Ted's Vase victory spreads undisguised joy

Surprise Derby trial winner sparks celebrations for 'mystery' owners and books his Epsom ticket
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The Independent Online

It seems safe to assume that the threshold reached by Michael Hills before racing yesterday, when he was mortified to fail a breathalyser, was soon left far behind by almost everyone else here.

For while the weather conspired somewhat against the Ladies' Day crowd, there was much besides to warm the cockles – both on and off the track. And while few imagined they had seen a potential Epsom winner, in Ted Spread, the celebrations of his owners served as a fine rebuke to any who might demand the best of all possible worlds. To most present, rain or shine, this one would do just fine.

They have been racing round here since 1539, and the May carnival remains recognisably redolent of a medieval fair. The ladies hobble delicately down the cobbled lanes in the morning, and sway home in the evening carrying their heels. The intoxication need not be literal, of course, though it was fairly sadistic of the authorities to stage a breath test at this of all meetings.

To Hills, Chester has long been more than a merely professional engagement. His father, Barry, has always targeted prizes at this meeting for the horses in his stable, and many regulars look no further down the racecard than runners representing the clan.

On the first night of the meeting, Hills Jnr had enjoyed a few drinks with his twin brother, Richard, also riding here. But while Richard apparently enjoyed a hearty breakfast, Michael was obliged to pay for his indulgence with a sweat – a routine privation in the life of jockeys. The result was a costly disparity in their tests.

Louise Williams, representing the stewards, stressed that Michael's failure had been "only very marginal – the very bottom of the bottom limit". But they were left with no choice but to stand him down for the day. As a senior rider, Hills was suitably dismayed. "I had a couple of glasses of wine last night and headed to bed at the same time as Richard, at 11pm," he said. "The limit is 17mg, and I read exactly that. I couldn't believe it. I would have been fine 15 minutes later. I had a sweat in the bath this morning, and really didn't think it would be a problem. But it has stayed in my system and that's that. I just feel so embarrassed."

In the event, Hills did not miss a great deal in surrendering his mounts to his brother. They included leading fancies for both the day's biggest races, but these beat just one between them. Instead the toast of the MBNA Chester Vase was Ted Spread, who rallied gamely in the straight to see off Icon Dream by a head, the pair well clear.

Mark Tompkins, his trainer, admits that Ted Spread's most realistic chance of a Classic will come in the Ladbrokes St Leger, but is disposed to proceed to the Investec Derby, for which he was introduced at 40-1 by Coral. The uninhibited celebrations of the colt's owners contrasted with their discreet registration as the False Nose '*Glasses Partnership. "I don't think they wanted their wives to find out that they'd gone into another horse," Tompkins explained.

Some candour will be required when they step out in morning coats on 5 June. "Epsom's a dream and the boys will be keen to go," Tompkins added. "But I've always thought him a Leger horse and would normally have taken him to the Lingfield trial on Saturday. It was only the ground that brought us here instead, and he wouldn't run at Epsom if it were fast."

Rocket Man, a gorgeous colt from Ballydoyle, never landed a blow as favourite and so far his stable is making none of the impact on the Epsom trials it managed last year. Today it is represented in the Addleshaw Goddard Dee Stakes by Encompassing, who only broke his maiden at the fourth attempt and must improve now that he steps up in trip.

Azmeel looked in need of further still, when drawing five lengths clear in pursuit of Chabal on their reappearance over 10 furlongs at Sandown, and perhaps it is worth taking a chance with Taamathul (2.15). He has a lot to find strictly on the ratings, having been beaten in a handicap at the Craven meeting, but he shaped really well that day and it looks significant that Hills Snr has fast-tracked him here for a race he has won on numerous occasions.

The meeting's final Group race, the Boodles Diamond Ormonde Stakes, brings together two horses whose truncated campaigns last year leave them lots of scope for progress. Harbinger (2.45) is preferred to Age Of Aquarius only because he has already begun that process, but further rain might take him to the limit of his stamina. By the end of the day, of course, there will be plenty of others who can identify with that feeling.

Turf account

Chris Mcgrath's Nap

Jedi (5.05 Chester) Caught the eye on his reappearance, suggesting a gelding operation during the winter may allow him to fulfil promise he showed last year.

Next best

Falasteen (3.15 Chester) Contributed to his trainer's prolific spring on his first start since changing stable and likely to prove better again dropped to this trip.

One to watch

Moynahan (P F I Cole) suggested he will exploit a dwindling rating when best of those held up at Kempton on Monday.

Where the money's going

Rumoush is 8-1 from 10-1 with Paddy Power for the Investec Oaks.