Well that’s Chester’s May Festival over for another year and this week it’s the turn of York to host its first meeting of the new turf season with the three day Dante Festival starting on Wednesday.
The last week has seen Epsom Derby & Oaks trials at Chester and on Saturday at Lingfield. There has been almost too much good racing in the last week to do it justice in this brief review but before looking at this week’s eyecatchers I will look at last weeks big meetings.
Chester May Festival: US Army Ranger’s Enjoys Winning Exercise Gallop!
The Aiden O’Brien trained filly Somehow followed up her recent Leopardstown win with a performance which could be described as workmanlike when winning the Cheshire Oaks. The second and third are highly regarded by their trainers but I don’t think the winner will be taking the Oaks at Epsom not on the evidence of this run.
The highlight of Day One was the training performance by Nicky Henderson to get No Heretic to win the Chester Cup. The eight year old had run a decent race over hurdles at Newbury after over 900 days off the track and despite pulling hard in the early stages of the race he got a fine ride from Jamie Spencer and now looks to be heading for the Cesarewitch if the horse can be kept sound. I thought the second horse Nakeetta ran a really good race on his seasonal reappearance and continued the progressive form he had shown last autumn. Proved his stamina for further than 1m 6f and could well be aimed at something like the two mile Northumberland Plate
Day two saw a decisive win by Cannock Chase in the Group 3 Huxley Stakes. I suspect that this ground was as quick as he wants it but if there was to be a bit of juice in the ground at Royal Ascot he would have a decent chance in the Hardwicke Stakes which looks his next target. Later in the season you would expect him to be aimed once again at the International Stakes at Woodbine a race he won last year. Would be interesting if connections were thinking about a tilt at the Melbourne Cup? He showed that he travels well when winning in Canada and race like that would suit the five year old. The second Western Hymn showed much more here to take 2nd but he’s a much better horse on a stiffer track and he will no doubt go back to Sandown for the Brigadier Gerard Stakes.
US Army Ranger didn’t catch many eyes with his short head win from his stablemate Port Douglas in the Chester Vase. He probably wouldn’t have been suited by the slow early gallop but he had looked like he would win more easily then he did when taking it up a furlong from home. Ryan Moore didn’t give him a hard race and he would have gained plenty of racing experience from the twists and turns at Chester that will stand him in good stead for the Derby. I am sure trainer Aiden O’Brien will have been pleased with the performance and he goes to the Derby the leading Ballydoyle candidate.
The third day of the meeting is the usually the weakest in terms of quality but HM The Queen had a winner as Dartmouth won the 1m 5 1/2f Ormande Stakes. He has clearly improved over the winter and the gelding operation over the winter has certainly done the trick. Will now be going to Royal Ascot with the Hardwicke Stakes, as his likely target, rather than the Gold Cup.
Weekend Review: Aiden O’Brien in Seventh Heaven at Lingfield
The ground at Lingfield was very loose and plenty of horses wouldn’t have handled the surface. One that clearly did was the Aiden O’Brien trained filly Seventh Heaven who took the Lingfield Oaks Trial. Despite not enjoying the ground she still was too good for some highly regarded rivals. The strength of the Balloydoyle fillies means she would be a bit down the pecking order for the Oaks but this was a likeable performance from a filly that should continue to progress with racing. Wouldn’t be one to rule out easily if she was to show up at Epsom!
The Derby Trial was won by Humphrey Bogart who will have to be supplemented if he is to go to Epsom but it looks likely he will be as the owners seem keen to have a runner. Aiden O’Brien wasn’t able to add this trial as his runner Landofhopandglory could only finish. Didn’t handle the surface and looked like more of a stayer than a middle distance horse. A return to a more galloping track would also suit him. The third horse home Across The Stars could be the one to take out of the race as he was staying on nicely at the finish and looks to have improved well over the winter. Could be a possible St Leger contender? Despite the apparent weakness of the three year old colts I doubt the winner or the placed horses will be entering the winner’s enclosure after the Derby!
