Chester owes Aidan O’Brien. It is a wonderful track in a beautiful and historic city and will never struggle to pull in a crowd, but you can only wonder what might have become of the Classic trials at its May Festival without O’Brien’s unstinting support over the last few years.
O’Brien said on Thursday that he feels young, inexperienced three-year-olds can do a great deal of learning in a single spin around the Roodee, and he sends a colt of immense promise to the Dee Stakes, a venerable race that has now slipped to Listed level but, with O’Brien’s help, might yet return to its former status as a Group 3.
To do so, the average end-of-season rating of the first four home needs to climb above 105 for three successive runnings, and O’Brien’s decision to send Cliffs Of Moher (2.25) to this year’s renewal is a big plus in that regard. Cliffs Of Moher is a 10-1 chance for the Derby after two starts as a juvenile, the second of which was a resounding five-and-a-half length victory in a maiden race at Leopardstown, and he could yet emerge as O’Brien’s leading candidate for Epsom.
The time of Cliffs Of Moher’s win was particularly impressive, but it was recorded over seven furlongs by a colt whose dam’s side pedigree contains a great deal of speed. He should be good enough to win on Friday afternoon, but if he does, the manner of his victory will be more interesting than the bare result. Whether he looks like a horse who will produce his best form over a mile-and-a-half at Epsom will be for individual punters to decide.
O’Brien took last year’s Chester Vase with US Army Ranger, who went on to finish second to Harzand in the Derby, and the same horse returns as a four-year-old this afternoon to line up for the Ormonde Stakes. Midterm, who was briefly favourite for the Derby after winning Sandown’s Classic Trial but did not win again at three, is a useful opponent but US Army Ranger should complete another double for O’Brien’s runners on the Roodee this week.
El Hayem (1.50) has the potential to be much better than his current handicap mark and should prove the point in Chester’s opening race, while Judicial (4.35) is a course-and-distance winner and put up the best performance of his career to win by a length-and-a-half at Pontefract last time out.
There are six cards in all across the country on Friday and Khafoo Shememi (7.15) is worth backing at around 6-1 to follow up a decisive success on the all-weather at Kempton Park last month when he runs at Ascot. Oh So Sassy (3.20) also catches the eye on the card at Lingfield, as she managed to finish third on her seasonal debut despite being a big drifter in the market and the two horses that finished in front of her have both registered wins since. Straightothepoint (7.05) and Al Nafoorah (7.25) also have plenty to recommend them on the evening cards at Ripon and Nottingham respectively.
Chester 1.50 El Hayem (nb) 2.25 Cliffs Of Moher 3.00 Copper Knight 3.35 US Army Ranger 4.05 Desert Rain 4.35 Judicial (nap) 4.55 Croquembouche
Lingfield Park 1.40 Kullu 2.15 Janszoon 2.45 To Wafij 3.20 Oh So Sassy 3.55 Quench Dolly 4.25 Mr Tyrrell 4.55 Buxted Dream 5.30 One Big Surprise
Ascot 5.35 Graceland 6.05 Ziarah 6.40 Glittering Jewel 7.15 Khafoo Shememi 7.50 Normandy Barriere 8.20 Yamarhaba Malayeen
Market Rasen 2.05 Sweeping Rock 2.35 Mohaayed 3.10 Destiny’s Gold 3.45 North Hill 4.15 Whitsundays 4.45 Pawn Star 5.20 Cresswell Legend
Nottingham 5.10 Enrolment 5.45 Flaming Marvel 6.15 Music Lesson 6.50 Magic City 7.25 Al Nafoorah 8.00 Lunar Jet 8.30 Virile
Ripon 6.00 Starlight Myster 6.30 Metronomic 7.05 Straighttothepoint 7.40 Sands Chorus 8.15 Rembrandt 8.45 Yalawin