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Dettori rises to the occasion with Chester Cup masterclass

He may be 50 and by his own admission only motivated by the big occasions these days – but Frankie Dettori proved again that when it matters there are not many better as he plotted a route to tote+ Chester Cup glory on Falcon Eight.

The Dermot Weld-trained top-weight was slowly away, meaning Dettori was faced with the conundrum of taking his medicine at the back of the pack or rushing up around the outside.

He decided to drop in to save ground and it proved an inspired move, although it also helped that when push came to shove with half a mile to run he was sat on the best horse.

Dettori had ridden Falcon Eight – who hails from an illustrious Moyglare Stud family – to win at Sandown two years ago and also rode him later that year in the Prix du Cadran. That knowledge certainly helped as he knew when to press the button.

“I had to go to Plan C. I know he’s not the fastest away and they went fast, so I just thought ‘well, I’ve got to take it’,” he said.

“The pace was honest throughout, but I was able to take a pull and I saved ground by going all the way to the back. When we got to three and a half (furlongs) out I peeled off and went two or three wide.

“I was able to sling shot around the turn and in fairness he picked up. I know he was lumping 9st 10lb, but he is a Group horse really.”

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It was that manoeuvre that won him the race. Dettori found himself in the clear and with over a furlong to run the result looked inevitable, as Falcon Eight powered down the centre of the track.

“He was so much on top at the finish Dettori was able to coast over the line, winning by two lengths.

Weld does not make a habit of booking the Italian, but when he does it is a tip in itself.

“Dermot always had this race in mind – he booked me three weeks ago – and he’s a master at these kind of things. He made my life easy,” said Dettori.

“It’s a bit like Australian racing with its short straight here, because you are on a stayer, you’ve got to get them going early between the three and the two.

“In fairness this horse can be lazy at times, but today he’s shown a good turn of foot. Maybe the headgear worked, but he’s a different horse to the one I rode in the past.”

Weld was not on the Roodee to elaborate on plans, but Falcon Eight’s days in handicaps are surely over having defied a mark of 104, meaning a step back up in class looks inevitable.

Falcon Eight swooped down the centre to win going away
Falcon Eight swooped down the centre to win going away (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He won a Listed race (at Sandown), but maybe we over-faced him too quickly after that by running in the Prix du Cadran and races like that, but he’s matured now and he’s worth another go in some Group races,” said Dettori.

“I’m sure Mr Weld has plenty of good plans for him.”

Incredibly it was exactly 30 years since Dettori last won the Chester Cup, on Star Player in 1991. And the importance of such races are not lost on him.

He said: “I don’t remember it (first Chester Cup) – I hope I don’t have to wait another 30 years!

“It’s so hard to win these races. We all have plans but with so many runners on a tight track, you have to readjust. I just had to let the race unfold.

“The only thing I was worried about was that I had so many horses to pass, but the pace was honest throughout and I was able to make a move going past the four-pole.

“He can be very lazy at times and I thought if he hit one of his flat spots it will be hard to get him going in this short straight, but in fairness, he did pick up well today and I always had the race won from one out.

“I was saving ground until about half a mile out, but I started to make a move and then three out I thought ‘right, we’ve got to go now, we’ve got to get going’.

“I got some momentum going at the top of the bank and when we sling-shotted down.”

He makes it all sound so easy.

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.

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“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!”

Falcon swoops in Chester Cup under inspired Dettori

Frankie Dettori ended a 30-year wait for his second victory in the tote+ Chester Cup aboard Dermot Weld’s Irish challenger Falcon Eight.

Out of the same mare that produced the top-class Free Eagle and dual Irish St Leger heroine Search For A Song, Falcon Eight was a 15-2 chance as he made his handicap debut under top-weight on the Roodee.

Dettori, who won the 1991 Chester Cup aboard Star Player, produced a typically well-executed ride aboard the Moyglare Stud Farm-owned six-year-old – keeping his powder dry in midfield for much of the two-and-a-quarter-mile feature.

The popular Italian allowed his mount to make inroads ahead of the home turn before switching wide, after which Falcon Eight powered up the straight to win comfortably by two lengths.

The Grand Visir filed the runner-up spot, with Hochfeld third and Coeur De Lion fourth.