Over at Ascot the Godolphin owned Elite Army should a good turn of foot to take the listed Buckhounds Stakes over 1m 4f. The five year old was only having his 6th career start and hasn’t been seen on the course since running poorly on his one and only start last May. Has been gelded in the meantime and although he is clearly not the easiest horse to train he will have a good chance in what looks like will be a good renewal of the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, especially as he like quick ground and is now 2/2 over C&D.
Flash Fire made it a good day for Godolphin when taking the big handicap the Victoria Cup at 20/1. Two horses that look worth taking out of the race are Buckstay and Earth Drummer both will most likely return for the Hunt Cup at the Royal Meeting. The former’s running wasn’t suited by the slow early pace and the latter didn’t get the best of runs a furlong out but was finishing strongly to take 5th at the line.
On Sunday we saw another Epsom Derby Trial at Leopardstown with the latest running of the 1m 2f Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial. The Jim Bolger trained Moonlight Magic caused as bit of a shock when beating a couple of Aiden O’Brien trained colts in Shogun and Idaho. The latter had been fancied as an Epsom Derby contender by a few pundits and he was doing his best work at the end of the race. Will be suited by the Derby distance and if he handles Epsom’s undulations then he still will go there with an each way chance but I suspect the main Ballydoyle contender for Epsom is still US Army Ranger. The winner will also be suited by further and his sire Cape Cross has already produced a couple of Derby winners in Sea The Stars and Golden Horn. There is plenty of stamina on the dam’s side and his trainer was very upbeat about his Derby chances after the race when he told the Racing Post “The other Derby contenders have been an even bunch this year. We can go there now anyway and I don’t fear anything else in the race”.
This Weeks Eyecatchers
There are three notebook horses this week but I have also added another three tracker horses that look set to win races in the coming weeks to the software for Eyecatcher Pro subscribers. I will also be hopefully adding a few extra horses for this weeks Dante Meeting.
Wednesday May 4th
Red Verdon – Ed Dunlop – Progressed in both his starts as a two year old and the end of last year, winning his maiden at Wolverhampton back in December. The three year old almost made a winning seasonal return on his handicap debut at Doncaster only being beaten a short head at the finish. The step up to 1m 4f brought out even more improvement here as he showed what a well handicapped horse he was with this excellent win. This was only his 4th career start so his open to a lot more improvement. Jockey Ryan Moore said after the race that he didn’t really handle the track so his winning margin of 1 ¼ length underestimates his victory and he will do better when he returns to a more conventional track.
Friday May 6th
Al Khan – Kevin Ryan – Didn’t handle the soft ground at Thirsk last time, a much better horse on good or quicker ground, and it looked set up for the horse to run a big race in this 7 ½ furlong race. He wasn’t helped by draw in 10 here and had to be dropped in at the back of the field. Was travelling strongly two furlongs out at the back of the field but didn’t get the best of runs a furlong from home and by the time he got out it was too late to trouble the placed horses. The seven year old is now on winning handicap mark being 3lb lower than for his last win back in April of last year. If all the cards fall right for him he can win again when gets his favoured going and there could still be a decent handicap in the horse.
Marylebone – Ed Walker – I am a big fan of trainer comments and the horse is clearly highly regarded by his trainer. This is what he had to say about this big son of Shamardal in a recent Racing Post Stable Tour: “I think a lot of this colt and he\’s a well-handicapped horse. He\’s enormous and was really too weak as a two-year-old, but he still managed to win a decent Kempton maiden at the backend, which was terrific. He\’s been given a mark of 82 and I expect him to run a big race first time out”. In the light of the trainers comments it looks like the horse is well handicapped and I think he can win races when he is back to his best which he wasn’t here given how poor this run was. It’s too early to dismiss the horse as his trainer isn’t in the best of form at present and this was only the horse’s 3rd career start.
All that’s left is to wish you a profitable weeks betting.