THE Chester May meeting, many people’s idea of the best fixture of the season in the North, gets under way tomorrow with a cracking card that combines quality and quantity.
It’s hard to remember an opening day at the venue with more runners.
Highlight of the day – and the week – is the StanJames.com Chester Cup.
Last year’s winner Overturn heads the field. He was a pillar-to-post winner last year, but may not find it easy to get an early-pole this time round drawn in eight.
Low numbers, even in races like the Chester Cup over two miles, two furlongs, are key.
Donald McCain’s dual-purpose star was last seen in action when finishing second to Rock On Ruby in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Eddie Ahern’s mount is the general favourite for the race and he fared much better in the draw than his main rival in the ante-post book, Gulf Of Naples, who will start from 19.
McCain is double-handed with Ile De Re, who makes his first start for the Cholmondeley handler after moving from Ian Williams.
Alan Bailey’s Barbican, who was fourth in the Sagaro Stakes at Kempton last Wednesday, is joint top-weight with Overturn.
Aidan O’Brien hasn’t declared Apache, while Mark Tompkins’ Dazinski not only sneaks in as the 17th runner but lands the plum draw in one too.
Tompkins’ other runner, Mystery Star, wasn’t so lucky with the draw as he breaks from 18, though he was third last year from a wide berth.
O’Brien relies on Harrison’s Cave (drawn 15), who will be ridden by Ryan Moore. Never Can Tell, up 7lbs following her Cesarewitch win in October, will break from six and retains her partnership with Frankie Dettori.
Fourth behind her in the Cesarewitch was Mount Athos, and he will bid to improve on his fourth in this race last year under Jamie Spencer on his first start for Luca Cumani.
Northumberland Plate winner Tominator has a prime box in two, which nudges him towards being the selection.
Roger Varian’s Shubaat is first reserve, with Kevin Ryan’s Activate second.
n Wayne and Coleen Rooney will make their debuts as owners when Pippy runs in the Manor House Stables Lily Agnes Stakes at Chester on Wednesday. The colt, a £63,600 purchase, is trained by Tom Dascombe at the Manor House Stables owned by Rooney’s Manchester United team-mate, Michael Owen, who also sponsors the race.
The colt is one of three racehorses owned by the Rooneys, all based at Owen’s Cheshire training establishment near Malpas.
The other two, Tomway and Switcharooney, are expected to have their first outings in the coming weeks, with Tomway a possible runner at Chester on Thursday.
Pippy, a son of Exceed And Excel, will be ridden by Jamie Spencer and will be joined by four stablemates in the 14-strong field.
Owen will also be hoping for Chester success this week – his Royal Ascot winner Brown Panther is expected to reappear in the Ormonde Stakes on Friday.
Betterbetterbetter will probably be all the rage for theWeatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks but that could mean a decent each-way price for Everlong, who could be well suited to the tight turns round Chester.
Bookmakers like ‘unlucky’ maidens and are apt to lay them, but the term certainly applies to Shantaram in the GL Events Owen Brown Maiden Stakes.
He has only run twice, but on each occasion has been nutted by a nose on the line, the shortest losing margin in racing.
His form is head and shoulders above anything else in the race, and his class should carry him through to victory.
However, to be drawn nine of 13 is a bit of a bugbear.