Dettori said: “I had to go to Plan C. I know he’s not the fastest away and they went fast, so I just thought ‘well, I’ve got to take it’.

“The pace was honest throughout, but I was able to take a pull and I saved ground by going all the way to the back. When we got to three and a half (furlongs) out I peeled off and went two or three wide.

“I was able to sling shot around the turn and in fairness he picked up. I know he was lumping 9st 10lb, but he is a Group horse really.

“Dermot always had this race in mind – he booked me three weeks ago – and he’s a master at these kind of things. He made my life easy.

“It’s a bit like Australian racing with its short straight here, because you are on a stayer you’ve got to get them going early between the three and the two.”

He added: “I don’t remember it (first Chester Cup) – I hope I don’t have to wait another 30 years!”

Armory makes it look easy in Huxley Stakes

Armory proved a class above his rivals as he made a successful start to his campaign in the Melodi Media Huxley Stakes at Chester, with a step back up to the highest level next on the agenda.

The Galileo colt brought some top-class form to the table from last season, having finished fourth in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the Tattersalls Gold Cup, third in the Irish Champion Stakes and second to former stablemate Sir Dragonet in the Cox Plate in Australia.

He was the 6-5 favourite to provide trainer Aidan O’Brien with a third victory in this Group Two contest – and after settling at the rear of the four-strong field for much of the race, quickly found top gear under Ryan Moore in the straight to leave his rivals toiling.

Sangarius filled the runner-up spot, beaten three lengths by the impressive winner.

Armory (left) sweeps to the front
Armory (left) sweeps to the front (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

O’Brien said: “We were delighted. He’s really matured.

“I suppose what he has is an unbelievable turn of foot, which is a great thing in a horse because you don’t mind if they go fast or they go slow, as he quickens very well.

“He’s done very well over the winter, he had a lovely run in Australia last year but things didn’t really work out for him so we’re delighted.

“We were thinking after this he might go for the Tattersalls Gold Cup or the Prince of Wales’s, but probably the Prince of Wales’s.

“He has plenty of pace, but we always thought he’d get 10 furlongs – when you have a horse who quickens like that it’s a bonus, and Ryan gave him a lovely ride.”

Moore said: “I was very happy with him. He was a high-class two-year-old.

“He has form on soft ground, but when it’s quicker he can show his turn of foot. It was a steady race today, a messy race but he’s got a really good change of gear.

“He’s very talented. I don’t know what the plan but he’s won a Group Two there and he’s already been second in a Cox Plate, (so) he’s entitled to take his place at a higher level.”

Ferry powers home for Chester glory

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

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.”

Japan starts season off following the ‘St Nic’ route

Aidan O’Brien has high hopes Japan can follow in the footsteps of St Nicholas Abbey, having got his career back on track with victory in the tote+ Pays You More At tote.co.uk Ormonde Stakes.

‘St Nic’s’ best days seemed behind him when he arrived at Chester in 2011 as a four-year-old, having missed the Derby – for which he was favourite – and been well beaten on his return from a lengthy lay off.

He blitzed his rivals that day, though, and never looked back. He won the Coronation Cup on his next outing and added the Breeders’ Cup Turf, another two Coronation Cups and the Sheema Classic to his CV. So should Japan emulate that haul, then O’Brien will be happy.

Japan landed the Grand Prix de Paris and Juddmonte International as a three-year-old, but went winless last season, so a confidence-boosting win over Ascot Gold Cup hopeful Trueshan, who emerged with plenty of credit, was just what the doctor ordered.

“We were delighted. Last year we started him in a very competitive race (Prince of Wales’s), and it just didn’t work out through the year – but obviously nothing was straightforward last year, and his season went into reverse afterwards,” said O’Brien.

“We used this race with St Nic before, and he got into a good place afterwards – so we’re hoping this horse might do the same.

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“Obviously he’s in the Coronation, and that is kind of what we had one eye if everything went well. He ran well in a Derby there (third). It was all about confidence today and getting him started.”

Japan has previously mixed his races over 10 and 12 furlongs – yet despite this victory over almost a mile and three-quarters, he will not be experimenting with Cup races.

“He definitely wouldn’t be running over anything further than today, we’d be going back in trip rather than forwards,” said O’Brien.

