No doubt the majority even of those jockeys staying locally remain scrupulously immune to the hedonism that infects Chester during this carnival. There were presumably one or two, however, who were a little uneasy to discover that the British Horseracing Authority's breathalyser unit had made one of its random appearances before racing yesterday. Whether or not he was one of them, it was Francis Norton who would ultimately suffer the embarrassment of being stood down for the day. At least he could comfort himself that very few of the Ladies' Day crowd might feel eligible to throw the first stone.
Sober judgement of events out on the track suggested that the second Epsom trial of the meeting had proved rather less instructive than the first. Wonder Of Wonders had made an arresting case for the Investec Oaks the previous afternoon, but bookmakers remained willing to offer 33-1 against her stablemate, Treasure Beach, for the Derby after his narrow defeat of Nathaniel in the MBNA Chester Vase. For some, in fact, the most pertinent conclusion from their duel was that Frankel, the sport's new superstar, is still more intoxicating than they had realised.
The decision to keep Frankel at a mile for his next start, at Royal Ascot, has left the role of Derby favourite a situation vacant. And it was his reflected glory that illuminated this race. Nathaniel had run Frankel close on their debut last season, while Treasure Beach had been among those pulverised when the champion proceeded to win the Royal Lodge Stakes by 10 lengths. In fairness, the extra half-mile here qualified this as a whole new ball game, and both these handsome sons of Galileo remain legitimately progressive in their own right. Nathaniel probably saw too much daylight in this small field, while Ryan Moore had been obliged to delay his challenge on Treasure Beach. He won by only a head, the pair clear of Slumber, but he always seemed to have adequate momentum.
The winning trainer, Aidan O'Brien, probably has stronger Epsom candidates in Seville, who meets World Domination and Carlton House in the Totesport Dante Stakes next Thursday, and Recital, who heads his challenge for the Derrinstown Trial on Sunday. But he tends to run several colts in the Derby and Treasure Beach could feasibly run into a place. Incidentally, Kieren Fallon is due to ride Recital at Leopardstown, even though Ed Dunlop expects him to partner Native Khan, third to Frankel in the 2,000 Guineas, in the Derby.
It was during Fallon's troubled tenure as Ballydoyle stable jockey that O'Brien first recognised the virtues of Chester as a testing ground for Epsom. He also became aware of congenial opportunities here for older horses embarking on a new campaign. Yesterday he sent over a colt of radiant quality in Await The Dawn, who took his record to four wins in five starts when running away with the Betfair Huxley Stakes. Paul Smith, representing the owners, indicated that the son of Giant's Causeway will now step up in class, and possibly in trip, at Royal Ascot.
Today O'Brien has chosen no less a creature than St Nicholas Abbey for the Boodles Diamond Ormonde Stakes. It was barely a year ago that the champion juvenile of 2009 was supposed to win the Guineas in rather the fashion Frankel did last weekend. In the event, he finished sixth and resurfaced at the Curragh only last month, hardly looking worth the wait in the process. That he could not now be backed with any confidence for a Group Three prize, with no penalty over this much longer trip, reflects the decline in his fortunes. He has unmistakably reached a final crossroads.
That is equally true of Kauto Star, who was pulled up at Punchestown on Wednesday. Yesterday Paul Nicholls, his trainer, reiterated that the veteran steeplechaser would be given a summer at grass before any decision is made over his future.
Today a champion very much in his prime, Hurricane Fly, tries to follow up his Cheltenham success in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle. He has already won twice at the Punchestown Festival, albeit only after missing Cheltenham through setbacks. And while the British raiders, Binocular and Menorah, may be better than they showed last time, Hurricane Fly can be expected to confirm himself the best hurdler since Istabraq.
Yesterday Hurricane Fly's trainer, Willie Mullins, saddled that exceptional mare, Quevega, to win the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle in decisive fashion. Not for the first time, Mullins was also responsible for her nearest challenger, Mourad, albeit he could menace her only briefly after she rapped the last hurdle. And Captain Chris also followed up his Cheltenham win in the Ryanair Novice Chase, albeit he made heavy weather of seeing off Realt Dubh.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Captain Ramius (1.45 Chester) Won off this mark round here last season and will get the strong pace he requires, while a wide draw is much less of an issue from this start.
Bold Bidder (3.30 Chester) All about speed and should love this track, well drawn to dominate after an excellent reappearance at Doncaster last week.
One to watch
Blue Jack (Tom Dascombe) Lost all chance when squeezed at the start at Chester on Wednesday, and remained stuck in traffic for a midfield finish.
Where the money's going
The Cheshire Oaks winner Wonder Of Wonders is 8-1 from 10-1 with Totesport for the Investec Oaks.Reuse content