With Epsom on the horizon all eyes turn from the Guineas meeting to the Derby and Oaks trials. Chester’s May Festival represents one of the first opportunities for potential contenders to highlight their credentials, with the unique, tight, turning track somewhat similar to the task which await runners and riders at Epsom.
The bar has been set for the Derby by Saxon Warrior, following his impressive 2000 Guineas win, while Lah Ti Dar jumped to the head of the market in a more open Oaks field.
Last year’s Derby and Oaks winners were both seen at Chester, though only one in the winner’s enclosure - eventual Derby winner Wings of Eagles could only finish second behind stablemate Venice Beach in the Chester Vase. The outstanding Enable on the other hand, won the Cheshire Oaks, before going on to win the Irish Oaks, the King George, the Yorkshire Oaks and the Arc.
The 2018 Cheshire Oaks was won by Ballydoyle’s Magic Wand, who rates on a par with recent winners without being up to the standard set by Enable. She had quite a lot to find on bare form (81p pre-race), but it was clear she was Ballydoyle’s first string, with Ryan Moore onboard.
Moore, the world’s best jockey, was able to dictate a steady pace, highlighted by a much faster than par final two furlong finishing speed of 106.8%, resulting in a comfortable win and a timefigure of 93.
She did earn a 4 lb upgrade for finishing fast, and possibly could have finished faster still, but with the race won, the need to run faster wasn’t there. It’ll take more improvement from her if she’s to make an impact in the Oaks.
The previous five renewals of the Chester Vase had all been won by Aidan O’Brien and Ryan Moore, but their Hunting Horn could only finish third this year, behind Young Rascal and Dee Ex Bee. The pace was more honest than in the Cheshire Oaks, with a race finishing speed of 101.8% and a solid timefigure of 113.
The front two raced in midfield, and were around four lengths down two furlongs from home, before making their challenge wide, and earning small 1 lb sectional upgrades. Dee Ex Bee was last seen in a trial at Epsom won by Crossed Baton, where sectionals marked him out as a horse of interest. He improved again here, and still looks to have some more to come, possibly on more galloping tracks.
Young Rascal, stepping up in grade following an impressive win at Newbury last month, won with a bit in hand. He’s worth his place in the Derby and it would be a surprise if he were not capable of better, though he will need to be in a much stronger race.
While the 113 timefigure compares favourably with other Epsom contenders, with only Gustav Klimt recording a better timefigure, they have a fair bit to find to be competitive in the Derby.
The Dee Stakes on Day Two was won by Rostropovich (already a Group 2 winner as a two year old), who travelled strongly before running out an easy winner. The race was run at a fair gallop, with the final two furlong finishing speed close to par, but returning a timefigure of just 83.
Idaho faced a straightforward task in the Group 3 Ormonde, and duly obliged with the focus now on winning his first Group 1 - the Coronation Cup was mooted as a possible target.
Fast conditions and a strong pace set by eventual second Dragons Tail helped Another Batt record a fast time in race three, the seven-furlong handicap. The timefigure was 111, the third highest over the three days at Chester, however, conditions were conducive to a fast time, with the first five all racing over the fresh strip of ground near the rail.
The best timefigure (124) over the three days, and also a season leading timefigure, was recorded by Kachy, who obliterated his rivals from start to finish under just hands and heels in a minor event over the minimum trip. Quickly away from a wide draw to make all, he travelled strongly before drawing clear to win by nine lengths.
#RUKMomentOfTheDay: Finally a @ChesterRaces winner for @TomDascombe as classy sprinter Kachy coasts nine lengths clear— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) May 11, 2018
Watch all the finishes for free in our results & replay section https://t.co/7iJOPsvjqx pic.twitter.com/44DZtjz3KA
Kachy now boasts the two best timefigures of 2018, with his win at Lingfield in January worth 123. He looks a more controlled horse these days which augurs well for his return to a straight course, with the Temple Stakes potentially his next port of call, a race in which he was fifth last year.
Earlier on Day Three, the Huxley Stakes was won by Forest Ranger (timefigure of 108), with 8/13 favourite Eminent disappointing on his return from an eight-month absence. That should take nothing away from the winner, who has improved on both starts this season, with connections nominating the Eclipse as his target, where further improvement would be needed to win.
The Chester Cup was won by Magic Circle, on his first outing for Ian Williams since leaving Ralph Beckett, to give his owner a fourth win in the race. The pace was on the steady side, with the winner running the final two furlongs in 23.60 and a finishing speed of 110.4% (much faster than par). The timefigure was 104, some way below the performance rating (118), but an upgrade of 10 lb marks the Magic Circle out as a horse to be interested in going forwards.