“The plan was the Coronation, and then we’ll see. We’ve others to think about as well, and he’s got very good form over a mile and a quarter, but we’ll go over a mile and a half with him next.”

Ryan Moore was on board and insisted he had never doubted Japan’s class.

“He’s a beautiful horse who we’ve always held in high regard, and he’s won a Juddmonte,” he said.

“Hopefully that will give him a bit of confidence. He didn’t really enjoy that dead ground. He’s a lovely looking horse with a great mind and hopefully he can go on from here.

“The Coronation Cup is an option – he ran well in the Derby there, and this should set him up for the bigger races later in the year. I’d expect him to come on from this as well. He’s got some class – I’ve always had a very high opinion of this horse.”

The rider added: “The ground is just sticky enough for him, and the trip probably stretches him, but he has loads of class and it’s good that he’s come back with a win.”

Giving Japan a real race – and a weight concession of 5lb to the 13-8 favourite – was Trueshan, and Alan King was understandably delighted with his Champions Day hero, who will now head for the Ascot Gold Cup.

The Barbury Castle trainer said: “I’m absolutely thrilled with him and I’ve just spoken to (jockey) Hollie (Doyle), and she feels the same.

“It’s great to get him out and get him started, and I think he’s run a terrific race. I’m very pleased.

“He’s a wee bit slow out (of the stalls), and you just have to roust him a little bit, but Hollie got him into a lovely position – and all in all it was a terrific run.

“That (Gold Cup) will be his next stop if the ground is right. We’ll just have to see what the weather does in June.”

Sangarius camp eye clear run

Sangarius kicks off what connections hope will be a more straightforward campaign than his last in the Melodi Media Huxley Stakes at Chester.

The son of Kingman looked destined for the top after running out an impressive winner of the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2019 – but he has been seen in competitive action just twice since.

While there was promise in his fourth-placed finish in a Group Three won by Lord North at Haydock in June, Sangarius did not run again until December, when he got the better of Bangkok and Dubai Warrior in a thrilling finish to the Quebec Stakes at Lingfield.

Having had a second wind operation during the winter, Sir Michael Stoute’s charge steps up to Group Two level on Friday’s return to turf on the Roodee.

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Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner-breeders Juddmonte, said: “Sangarius had a bit of disjointed season last year, but he actually came back and produced a pretty smart performance when he won at Lingfield.

“We need to get him rolling and get a clean run with him this year, if we can.

“He certainly has talent, so let’s hope things go well for him this season.”

Bangkok lands the Easter Classic at Lingfield
Bangkok lands the Easter Classic at Lingfield (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Sangarius renews rivalry with Bangkok, who was beaten a nose in the Quebec Stakes.

Since then, Andrew Balding’s five-year-old has returned to Lingfield to win February’s Winter Derby Trial and the Easter Classic on Good Friday.

Aidan O’Brien saddles the high-class Armory, who last season finished fourth in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the Tattersalls Gold Cup, third in the Irish Champion Stakes and rounded off his year by finishing second to former stablemate Sir Dragonet in the Cox Plate.

Jockey Ryan Moore told Betfair: “With Japan going for the Ormonde, we rely on Armory here and he looks the stand-out on form, even though Sangarius and Bangkok are very good horses in their own right, and the first-named could prove troublesome here.

“My colt handles soft ground – even if a quicker surface would suit him even better – he ran a great race when third in Irish Champion and then found only his former stablemate Sir Dragonet too good in the Cox Plate.

“He is a very classy horse and the one to beat on form, though no more rain would help.”

Brian Meehan’s course-and-distance winner Palavecino and Bharani Star, from Peter Chapple-Hyam’s yard, complete the quintet.

Japan prevails from Trueshan in Ormonde Stakes

Japan stamped his class on the tote+ Pays You More At tote.co.uk Ormonde Stakes at Chester.

A narrowly-beaten third in the 2019 Derby at Epsom, the Galileo colt went on to win the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp and the Juddmonte International at York, before finishing fifth on his final start of the year in the Arc.

Japan might have failed to add to his tally last season, but was still placed in the Eclipse and the King George, so it was no surprise to see Aidan O’Brien’s charge go off as the clear favourite as he had his sights lowered to Group Three company but up in trip for his seasonal reappearance.

