The Chester May Meeting always seems to be the real turning point in the year for me, it’s the signal that flat racing is in full swing and summer is on the way. We’ve gone straight from the Guineas into the first set of Derby trials in England and for the next few weeks things continue at the same pace with the Lingfield Derby Trial, the first big York meeting featuring the Dante, then the Lockinge at Newbury and before we know it the Oaks and Derby are upon us, quickly followed by Royal Ascot.
The Chester meeting kicks off today with a fairly decent card featuring some intriguing handicaps and the Oaks trial, amongst others, but the obvious highlight is the headline race of the meeting The Chester Cup and that’s where we’re going to focus.
The Chester Cup
The first big staying handicap of the year on the flat reads a bit differently to the other big races in the division through the season due to the unique nature of the Chester course. Despite the race being run over a marathon 2 ¼ miles, draw and position play such an important role.
As with any race at the course a wide draw massively reduces your chances; get stuck out wide and you end up travelling that much further through the race but tuck-in at the back to secure a position on the rail and you end up having to pass a wall of horses on a course with little room for manoeuvre. It’s not to say that a wide draw is impossible to win from but a low draw is a massive advantage with 60% of winners in the last ten years coming from stall five or lower and 60% of all placed horses coming from single figure draws. It is of course possible to win from a wide draw but it makes it that much tougher and you need a lot of things to fall your way to succeed.
Anyway, moving on to this year’s race and our selection for the big race. There are a number of horses of interest with a number of potential improvers in the line-up who could be well handicapped. The current favourites definitely fall into that category.
Blakeney Point is current favourite and sneaks in at the foot of the weights; he has an ideal draw in stall one and has made steady improvement since stepping up to staying trips. There certainly looks to be more left in the tank but this is much more competitive and he will need to continue that progress to have a chance here.
The second favourite, Who Dares Wins, has come in for plenty of support and you can see why. He is a decent hurdler, most recently finishing third in the Coral Cup so he won’t mind the hustle and bustle of this race and has shown good form on the flat, even winning at the course. This has apparently been the long-term aim, he has a single figure draw and is towards the foot of the weights so must have a chance.
Our selection, however, is towards the opposite end of the handicap. WATERSMEET won’t have as much scope for potential improvement as others in the field but there is method behind our reasoning here. On the go through the winter, highlighted by a second place finish in the All Weather Finals, he comes here race fit and races off 5lb lower than his all-weather mark. Therefore he doesn’t necessarily need to improve to stand a chance here, he just needs to run to the ability we’ve seen under different conditions. There is no guarantee of that of course and he has typically been better on the all-weather, but his trainer has his horses in good form, he has a nice draw in stall six and few jockeys ride Chester better than his pilot Franny Norton. He has a chance and could even be backed each way with 10/1 on offer in places.
Other contenders who have their chances but have been overlook here include Golden Spear, The Cashel Man and Sea Of Heaven. Golden Spear represents Tony Martin whose horses are typically overbet so he looks a bit too short for me given what he has shown, The Cashel Man has good staying form and should go close but might just find one or two too good for win purposes and Sea Of Heaven represents the in-form Sir Mark Prescott and looks nicely handicapped but is just drawn too wide to have confidence.
Other Races of Interest on the Card
Cheshire Oaks: This looks to be a match-up between Aiden O’Brien with Alluringly and John Gosden with Enable. Preference is for Alluringly given her trainer’s fantastic record in the race.
Sporting Index Handicap (4:05): The John Gosden contender Stradivarius is of real interest here. Despite being top weight he has the potential to be much better than a handicapper and can take this before moving up in class. Teodoro could also be interesting at the bottom of the weights; he won with something in hand last week, could have plenty of improvement left after being gelded and the Dascombe stable do like to target this meeting, so I’d expect him to give the Gosden favourite most to worry about.