Polling in Chester tomorrow will be treated as a barometer for the entire nation, so it must be hoped that those of its citizens joining the great spring carnival down on the Roodee cast their votes first thing in the morning. As the day wears on, the racecourse is not always a place of sober judgements.
Chester is a key marginal, with Labour defending a majority of 915, but no candidate is likely to gain the 11th hour attention of voters hemmed happily together between the ancient city walls and the banks of the Dee. The three-day May meeting, opening this afternoon, is one of the most enchanting rituals anywhere in the racing world – and, as such, barren ground for politicians of any hue. Their most fertile terrain has always been discontent or discord. Here they will find God in his heaven, and all right with the world.
The only cloud on the horizon – other than those that can show this racecourse rather too dependent on one, final benediction, from the weather – is that it can be a devilishly hard place to find winners. The unique configuration of the track, in its intimate setting, contributes obviously in charm but also puts an unnerving emphasis on luck, whether in the draw or in the hectic traffic of the race itself. Almost constantly on the turn, the horses have only the briefest of straights in which to redress the inevitable loss of ground.
Such is the intoxicating nature of this meeting, some trainers target its prizes sometimes for months in advance. Yet even in the Totesport Chester Cup, where they have over two laps to sort themselves out, a low draw often appears essential. Six of the past 10 winners have been berthed among the half-dozen starting closest to the rail, and last year the first four all began from single-figure stalls. But they did not go very fast that day, and a stronger pace can sometimes favour those condemned to tuck in from the gate.
All is not yet lost, then, for Bernie The Bolt – though you would imagine that they will really have to serve it up in front for him to get involved from 15. That is a pity, because he remains unexposed over this kind of trip and the good form of his stable this spring suggests that he should be well primed. Red Cadeaux has been more fortunate, but conversely must prove his stamina. Connections and draw together command utmost respect for Majestic Concorde, while Rangefinder is tempting at 40-1 trying a distance that could prompt big improvement. But the vote goes to NEMO SPIRIT (2.45), who was bought with this race in mind by his ambitious local stable, and can build on sporadic past achievements now that he has been gelded.
The employers of Tom Dascombe, his new trainer, sponsor the opening Lily Agnes Stakes and that gives a conspicuous incentive to two of the field. But they are outnumbered by David Evans, who saddles three in an attempt to follow up Star Rover's success last year. BATHWICK BEAR (1.45) comes here via the same Thirsk race as that horse, with a pretty lively time against his name, too. "If he goes around the track he should win," Evans declared yesterday. "I'd be disappointed if I didn't win the race, and he'd be the best chance."
The Epsom trials at this meeting were getting a bad name a few years ago, but they have since been revived by the likes of Kris Kin and Light Shift, not to mention regular raids nowadays from Aidan O'Brien. So nobody should be too dismayed that the collective record of the fillies contesting the Weatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks stands at just six wins from 24 starts.
Last year, admittedly, the two maidens who shared a photo in this race proved unexceptional afterwards, but today's field could yet produce a legitimate Investec Oaks candidate. Champagnelifestyle retains every right to prove herself smart over middle distances this term, for instance, while it is easy to picture DANCE ON BY (2.15) emulating the improvement shown by Perfect Truth for the same connections last year. She, too, arrives as a maiden but she has shown rather more obvious promise, and, as a half-sister to High Chaparral, will relish the new trip.
The final race on Channel 4 promises a gripping spectacle, the bookmakers having decided that the horse with the best draw will probably turn it into the worst. ROYAL INTRUDER (3.15) does need covering up and delivering late, which could clearly lead to trouble. But Richard Hughes is just the man for the job, likely to ensure that he needs just one split from the turn. And it is not as if his will be the only marginal call of the meeting.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Youm Jamil (4.35 Chester) Reappearance third at Newbury worked very well, and he was not given too hard a race after meeting traffic. Elements of his pedigree suggest this step up in distance can end his days in maiden company.
Paddington Bob (3.40 Kelso) Radical improvement when tried over this kind of trip at Uttoxeter last time, apparently in control when discarding his rider two out. Cruelly he runs off a 9lbs higher mark here, but that may not prevent compensation.
One to watch
Genki (R Charlton) Will soon build on his Stewards' Cup success of last summer judging on his reappearance at Newmarket on Sunday, detached from the early action but rattling home fourth.
Where the money's going
Ladbrokes punters remain loyal to St Nicholas Abbey after his defeat on Saturday, backing him from 4-1 to 7-2 for the Investec Derby.Reuse content