Overturn and Ahern run rings round rivals
As though provoked by the sudden, impudent opposition of the Punchestown Festival, this place pulled out all the stops yesterday. The Roodee spread out lazily beneath the sunshine, its gorgeous crush of humanity cooled by a breeze curling between the river and Chester's city wall. Out on the track, meanwhile, a filly from Ireland volunteered herself as a highly plausible Classic winner, and a trainer from just down the road achieved genuine distinction even in the oldest racecourse annals in the land. These, compounding all the benedictions since 1539, made it hard to imagine that anyone might rather be anywhere else on the Turf.
As it happens, the success of Overturn in the Totesport Chester Cup will have been warmly received over at Punchestown, as well. For one thing, this horse is already esteemed as a proficient hurdler. For all his merits, however, the principal toast remained Donald McCain, still celebrating the success of Ballabriggs in the John Smith's Grand National. Having learnt his trade not only with his father, Ginger, but also with Luca Cumani in Newmarket, McCain knows enough of Flat racing to cherish this venerable prize as the most practicable complement to what he did at Aintree. Any trainer from these parts would be proud to win the North-west's most competitive handicaps, on the Flat and over jumps respectively, in the course of an entire career – never mind in barely a month.
It was fitting, in the circumstances, that Overturn should have been ridden by Eddie Ahern. Those who have seen him out hunting know that Ahern is a jump jockey manqué, but at his best he is a genuine artist in this sphere. Drawn next to the rail on a game front-runner, he was always going to be hard to pass. And while questions might be asked of those in behind, who allowed Ahern and another good judge of pace, Richard Hills, to open a clear lead on two of the favourites, McCain brought the unvarnished precepts of his principal calling to the winner's enclosure. Asked to salute Ahern's control of the "sectionals", he raised an eyebrow in self-parody.
"I wouldn't know anything about that," he said. "With this horse, you don't need to think about breathers. He just gallops. You just jump off, loose off and keep him going. If we were going to do it, we were going to have a right good stab at it. And if it didn't come off, so be it." Had it not come off, in fact, he would have schooled Overturn over fences. A special mention is meanwhile due to Tastahil, who had also finished second under top weight the previous year, when nothing like so well drawn.
Tastahil's trainer, Barry Hills, probably surpasses any local in his love for this meeting, but again had to settle for second in the Weatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks. Another of his sons, Michael, gave Blaise Chorus another copybook Chester ride to leave all bar one of her pursuers suddenly treading water when breaking clear into the home turn. The exception, however, proved a class apart. Wonder Of Wonders had won her maiden, at the third attempt, only six days previously, but she has long been rated a smart one at Ballydoyle. With plenty still to find in the brief straight, she cut down Blaise Chorus with a sweeping run under Ryan Moore to win by a length, going away.
By Kingmambo out of a sister to Galileo – and, therefore, a half-sister to Sea The Stars – Wonder Of Wonders looks eligible to bear further Classic fruit for her family tree. Quotes of 10-1 for the Investec Oaks look quite attractive, when you think about the way Aidan O'Brien got Peeping Fawn rolling out of maidens four years ago. And this dizzy circuit was the perfect place to prepare such a tall, scopey filly for the contours of Epsom.
Today O'Brien sends the lightly raced Await The Dawn, nine-length winner in a similar grade last autumn, over for the Betfair Huxley Stakes. He could yet prove top-class, but there remains a suspicion that his stablemate Treasure Beach, in the MBNA Chester Vase, is operating primarily as a marker for the likes of Seville. Nathaniel, who split Frankel and Genius Beast on his debut last year, will be tough to beat.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Lexi's Hero (4.35 Chester) Improved on return when burning off rival front-runners up the hill at Pontefract, only to be mugged close home. He should adore this track.
Captain Bertie (1.45 Chester) Concern that this may come a bit soon after his reappearance, but is 8lb ahead of his new rating after a close second to an improver in the Esher Cup.
One to watch
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