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Always travelling strongly in the hands of Ryan Moore, the 13-8 chance tracked Alan King’s Long Distance Cup winner Trueshan – who was giving 5lb to the winner – into the straight, before displaying a superior change of gear to run him down and ultimately prevail by three-quarters of a length.

Moore said: “”He’s a beautiful horse who we’ve always held in high regard and he’s won a Juddmonte. Hopefully that will give him a bit of confidence, he didn’t really enjoy that dead ground. He’s a lovely looking horse with a great mind and hopefully he can go on from here.

“The Coronation Cup is an option, he ran well in the Derby there and this should set him up for the bigger races later in the year. I’d expect him to come on from this as well. He’s got some class – I’ve always had a very high opinion of this horse.”

The rider added: “The ground is just sticky enough for him and the trip probably stretches him, but he has loads of class and it’s good that he’s come back with a win.”

King was understandably delighted with his Champions Day hero Trueshan, who will now head for the Ascot Gold Cup.

The Barbury Castle trainer said: “I’m absolutely thrilled with him and I’ve just spoken to Hollie and she feels the same.

“It’s great to get him out and get him started and I think he’s run a terrific race. I’m very pleased.

“He’s a wee bit slow out (of the stalls) and you just have to roust him a little bit, but Hollie got him into a lovely position and all in all it was a terrific run.

“That (Gold Cup) will be his next stop if the ground is right. We’ll just have to see what the weather does in June.”

Dee delight for Varian with El Drama

Roger Varian was delighted to see El Drama emerge as a potential Classic contender following a clear-cut victory in the tote+ Biggest Dividends At tote.co.uk Dee Stakes at Chester.

A field of seven three-year-olds went to post for the recognised Derby trial, with El Drama sixth in the betting at 12-1 on what was just his second start on turf.

Since that successful debut on soft ground at Doncaster, the Lope De Vega colt had finished third in successive races on the all-weather, but took his game to new heights on the Roodee.

After tracking the pacesetting favourite Yibir for much of the extended 10-furlong journey, El Drama was pushed into the lead rounding the home turn by Andrea Atzeni and he stayed on well to score by a length.

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Maximal made late gains to fill the runner-up spot, with Earlswood third and Yibir fading into fourth place.

Varian said: “I’m very pleased with that today. He’s always shown masses at home and we were trying to funnel him into being a 2000 Guineas contender.

“Because he only ran once at two there were limited options trying to get experience into him. He ran over seven furlongs at Lingfield and a mile at Kempton, which wouldn’t be ideal spots for him. He ran with credit, but always looked a better horse on turf.

“He didn’t run well enough to take in a Guineas, but this was a nice alternative plan. We thought he’d stay 10 furlongs well and that he’d be better back on grass.

“I’m delighted that he’s done that today as we always thought him capable of something like that.

“It’s good for him to redeem his reputation.”

El Drama (left) races away from his Chester rivals
El Drama (left) races away from his Chester rivals (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Paddy Power cut El Drama to 16-1 from 66-1 in what is an increasingly murky Derby market, with Bolshoi Ballet and Mohaafeth joint-favourites at 5-1 and High Definition pushed out to 7-1 after being ruled out of his intended prep run at Lingfield this weekend.

However, Varian raised the French Derby as a viable alternative to next month’s premier Classic at Epsom for his colt.

“Having spoken to Sheikh Obaid, all options are open and he’d like him to be considered for the Prix du Jockey Club,” the trainer added.

“He’s a very strong work horse, but I thought if Andrea switched him off today, the fact you are always on the turn helps them relax.

“I’m glad he’s won today – it’s given us food for thought.”

Jabbarockie rolls to Chester success

Jabbarockie displayed his customary speed from the gate and made every yard of the running to win the Satchell Moran Solicitors Business Interruption Claims Handicap at Chester.

Eric Alston’s veteran may be an eight-year-old now, but he has looked better than ever in his two races to date this season and the form book backs that up.

A winner at Musselburgh by just a short head in the Scottish Sprint Cup, he was 3lb higher this time but once he took full advantage of his plum draw in stall one, the race was effectively over and he beat Count D’Orsay by a length and a quarter.

Jason Hart was on board after his intended mount Lord Riddiford was a non runner. He replaced Harrison Shaw.

