The Chester Vase – Not only a Derby Trial

The Mighty Shergar

The Mighty Shergar

First run in 1907, the Chester Vase is a Group 3 run over a distance of just over one mile and four furlongs.

The race has become a recognised Epsom Derby trial, though over the years few have managed to complete a memorable double. Ruler of the World was the most recent to do so in 2013. Aidan O’Brien’s colt won at Chester by six lengths before heading to Epsom. Overlooked by stable jockey Joseph, the ride went to Ryan Moore and he was to win convincingly.

The Vase has been dominated by Ballydoyle in recent times, with the team successful in five of the last eight renewals. Treasure Beach won in 2011 before going on to take the Irish Derby. Soldier of Fortune did the same in 2007.

Back in the early 80’s two horses did complete the Chester-Epsom double. In 1980 Dick Hern’s Henbit, ridden by Willie Carson took the Vase before going on to win the Derby. The trainer had won the Epsom Classic a year earlier with the outstanding Troy. Sadly Henbit sustained an injury during the race and although he returned as a four-year-old he was retired after two disappointing runs.

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In 1981 the Chester Vase was won by one of the most famous racehorses of the modern era. The mighty Shergar had already won by ten lengths on his return as a three-year-old at Sandown, before his stunning 12 length success at Chester. He then went on to win the Epsom Derby by a staggering ten lengths, the longest winning margin in the race’s history. “You need a telescope to see the rest,” became one of the greatest quotes ever voiced by a commentator.

He went on to win the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Over the top when failing in the St Leger, he was without doubt one of the all-time greats.

Today’s Chester Vase has a familiar look to it with an Aidan O’Brien contender at the head of the market. The Champion Irish trainer will be looking to equal the record of six wins in the race. Hans Holbein carries the all-conquering silks of Michael Tabor, already successful in the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas this season. A winner at Leopardstown last time out the son of Montjeu is out of the Shirley Heights mare Llia. He is a half-brother to Irish Leger winner Sans Frontieres.

His trainer appears confident of a decent performance, saying: “He came on well from his first run of the season to win a mile and a quarter maiden at Leopardstown last month and, hopefully, he can improve again. He's stepping up in distance but is bred to get the trip.”

The betting suggests that Godolphin’s Future Empire could be the favourite’s strongest challenger. Beaten by Christophermarlowe at Epsom last time out, it is hoped the step up in trip will help the New Approach colt. In truth he was thrashed at Epsom, but his trainer Saeed bin Suroor seems confident of an improved performance, saying: “He ran very well but he was too far back so I think the mile and a half will suit him much better. He came back from Epsom in good form but this race will tell us more about the future.”

Storm The Stars brings strong two-year-old form to the fray. The Sea The Stars colt is trained by William Haggas and won easily at Leicester last time. Second to O’Brien’s Aloft and Gosden’s Golden Horn last term, this step up in trip looks sure to suit, and he could be a ‘big player’ today.

As a ‘Classic Trial’ the Chester Vase should not be underestimated. Today’s race may not produce an Epsom Derby winner, but it has a rich history of producing horses to take the Irish version, and major contenders for the St Leger later in the year. This afternoon’s renewal could well follow that trend.

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