been one of those wonderful seasons where everything's gone right – Dad having 3,000 career winners, winning a Guineas, and now the Chester Cup. I thought I might be due some bad luck, but luckily the horses are in great form."
Another to confirm that this course does not reserve its favours for petite creatures was Perfect Truth, a big, rangy filly, who was boldly ridden by Johnny Murtagh and just held Phillipina in the Weatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks. Both these fillies came here as maidens, but none should forget the way Peeping Fawn bloomed at a similar stage of her career for the winner's trainer, Aidan O'Brien. Sir Michael Stoute, meanwhile, acknowledged the progress of Phillipina, albeit she is unlikely to head for the Juddmonte Oaks unless the remaining rehearsals leave the door to Epsom not so much ajar, as wide open.
Stoute went on to saddle Harbinger to win a competitive maiden in arresting fashion, provoking Investec Derby quotes of 25-1 from excitable bookmakers. A rather more substantial Epsom case will probably be made today in the Virgin Money Chester Vase. Debussy has already proven his agility round Tattenham Corner, and is likely to relish the extra distance. But there are signs of new momentum in the Ballydoyle horses and a big run is duly expected from MASTEROFTHEHORSE (2.45). Though disappointing on his first visit to these shores, at Doncaster last autumn, this colt had previously suggested that he might well prove the best middle-distance type among those who contested a Group race at the Curragh in September – and the winner was no less a colt than Sea The Stars.
Last year's Vase winner, DOCTOR FREMANTLE (2.15), returns as a formidable gauge of the progress being made by Expresso Star, while Stoute's record with older horses also promises more to come from KINGDOM OF FIFE (1.45). A mediocre draw may not be enough to thwart AAKEF (4.35), while SWILLY FERRY (4.0) is sure to have been primed for this meeting. He is trained by some bloke named Hills, who they say knows his way round here.
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