“When you get drawn one around here it makes life a hell of a lot easier,” said Hart of the 5-2 winner.

“He winged the gates and I was able to fill up more than I thought, I thought I’d have a lot more pressure for the lead.

“He’s getting quicker this horse and he’s staying the trip out well. Eric does great with his sprinters and I felt he’d improved a hell of a lot from Musselburgh.”

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Richard Fahey’s Master Zoffany quickened up impressively to win the Deepbridge Estate Planning Service Handicap.

There were plenty in with chances entering the short straight, but Paul Hanagan’s mount surged two and three-quarter lengths clear at 11-1.

“He’d have been unlucky if he hadn’t won, so we’re happy enough with that, (and) the ground probably helped us,” said Fahey.

“I just wanted him to run well today, so there’s no master plan. It looked a warm race to me, so I’ll go home and have a think.”

Baryshnikov (white silks) won a thriller at Chester
Baryshnikov (white silks) won a thriller at Chester (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Fahey came close to completing a double in the Destination 2 Handicap, with Spirit Dancer cutting out much of the running in the colours of part-owner Sir Alex Ferguson.

But try as he might, he could not shake off fellow 5-1 joint-favourite Baryshnikov, who finished with a flourish to seal his second course victory by a short head for trainer David Barron and jockey Connor Beasley.

“He’s been in great form at home – the boss and the team have been very happy with him,” said Beasley.

“He seems to thrive when he comes here. He’s obviously won around here in the past and travelled away lovely.

“It was a bit of a head-to-head battle up the straight, but I always felt I was getting on top.”

After spending much of the afternoon in her role as a pundit for ITV Racing, Hayley Turner jumped in the saddle to steer Mercurial to success in the British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden Stakes.

The 13-2 shot got the better of a fellow Tom Dascombe-trained juvenile in Russellinthebushes, with 5-6 favourite Zoltan Star right on their heels in third.

Turner said: “He’s got a great attitude. He’s still a little bit colty, but he was game in the race and has done it well enough.

“He just does enough and has probably got a bit more up his sleeve. Hopefully he’ll become more professional with racing.”

Dascombe added: “I hate running horses against each other, but when people want to run in a particular race you have to run them. I’ll have one set of disappointed owners and one very happy set as well.

“You just have to expect that might happen. There was very little between them, and they were the two maidens we had ready for this meeting.

“They’ve never worked with each other, because one is a colt and the other a filly. I honestly thought the filly would win – I was nearly right!”

Mark Johnston also saddled a one-two, in the concluding Boodles Handicap, with the Franny Norton-ridden Love Is Golden (15-2) getting the better of Baileys Derbyday in a driving finish.

Johnston said: “I’m not entirely surprised by either – they were both backward horses who were crying out to be stepped up in trip.

“The winner is very well bred, and Franny said he could go further already.”

Youth Spirit’s Derby trail evokes landmark memories of Mill Reef

It is 50 years since Mill Reef provided Kingsclere with its most famous moment by winning the Derby for Ian Balding – and there will be no more popular winner should his son Andrew repeat the trick with Youth Spirit next month.

Youth Spirit is the son of a Derby winner in Camelot, and Balding has always rated him highly.

His Chester Vase victor was a fine third to Battleground in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood last year before an injury kept him off the track for the rest of the season.

Youth Spirit returned over nine furlongs in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket – where he was fourth to Highland Avenue – and relished the step up to the Derby distance of a mile and a half under Tom Marquand on the Roodee, beating Aidan O’Brien’s Sandhurst by a length and three-quarters.

He is subsequently a general 25-1 chance for the Cazoo-sponsored blue riband Classic – but given Khalifa Sat finished second at 50-1 last year for the same connections, the price should certainly not put anyone off.

“He’s always been a horse we’ve rated very highly – the question mark was whether he stayed or not,” said Balding.

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“There is stamina in the sire’s side, obviously, but there is plenty of speed on the dam’s side. He saw the trip out really well, and I’m thrilled.

“I knew he’d improve a good bit from Newmarket, because he’d been off the track a long while before running there, and everything happened a bit quick for him.

“He’s obviously come on for it, and I just thought he did everything really nicely today.

