Aidan O’Brien fielded three runners in his bid to win a sixth consecutive Chester Vase but his stranglehold was broken by Young Rascal (116p from 101p) who improved considerably on his impressive maiden win at Newbury last month. He had to overcome some trouble in running and was value for more than the half-length he had to spare at the line over Dee Ex Bee (111p from 102p). The William Haggas-trained winner showed an excellent attitude and he’s improving in leaps and bounds, looking well worth his place in the Derby field. Runner-up Dee Ex Bee has had more racing for Mark Johnston, but increasing tests of stamina are bringing out improvement in him and he gives the impression a more galloping track would suit.
O’Brien had the odds-on Kew Gardens in Lingfield’s Derby Trial but he was turned over by one of his less-exposed rivals in the Harry Dunlop-trained Knight To Behold (113p from 97p) who received an excellent ride from Richard Kingscote. The son of Sea The Stars will have plenty more improvement to find at Epsom, but he has a similar profile to Young Rascal and he too won’t lack for stamina.
Ballydoyle were out of luck at home, too, in the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial at Leopardstown where places were the best that Delano Roosevelt and The Pentagon (ratings unchanged on 113p and 114p respectively) could manage. However, the race threw up another Epsom contender in 16/1 winner Hazapour (114p from 96p) who made an impressive reappearance to win with more authority than margins of three-quarters of a length and a neck would suggest. He’s out of a half-sister to Harzand who won the Derby for his connections Dermot Weld and the Aga Khan two years ago.
O’Brien wasn’t entirely empty-handed in the week’s Derby trials as Rostropovich (111 from 101) showed improved form to win the Dee Stakes at Chester, though he makes less appeal for Epsom and wouldn’t be certain to stay another couple of furlongs.
Rostropovich had made his reappearance in France, and if he goes for the Prix du Jockey Club instead, he’s likely to meet Olmedo (118 from 116) again who won the Poule d’Essai des Poulains at Longchamp on Sunday and heads next to Chantilly in a bid to complete the French Guineas-Derby double which his trainer Jean-Claude Rouget completed with Brametot last year. James Tate’s decision to miss the 2000 Guineas and go for the French equivalent instead almost paid off with Hey Gaman (117 from 109) running his best race to be beaten a neck in second.
Ballydoyle’s fillies fared better, with Bye Bye Baby (110p from 102p) landing the Blue Wind Stakes at the Curragh – not the first time she’s won in heavy ground – and Magic Wand (102p from 81p) making all in the Cheshire Oaks, both showing plenty of improvement on their second starts of the season. Magic Wand is learning fast, and while it’s asking a lot for her to follow in the footsteps of last year’s Cheshire Oaks winner Enable, she’s a close relative of the Irish Oaks winner Chicquita.
Lingfield’s Oaks Trial was contested by a field of unexposed fillies, and while the form might not be anywhere near Oaks standard, the first two, Perfect Clarity (103p from 83p) and Cecchini (101p from 87p), had each won their only previous starts last year and can only improve for Clive Cox and Ralph Beckett respectively, the winner being a daughter of Enable’s sire Nathaniel.
There was a blanket finish to the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches in which the David Simcock-trained Teppal (113p from 93p) emerged the short-neck winner to keep her unbeaten record, though she was better placed than several who finished close behind her. Among them, Andre Fabre’s Wind Chimes (114 from 103) looked an unlucky loser, finishing best of all for third having had to race in rear for a long way from her wide draw.
Unusually, one of the best performances of the week came in a minor event when the Tom Dascombe-trained sprinter Kachy (123+ from 121) stormed to a nine-length success over the minimum trip at Chester. His only defeat in four starts this year came on All-Weather Finals day at Lingfield, and the winner of that contest, French colt City Light became the sixth next-time-out winner from that race when easily winning the Prix de Saint-Georges at Longchamp on Sunday. City Light didn’t need to improve to win that Group 3, but he’s now rated 124 to keep him ahead of Kachy.
Last month’s Earl of Sefton winner Forest Ranger (121 from 119) confirmed himself an improved performer by following up in the Huxley Stakes at Chester, while Tabarrak (119 from 117) looks ready for another crack at pattern company after winning the third listed race of his career when successful over seven furlongs at Haydock.
There were some smart efforts, too, in the week’s big handicaps. Magic Circle (118 from 111) put up a career-best on his first start for Ian Williams when forging clear to win the Chester Cup by six lengths. Last year’s Royal Hunt Cup winner Zhui Feng (117 from 114) wasn’t quite able to add the Victoria Cup to that success back at Ascot under top weight but finished placed for the second year, headed only late on by bottom-weight Rip Orff (95 from 94) to whom he was conceding 23 lb.