El Astronaute rockets home for Chester hat-trick

El Astronaute blitzed his rivals to claim a third win at Chester in the Boodles Conditions Stakes.

John Quinn’s popular speedball brought a tremendous course record back to the Roodee, having never finished out of the first three in six previous visits.

While he has previously had issues with the starting stalls, the eight-year-old went in first time on this occasion under Jason Hart – and flew out when the gates opened to put his rivals on the back foot from the off.

Both King’s Lynn, the 11-10 favourite in the colours of the Queen, and Ainsdale were closing on El Astronaute as the post loomed, but the leader hung on by three-quarters of a length to seal his 14th career success.

Quinn did not make the trip to Chester, but said from home: “We’re delighted – he’s a legend of a horse.

“He hasn’t lost any pace and he went in the ground. He might like it a bit better, but he’s a very commendable and brilliant horse.

“His record of wins to runs and places to runs is incredible and he looks to be as good as ever, which is phenomenal for an eight-year-old.”

Considering future plans, the trainer added: “We said we’d see how he got on today, so we’ll keep our options open.

“Travel is difficult at the moment, but he’s a great horse to travel – he’s won in Ireland and he’s won in France.

“I’d want my own team to travel with him, though, so we’ll campaign him in England for the time being.

“He takes his racing terribly well, so I’m sure he’ll be out again in May.”

Grove Ferry enjoyed a charmed run through the field to win the tote+ Placepots Pay More Earl Grosvenor Handicap.

Grove Ferry (right) wins the opening race at Chester on Thursday
Grove Ferry (right) wins the opening race at Chester on Thursday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Andrew Balding’s four-year-old was quietly fancied for the Lincoln having tuned up for that with a win on the all-weather, but he failed to cut much ice in that race.

David Probert only had two behind him as the field turned into the short straight and while it looked clear Grove Ferry was still going well, it was a question of whether he would find a clear passage.

The splits came at just the right time, though, and the 5-1 chance collared Dulas inside the final 100 yards to win going away by three-quarters of a length with Kyrnen, who was last turning in, back in third.

“He did most things wrong. He missed the break and that is normally the end of it considering I had a very good draw, nothing went right in the first part of the race,” said Probert.

“I managed to latch on to something at the back that was travelling well and then I got a nice split, but I think it helped they got racing a long way out.

“He seemed to relish the ground and his hit the line really well. He’s an improving type.

Dark Pine lunged late to claim top honours in the Retraining Of Racehorses Handicap for trainer David Loughnane and jockey Laura Pearson.

Fox Tal (7-2) looked to have done enough to reward favourite backers entering the last half-furlong, but he was ultimately unable to resist the thrust of the 16-1 winner under his 5lb claimer, with a neck separating the pair at the line.

It was a first ride and first winner at Chester for Pearson, who said: “I probably had the easiest run of the lot as I was out the back and out of trouble.

“I really enjoyed riding here, obviously it’s sharp, but I hope that strike-rate continues.

“I can’t believe I beat Silvestre (de Sousa) in a finish, I’m still pinching myself.”

A first ride at Chester and a winner for Laura Pearson on Dark Pine
A first ride at Chester and a winner for Laura Pearson on Dark Pine (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The Chester Plate, a consolation race for the Chester Cup, went the way of a rare Venetia Williams-trained Flat runner in Green Book (5-1) who made all under Franny Norton.

Norton, riding his third winner of the meeting, said: “I’ve been round here that many times, but when I looked over my shoulder I thought I’d gone a lap too soon.

“The good thing about riding for Venetia today was there were no instructions, she told me I’d know what to do. It wasn’t the plan to make the running, but he had 8st 6lb and when they let me control it I thought I’d take it with both hands.

“He was on the wrong leg going down to back but he couldn’t have done it any better, I don’t know where they’ve been hiding him because he was a maiden as well!”

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