It may take Wayne Rooney a little longer to get the point of the Roodee, having peered through a deluge to see his first-ever runner finish last in the opening race here yesterday. When his trainer warned that Pippy was "in at the deep end", the Manchester United striker could not have realised how literally that prediction might be construed. For other local heroes, however, even so soggy a first day contrived only to intensify the addiction of this meeting.
Donald McCain brought two horses up the road from Cholmondeley for the ancient handicap that distils the gorgeous, chaotic Chester carousel. One of them, Overturn, had won it last year, and in the meantime confirmed himself in public affection with a typically obstinate second in the Champion Hurdle. But the other, Ile De Re, would prove the one and only horse in the Stan James Chester Cup field still hanging in there as the top weight completed his second lap and swung into the straight.
The rest were strewn exhausted in their wake, conditions having made for an unsparing test. Proceedings had initially been delayed while a tractor hauled clear a marooned ambulance, and they did not risk stalls for the big race, which might at least have relieved some of the notorious emphasis on the draw. As it was, the start was all about the familiar alacrity of Overturn, who was soon dictating as usual and, by gradual increments, drawing his pursuers to the limit of their commitment. Harrison's Cave, last with a circuit to go, was cutting stealthily through the field but that effort had to tell and McCain knew, turning in, that his pair had it between them.
In the event, it was Ile De Re who wore down the leader to win by nearly two lengths, the pair five and then 13 lengths clear. Such were the demands of the race and, Ile De Re being a relatively recent recruit, McCain found it impossible to suppress an instinct of pity for his talisman.
"The old horse had everything else beat but did not quite get home on the ground," he said. "A lot of credit for Ile De Re must go to Ian Williams. I've only had the horse a few weeks, and he arrived looking a million dollars. But we all have a lot of affection for Overturn, and he showed again today how tough and hardy he is. He only has one way of doing things, but he's so hard to pass."
The Northumberland Plate is the obvious option for Ile De Re, while Overturn may well show up at Royal Ascot. McCain, having built up one of the top jumping yards in the land, admittedly has greater curiosity in seeing him over fences. As such he can afford to treat Flat runners even at his local carnival as something of an indulgence.
"I can't say I get the same stupid excitement as I do with a good jumper," he admitted. "But it's very satisfying. And growing up I was always a fan of these distance races."
To some, however, this place will always be the lodestar. Certainly, Dr Marwan Koukash, whose grey silks have obtained such ubiquity over the past couple of seasons, instructs all his trainers to make a priority of this meeting. Mark Johnston, her trainer, admitted that Good Morning Star would never have lined up in the Weatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks but for Koukash, who had tried to buy several other runners with a more obvious chance.
If you can't join them, however, you can always beat them. Good Morning Star lost for the seventh time in eight starts, off a mark of just 75, in a Beverley handicap last time, but somehow she was able to run down Betterbetterbetter after the favourite had seized the initiative turning in. "I had been looking for a claimer for her," Koukash said. "But she's a valuable filly now and we'll have to take her to Royal Ascot."
Whether Betterbetterbetter had faltered through inexperience, or lack of spirit, will have to be determined after her next start, but at least the race did not alter her stable's existing grip on the Investec Oaks market.
The colts take their turn in today's Epsom trial, the MBNA Chester Vase, in which all five runners are bred to appreciate a new test of stamina. Model Pupil represents a reliable firm here, and rallied auspiciously to win his maiden at the Craven meeting, but will have to be very smart to see off a strong Irish challenge. David Livingston will definitely build on his comeback spin last month but he must give 4lb to Call To Battle, whose own reappearance reiterated that he will only reach top gear over this kind of distance.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Stand To Reason (4.45 Chester) Lightly raced, well bred and in good hands, maintaining his progressive profile on his Newbury reappearance. Could prove better than this grade.
Absinthe (1.35 Chester) Has shaped well over hurdles since changing stable and, as one that travels well and enjoys cover, interesting round here on first Flat start for local trainer.
One to watch
Samminder (Peter Chapple-Hyam) Had been tried in the Middle Park at two and hinted why on his first start since, in a Listed sprint at Kempton last week, never off the bridle but trapped in traffic.
Where the money's going
Maybe is 7-2 from 6-1 with Ladbrokes for the Investec Oaks.
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