St Mawes to expose flaws in Vase rivals

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The Independent Online
Historians may point to their roads, elegant mosaics and central- heating systems, but most racing followers can suggest another example of the intelligence of the Romans. Two thousand years ago, the invaders clearly appreciated the potential of Chester's Roodeye to be the site of Britain's most attractive Flat racecourse, and once again we have reached that week in May when most of us give thanks for their foresight.

Not everyone likes Chester, of course. There are those who believe that its tight, almost circular shape puts too many horses at a disadvantage, such as those who are drawn on the outside in double-figure fields. That they are almost certainly the same people who truly enjoy watching racing on the bleak expanse of Newmarket's Rowley Mile is all that need be said about the anti-Roodeye point-of-view. Smart racegoers know that while Chester's May meeting may not be the most prestigious or profitable of the Flat season, it is definitely a contender for the most enjoyable.

Nor will there be any shortage of useful animals on show this week, with today's Chester Vase a case in point. Its role as a serious Derby trial is open to question - since Shergar in 1981, no horse has completed the Chester-Epsom double - but several of its winners have gone on to other Group One successes, including Luso, who prevailed 12 months ago, Toulon, Old Vic, Law Society and Belmez, who beat the subsequent Derby winner Quest For Fame in the Vase six years ago.

That memory will be particularly strong this afternoon, when Air Quest, Quest For Fame's full brother, sets out to justify the run in the ante- post market which has seen him backed down to 14-1 for the Derby. That is desperately short for a colt who has just one previous outing to his credit, but also a measure of the deep impression his five-length defeat of Set Adrift in a Newbury maiden made on those who witnessed it.

An impression, though, is also what Air Quest's hooves were making in the turf that day, and there must be some doubt whether Roger Charlton's colt, who has a very rounded action, will be equally at home on today's surface which is expected to ride on the fast side of good.

For certain, it is not worth chancing at a short price, and ST MAWES (nap 3.10) is an appealing alternative. John Dunlop's colt showed considerable improvement to finish second to Storm Trooper in the Feilden Stakes, and although the latter did nothing to frank the form in the 2,000 Guineas on Saturday, he raced throughout the Classic on the unfavourable middle ground. St Mawes can demonstrate this afternoon that both he and Storm Trooper will be significant forces among this year's Classic generation.

As ever, Peter Chapple-Hyam and Barry Hills, Robert Sangster's principal trainers, will have prepared a few runners for this meeting, and Sangster should enjoy a double in the first two races. Neither Carmine Lake or Legal Right will be at an attractive price, however, and punters looking for value would do better to wait for Kazimiera (next best 3.40) and Pride Of Brixton (4.40). Both are in good form and have the ideal Chester draw, close to the rail but not against it, where anything but a lightning-fast start can spell disaster.

Chapple-Hyam made a winning start to Chester week yesterday when Camporese, an Oaks entry, ran out the nine-length winner of Haydock's maiden. A trip to Epsom is now a distinct possibility.

Camporese's owner, the tax-exiled former bookmaker Michael Tabor, unleashed another useful prospect at Kempton in Dr Massini, a Sadler's Wells colt who holds the Derby entry. The horses attracting ante-post money for Epsom, though, were Saturday's winner Dushyantor and King Alex, a stablemate of Air Quest in Roger Charlton's yard.