Rooney may not score but Chester is always a winner
For all the delights that qualify the next three afternoons at Chester as a defining ritual of the British Turf, it must be admitted that the city's racecourse was not especially designed with rain in mind. But then nor was it obviously designed for horseracing, either, this dizzy circuit crammed between the city walls and the River Dee – and that does not stop it being a roaring success.
It will take more than soft ground, then, or the forecast of further rain, to quench the enthusiasm of the crowd today. On their agenda, after all, is one of the most venerable handicaps in the calendar, not to mention a new venture for a couple whose celebrity is a rather more contemporary phenomenon.
Thus the pristine pink-and-white silks of Mr and Mrs W Rooney make their first appearance, when a colt named Pippy lines up for the opening race. Sir Alex Ferguson traditionally indulges his squad with a day at this meeting and Michael Owen, who surpasses the Manchester United manager in his interest, has persuaded Wayne Rooney to invest in three two-year-olds trained locally by Tom Dascombe.
Owen is one of Dascombe's landlords, and they shared a breakthrough last year when Brown Panther won at Royal Ascot. Their Manor House Stables make a priority of this meeting, as evinced by sponsorship of the Lily Agnes Stakes – in which Pippy makes his debut.
By Exceed And Excel, out of a dam related to the record-breaking Goldikova, Pippy is bred to be sharp, and galloped with sufficient zest at the breeze-up sales last month to change hands for £60,000. But his lack of experience is an issue against previous winners, over a turning five furlongs.
"He's quite a nice little horse, but we're obviously throwing him in at the deep end," Dascombe said. "The draw is obviously all important, and he isn't drawn badly [in stall five]. If he doesn't win, I'm sure he'll win a maiden in the not-too-distant future."
The Rooneys have another colt, Tomway, in a maiden on tomorrow's card, while Brown Panther makes his reappearance on Friday. Now rated 116, he won a handicap on the opening day here last year off just 73, so it is safe to assume that any well treated horses in Dascombe's care will again have been primed, it at all possible, for this week.
He has not been able to muster one for the Stan James Chester Cup itself, where top billing clearly belongs to Overturn. Though Eddie Ahern admittedly made the most of a rails draw last year, with an immaculate ride from the front, his mount has since reiterated his status as one of the gamest horses in training by finishing second in the Champion Hurdle. Though top weight in theory makes things rather harder this time round, he is actually only 7lb higher in the ratings and has a reasonable draw.
That has often proved crucial even at this distance, two and a quarter miles, but it is possible that softer ground than usual may thin the field out early and cut traffic problems. It is safe to say that you would be offered much shorter odds against Harrison's Cave but for his wide draw (see Turf Account, below).
His trainer, Aidan O'Brien, also attempts to tighten his grip on the Epsom Classics through Betterbetterbetter in the Weatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks, though Zaina's maiden form has proved very strong.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Harrison's Cave (2.35 Chester) Loves cut in the ground, unexposed at this kind of distance, and should be primed after a promising reappearance.
Noble Storm (4.15 Chester) Has the early speed to exploit a low draw here and proven on soft, too.
One to watch
Terdaad (Saeed Bin Suroor) Needed only one more stride on his comeback at Kempton on Monday, the winner having stolen a march.
Where the money's going
Bonfire is 10-1 from 16-1 for the Investec Derby with William Hill ahead of his trial in the Stobart Barristers Dee Stakes at Chester on Friday.
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