“Comparisons are bound to be drawn between him and Khalifa Sat. But Youth Spirit has much more speed – Khalifa Sat was a strong stayer at the trip – so I’m delighted the owner (Ahmad Al Shaikh) has another good one.

“The plan, as long as everything goes all right between now and then, is to head for Epsom.”

When told it would be the 50th anniversary of Mill Reef’s finest hour, Balding seemed surprised.

Geoff Lewis and Mill Reef return victorious at Epsom
Geoff Lewis and Mill Reef return victorious at Epsom (PA Archive)

“Is that right?!” he asked. “Well I obviously can’t compare the two because I wasn’t around then – and in any case, he’s (Youth Spirit) a long way from ticking the boxes that he had, but he could have a live chance in the Derby.”

Khalifa Sat turned up at Epsom relatively unconsidered last year, despite having won a trial at Goodwood.

Marquand was due to ride the Derby favourite English King before losing the mount to a certain Frankie Dettori – and then going close on a big outsider.

Tom Marquand has enjoyed a great spell since returning from Australia
Tom Marquand has enjoyed a great spell since returning from Australia (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“It’s great for Ahmad Al Shaikh to have another one for the Derby, because last year that was a fair story with Khalifa Sat finishing second,” said Marquand.

“Hopefully they can go one bette.

“Khalifa Sat surprised me in the Derby, because he looked more a staying type, whereas this lad is the other way around – 12 furlongs is as far as he’ll want.

“They have different profiles. But this lad is really game and genuine, and I’m sure we’ll have a go.

“This will have been a real good experience to have been around here, because it is pretty different compared to everywhere else, and it should stand him in good stead for Epsom.”

Champions Day hero Trueshan clashes with Japan at Chester

Alan King expects his Qipco British Champions Day hero Trueshan to improve for the run when he makes his seasonal reappearance in the tote+ Pays You More At tote.co.uk Ormonde Stakes at Chester on Thursday.

The French-bred gelding won three of his five starts last season, rounding off his campaign with victory in the Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October – the first leg of a double on the high-profile card for record-breaking rider Hollie Doyle.

With Doyle once again in the saddle, Trueshan makes his belated return to action over an extended mile and five furlongs on the Roodee.

King said: “We’ve been waiting on a bit of softer ground. We didn’t want to start him off in the Sagaro (at Ascot) or the Further Flight (at Nottingham) because it was too firm.

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“The trip is probably short enough for him and you know what Chester is like, but it’s all about getting a run into him and getting him started really.”

The Barbury Castle handler hopes the Group Three contest will act as a stepping-stone to a potential tilt at the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

He added: “The Gold Cup is the plan, ground permitting. If we get a scorching June then we won’t be running, but that would be the target and this race fits in time-wise.

“I had him in the Yorkshire Cup next week, but I didn’t want to wait for that and then the ground dried up again. We sort of said that wherever we got the first decent ground he would take his chance, so that’s what we’re doing.

“He’s in good order, but I think he’ll come on for it.”

Japan (near side) winning the 2019 Juddmonte International
Japan (near side) winning the 2019 Juddmonte International (Nigel French/PA)

High on the list of dangers to Trueshan is the Aidan O’Brien-trained Japan, who has his sights lowered following eight consecutive outings in Group One company.

Japan struck gold twice at the highest level in 2019, in the Grand Prix de Paris and the Juddmonte International – and while he failed to get his head in front last season, he was placed in the Eclipse at Sandown and the King George at Ascot.

Jockey Ryan Moore told Betfair: “Ideally, we probably could have done without all the recent rain, but he finished fourth in a deep ground Arc a couple of years ago and is pretty versatile, and hopefully his Group One class will see him through.

“It’s a good race, with the likes of Trueshan in here, but my horse is unpenalised for his Group One wins back in 2019 and his third in the Eclipse last year makes him the one beat form-wise

“This is the longest trip he has faced, but the way in which he has finished off his races over a mile and a half when at his best suggests it should not be an issue. It’ll take a very good one to beat him if he is on his A-game.”

Conditions appear to have come right for the Andrew Balding-trained Morando, who won the latest renewal in 2019 and returns to defend his crown, while Roger Charlton saddles his veteran stayer Withhold.

Euchen Glen (Jim Goldie), Kipps (Hughie Morrison), Sextant (Keith Dalgleish) and Sonnyboyliston (Murtagh) complete the field.

