By then, the Dee stakes was an established race, and today sees the 200th anniversary of its first running. Named after the river Dee, which runs alongside Chester racecourse, the distance horses have to cover has risen and fallen over the years as inexorably as the tide close by. And like the tide, there are parameters; the race has never been run over shorter than 1 mile two furlongs and ten yards or further than one mile four furlongs and 53 yards.
During the 30 years or so from 1970 onwards, the first thing you did when you were looking for the winner was to see what Barry Hills had entered. He won the race 11 times, providing a reliable source of return for those taking on the bookmakers, starting with Golden Monad in 1970 and rounding off with Sohaib in 2002. That wasn’t all the family interest in the race; sons Richard (twice) and Michael (four times) rode the winner.
The status of the race has fluctuated between Listed and Group 3 level since the Pattern introduction of the Pattern in 1971. Then it was designated Group 3, before it was downgraded in 1988. The race was granted Group 3 level again in 2003, but that is again under threat.
The race is one of ten in the European Pattern in which the ratings of the first four home in the past two seasons have fallen below the level required for Group 3 races. That is set as an average end of season rating of 105. Whilst none of today’s field has yet run to that level, three of them, Contributor, Holy Warrior and Willie The Whipper are within 6lb of it, so there’s plenty of scope for enough improvement to reach that level.
Clerk of the course at Chester, Andrew Morris, said, “It’s a race with a rich history and one we put a lot of prize money into. As a Derby trial it’s always in danger of having a small field. If you look at last year’s field you had one very good horse in Astrology, who came third in the Derby, and three who equally haven’t made the rating. It is a trial after all and the top horses are probably not keen to run against each other. It’s very important from our point of view and is something we are very keen to maintain.”
He’ll be looking with more interest than most at how today's winner Magician, Contributor, Glacial Age and Willie The Whipper get on during the rest of the season.