There are some words that appear only rarely in the sports pages of newspapers. Truckle, for instance, which today gets its annual outing. The occasion is the first of three days' entrancing sport at Chester, where giant cheeses, the local county speciality, form part of the prizes.
No course in Britain can trace its ancestry further back than Chester, for it was in 1511, two years into the reign of Henry VIII, that a fair on the Roodeye – the "island with a cross"0 in a loop of the River Dee, hard by the city walls – was first enlivened by a horserace, with the reward to the winner of a painted ball.
By 1609, the ball had become a silver bell; the subjects of James I were presumably more demanding. In 1785, the Mayor and Corporation of Chester put up an £8 silver trophy to be run for "five times round", the embryo of the Chester Cup. In this afternoon's running, the 176th since the contest settled at more or less two and a quarter miles, the runners will pass the winning post only thrice but the reward is rather more, £74,772. Plus that truckle, of course.
And 50lb of crumbly Cheshire takes some shifting. Michael Jarvis has had to deal with it twice; after Anak Pekan completed a double four years ago, the beneficiaries were the residents of an old folks' home in Newmarket. Jarvis saddles one of the favourites this afternoon, the progressive four-year-old Amerigo, but this year it may be Yorkshire pensioners who will be feasting on Welsh rarebit, macaroni, and little nibbly bits with pineapple.
Chester is the country's tightest track, only a mile and 60 yards round. Experience round such a carousel can be invaluable and Tilt (2.45) is one who has been there, and almost done that, having finished a slightly unlucky third in a tight finish to last year's Cup.
The seven-year-old, one of three challengers from Brian Ellison's yard near Malton, ticks plenty of boxes in his bid to go two better 12 months on in the Totesport-sponsored marathon. He blew the cobwebs away on his seasonal debut at Epsom last month without his usual cheekpieces, he is favourably drawn near the infield rail, and has the services of the champion jockey, Ryan Moore.
The perception that a low-numbered starting berth is preferable at Chester is borne out by statistics, but only just. Eleven of the last 20 Cup winners have emerged from single-figure stalls, as did 22 of the 40 placed horses. As a point of anorak interest, the best recent draws have been six (three winners and three seconds in 20 runnings) and 11 (four thirds and a winner in five runnings) occupied today, respectively, by Desert Sea and Downhiller.
Three of the seven runners in today's Cheshire Oaks hold an entry for the real thing next month, Perfect Truth, Phillipina and Simple Solution. With the notable exception of Light Shift, who completed the double two years ago, winners of the Listed contest have not impacted hugely on events at Epsom and Roses For The Lady (2.15), who will not be inconvenienced by any easing of the ground, can continue both that trend and her trainer John Oxx's superb run of form.
After her stablemate Sea The Stars' smashing 2,000 Guineas victory on Saturday, it is going to take some performance in the next round of trials to rattle the top of the Derby market.
The first opportunity comes in tomorrow's Chester Vase, in which eight colts line up, including Debussy, supplemented to Epsom, and the Ballydoyle pair Golden Sword and Masterofthehorse.
Away from the brilliant, but necessarily brief, glitter of the Classic scene came news yesterday of the retirement of one of jump racing's most durable and honourable competitors. Brave Inca has hung up his racing plates after a seven-year career that brought 10 Grade 1 victories including the 2006 Champion Hurdle and earnings of more than £970,000.
The 11-year-old, also placed twice in the Cheltenham showpiece, finished down the field in this year's edition, and was last of nine at Punchestown last week.
"We always said we'd call it a day once he wasn't up to competing with the best," said trainer Colm Murphy, "but it was great to have him around for so long."
Nap: Sohraab (3.15 Chester)
NB: Downhiller (2.45 Chester)Reuse content