Ontario latest Dee day contender for O’Brien

Ontario bids to continue Aidan O’Brien’s recent domination of the tote+ Biggest Dividends At tote.co.uk Dee Stakes at Chester on Thursday.

The Ballydoyle handler has saddled six of the last eight winners of the recognised Derby trial, with multiple Group One winner Circus Maximus landing the most recent renewal in 2019.

Although this year’s candidate has managed only one victory from eight previous starts, he has run some fine races in defeat, perhaps most notably finishing a close-up third behind Derby prospect and subsequent Group One scorer Mac Swiney in the Futurity Stakes.

Ontario made a promising start to the new campaign when third behind the Queen’s Tactical in the Free Handicap at Newmarket three weeks ago, and steps up to an extended mile and a quarter for the first time on the Roodee.

Ontario will be ridden by Ryan Moore, who told Betfair: “He looks to hold pretty strong claims.

“He finished a good third in what appears a decent Free Handicap on his return, and his pedigree would give you every encouragement that the step up from seven to 10 furlongs or so here will suit this Galileo colt a lot better.

“He finished second in a Royal Lodge at two, while he also finished third to Mac Swiney in soft ground in the Futurity at the Curragh, so you’d have to be pretty hopeful, though his draw (stall seven) could have been better, obviously.”

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The likely favourite for the Listed contest is the Charlie Appleby-trained Yibir, who was narrowly beaten in the Sandown Classic Trial on his reappearance.

Yibir is a high-class prospect for Charlie Appleby
Yibir is a high-class prospect for Charlie Appleby (Tim Goode/PA)

A full-brother to top-class racemare Wild Illusion, the son of Dubawi is fitted with cheekpieces for the first time.

“He’s sharpened up for that run at Sandown quite noticeably at home,” said Appleby.

“We’re putting the cheekpieces on him, just because he’s got similar characteristics to his sister – it’s not that he’s ungenuine, it’s just to keep him focussed.

“We didn’t want to put the cheekpieces on and step him up to a mile and a half at the same time, so we opted to keep him to 10 furlongs.”

Sir Michael Stoute trained the last horse to complete the Dee Stakes-Derby double in 2003 victor Kris Kin.

This year the master of Freemason Lodge is represented by Maximal, who filled the runner-up spot behind Appleby’s Hurricane Lane in a competitive conditions race at Newbury last month.

Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager for owner-breeders Juddmonte, said: “He ran a good race at Newbury and has come out of it well – he’s been straightforward since.

“It’s a good spot for him. He’s a neat horse and I think he will handle the track.

“He will need to have come on as this looks a pretty competitive race all round, I would say.

“The going is a little bit of an unknown, but he is by Galileo, so hopefully he’ll cope with it.”

The most inexperienced horse in the field with just two runs under his belt is Andrew Balding’s Foxes Tales.

Second on his racecourse debut at Kempton in December, the Zoffany colt went one better on his three-year-old debut at Newbury.

The trainer’s wife, Anna Lisa Balding, said: “He’s a really nice horse, Foxes Tales – he’s so good looking. He’s done nothing wrong so far and has physically gone the right way.

“Andrew has been quite patient with him and the jockeys who ride him at home really like him.”

Earlswood (Johnny Murtagh), El Drama (Roger Varian) and outsider Luther Cee (Henry Spiller) are the other hopefuls.

Youth Spirit enters Derby reckoning with Chester Vase victory

Andrew Balding’s Youth Spirit emerged as a Derby contender in causing a minor upset with a clear-cut victory in the Chester Vase.

Blue Riband Trial winner Wirko was the 6-4 favourite to cement his Epsom claims for Charlie Appleby, while Law Of The Sea – already a dual winner this year – also carried the Godolphin colours for John and Thady Gosden.

Aidan O’Brien, who had saddled seven of the last nine winners of the Group Three contest, was represented by Craven Stakes sixth Sandhurst – but it was Youth Spirit (15-2) who stole the show.

Wirko cut out much of the running under William Buick, but was a spent force before the home turn, at which stage Fancy Man looked the most likely winner when sweeping to the front.

However, while his effort was ultimately short lived, Youth Spirit – fourth in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket three weeks ago – finished with gusto under Tom Marquand to prevail by a length and three-quarters.

