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The Chester May meeting provides some welcome high-class midweek racing over three days on the Roodee. In 2021 the meeting was forced to take place with just a few owners present and lacked the usual atmosphere, but we still saw high-quality racing nonetheless.

The track conditions were more or less perfect with rain earlier in the week easing things a touch to just ride on the softer side of good, but there were very few excuses over the three days (although the meeting did throw up the usual hard-luck stories). Chester is a very tight left-handed circular track forcing the regular traffic issues for held-up runners, and those drawn out wide stand very little chance of getting involved in the sprints unless there is a complete pace collapse up front. 

Here exclusively for Beth.bet we take a look at ten standout reflections from the meeting, with plenty of clues for the long summer on the flat ahead.

Franny Norton

This popular northern veteran jockey remains the “King of Chester” with a terrific record at the track. He was seen to maximum effect on Mark Johnston’s ‘Dubai Fountain’ when winning the Cheshire Oaks in some style under a very positive ride, and she certainly now heads to Epsom with leading claims with her stamina now established. Also seen to brilliant effect on the Friday when the well backed ‘Green Book’ made all to land the Chester Plate. 

Navello

This speedy juvenile continued George Boughey’s emergence into the training ranks, winning the Lily Agnes Conditions Stakes on Tuesday in explosive style. It was extremely disappointing that a valuable and historic prize attracted a very disappointing small field of just four runners, but there was no doubting the manner of the victory. He stormed clear to route two serious market rivals in the manner of a very smart horse. Quite what this amounts to is open to question, but Royal Ascot now beckons, and he remains with scope to keep on progressing for his excellent yard.

Small fields remain a concern

There is little doubt that British racing is in some difficulty at the moment, with far too much racing clogging up the fixture list and the field sizes are incredibly small given that Chester consistently offers high prize money. It should be noted that some of the racing was less than competitive throughout the week, with the usual draw bias rendering a lot of the handicaps pretty meaningless as a form guide going forwards.

‘Youth Spirit’ storms clear to land the Chester Vase

Andrew Balding continued his great form since the start of the turf season, and his progressive 3-year-old won a messy renewal of this valuable race. He is now as short as 25/1 for the Epsom Derby, but that price makes very little appeal with the form of this race undoubtedly sub-standard (and most of his rivals weakening tamely on ground that had become quite soft after a few heavy showers on the day).

Aidan O’Brien returns to form

Many pundits had thought that Aidan’s string were badly out of form, with only ‘Mother Earth’ making any impact from his selection of runners in Britain over the last few weeks. However, he confounded the doubters with two very impressive winners of the big Group races over the three days. Both ‘Japan’ and ‘Armory’ were very strong in the market late on, something that is extremely significant for beth.bet punters to note throughout the summer months with this all-conquering stable.

Stall 1 remains the top draw

Throughout the week we saw most of the betting interest focused on those runners drawn in the low stalls. There was no finer example of this than ‘Jabbarockie’ running out an impressive all the way winner of the opening sprint handicap on Thursday. He screams a classic Chester horse, with plenty of early pace bagging the rail unchallenged and landing a gamble to the delight of punters (4/1 into 5/2f and the cash never in any danger from the stalls). 

‘El Drama’ wins the Derby trial for Roger Varian

This was another sub-standard Group 1 race in the week that is unlikely to have any impact on the Epsom Derby in June. El Drama handled the unique conditions best and looked a thorough stayer, winning this in some style in the end. Although it has to be said the wide margin win owed a lot to his rivals dropping away disappointingly on quite testing ground. He is now 20/1 for the Epsom Derby, but that price makes minimum appeal at this stage, with plenty of the top stables yet to show their hand.

‘Japan’ lands the gamble and returns to his best

The Group 3 Ormonde Stakes saw a return to form from the globetrotting ‘Japan’ who, despite sweating up beforehand and considered unsuited to the softening ground conditions, came right back to his top form. He is likely to be kept busy by Aidan O’Brien over the summer months and is sure to take a hand in all the best middle distance contests in Britain and Ireland. The 5-y-o has been a terrific advert for the Coolmore operation over the years, now winning 6 of his 15 career starts and amassing an incredible £1.2m in prize money.

Frankie Dettori still riding at the peak of his powers aged 50

Detorri rolled back the years in the Chester Cup under a perfect tactical ride. Dermot Weld’s classy ‘Falcon Eight‘ ran out an extremely impressive winner of the feature race at Chester on Friday, always travelling strongest despite missing the break quite badly. This 2m2f marathon handicap traditionally attracts some very useful stayers (with £125,000 in prize money), and the bookmakers were offering “7/1 the field’ at the off. Rather typically of late, the race went to Ireland with a well backed winner relishing the demands of this stamina sapping trip storm home under a typically power packed ride from Dettori.

Andrew Balding’s continued top form

No yard has made a better start to the turf season than Andrew Balding. His Friday handicap winner ‘Grove Ferry’ landed quite a gamble under a confident ride from David Probert, powering home from the furlong pole having been ridden with patience from off a strong pace.  Everything from the yard runs is winning or going close at the moment and they have an exceptional stable of young horses to follow through the summer months. 

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