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Sandhurst was one of the first off the bridle, but boxed on well to beat Fancy Man to the runner-up spot.

Bookmakers went 25-1 about Youth Spirit’s chance in the premier Classic, and Marquand – sporting the colours of last year’s Derby runner-up Khalifa Sat – said: “To be honest he was a bit behind the bridle, this was my first time riding him and it looked like he did that over nine furlongs at Newmarket.

“That must just be his run style because when I sat into him and gave him a proper squeeze coming to the three he was all there for me.

“The one question he had to answer was the trip, but you’d have to say he hit the line extremely well. It was a muddly race, but he’ll stay in an honest-run race as well.

“Chester is a funny old place and if you swing out your race can be over, but I followed William and I knew he’d take me into the guts of the race. He was really tough, stuck his head out and was there for me.”

He added: “It’s great for Ahmad Al Shaikh to have another one for the Derby because last year that was a fair story with Khalifa Sat finishing second. Hopefully they can go one better.

“Khalifa Sat surprised me in the Derby as he looked more a staying type, whereas this lad is the other way around – 12 furlongs is as far as he’ll want.”

Tom Marquand after winning the Chester Vase
Tom Marquand after winning the Chester Vase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Balding was represented by his wife, Anna Lisa, who said: “Andrew has always thought a lot of him and today has shown what we wanted to find out.

“I’m sure the owner will be looking forward to a runner in the Derby so I’d be amazed if he didn’t show up at Epsom.

“Somebody made me aware the other day that it is 50 years since Mill Reef won the Derby for Kingsclere, which is fantastic, but it will be a little bit quieter this year.

“When Tom got on him he said ‘a Camelot round here on soft ground, he’ll love it’ and he was right. He was a massive price, I couldn’t believe it.

“Andrew’s record in the Derby isn’t great, but he was second and fourth last year.”

Dubai Fountain rewards favourite-backers in Cheshire Oaks

Dubai Fountain booked her Epsom ticket as she made a successful reappearance in the Weatherbys ePassport Cheshire Oaks at Chester.

Mark Johnston’s filly was the clear standard-setter on juvenile form, which included a fourth-placed finish on her most recent appearance in the Group One Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket in October.

The daughter of Teofilo was the 13-8 favourite for her comeback in the hands of Chester specialist Franny Norton, who after tracking the pacesetting Quenelle D’Or for much of the contest, committed for home before the home turn.

That decision from the veteran Liverpudlian may well have proved crucial, as the previously unbeaten Zeyaadah was briefly caught in a pocket before the gap came early in the home straight, by which time Dubai Fountain was in full flight.

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Zeyaadah made inroads late on, but the Johnston runner had enough in the tank to keep her at bay by a length.

Paddy Power cut both the winner and the runner-up to 14-1 from 20-1 for the Cazoo Oaks at Epsom on June 4, with the brilliant Enable the last horse to win both races in 2017.

Johnston said: “Franny said it was very stop-start and he was happy to get a lead, but the pace was on and off which didn’t really suit.

“He was having to wake her up and then steady her again, so he could never get her into a nice rhythm – he felt it wasn’t her best performance, but it was good enough for me, I was happy with that.

“It will be straight to Epsom now, we were saying throughout last year we thought she was an Oaks filly rather than a Guineas filly.

“She obviously failed to win a Group race last year, but she ran some great races. We’ve been thinking about the Oaks for a long time.

“She was beaten just a length by the Guineas winner (Mother Earth) over a mile last year, when we always felt she’d be better over further.

“I don’t think the key to her chance was going up in trip, she’s good enough, otherwise you’d be saying that about every horse who ran in a trial. She’s been running at that level (Group One) there’s no reason to think she’s not good enough.

Dubai Fountain (second left) came out on top in a
Dubai Fountain (second left) came out on top in a “stop-start” Cheshire Oaks (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“We’ll just have to hope there’s not one better!”

Norton said: “I didn’t find a rhythm straight away, but I was happy with where I was. Then I just felt it was all a bit muddly, a bit stop-start.

“Going down the gears and back up didn’t suit her, but once I revved her up three out it was game over. I could feel one coming, so she just needed a couple of flicks to keep her going.”