Gardeners across the country have welcomed the recent rain but the timing could not have been worse at Chester, where softening ground has prompted Aidan O’Brien to scratch his two runners in Wednesday’s Chester Vase, the feature event on the opening afternoon of the track’s May Festival.
The absence of Sir Lamorak, a 16-1 chance for the Derby at Epsom next month, is the big disappointment and leaves Sandhurst, who was eight lengths behind the 2,000 Guineas runner-up Master Of The Seas in the Craven Stakes last time, as the trainer’s only runner as he looks for a seventh win in the Vase in the last eight years, and his 10th in all.
He should improve for the step up in trip, but the same is true for Youth Spirit, Law Of The Sea and Wirko (3.15), who earned a place in the Derby field with his win in the Blue Riband at Epsom last time. Wednesday’s trial will be a better guide to whether he is up to that standard but his winning time last month was strong and he finished off his race with real purpose.
Chester 1.45 Five of the seven runners were winners last time out but all have yet to race on turf going any slower than good. Navello has the prime draw against the rail while Armor, by the big speed influence No Nay Never, will also attract support after an impressive debut win at Doncaster. Marginal preference, though, is for Devious Angel, a winner in a good time on the Fibresand at Southwell and a daughter of Cotai Glory, a Group Three winner at two who handled some cut in the ground.
Chester 2.15 All seven runners in this year’s Cheshire Oaks still hold entries in the Oaks at Epsom next month, including Roger Varian’s unbeaten Zeyaadah and John Gosden’s Darlectable You, a sister to Too Darn Hot, who has finished second on both starts so far. The standout form in the race, though, belongs to Dubai Fountain, who was little more than a length behind the winner when fourth in the Group One Fillies’ Mile last time. That was on soft ground and she looked sure to find plenty of improvement when stepping up to Wednesday’s trip.
Newton Abbot 2.30 Eritage was back to his best form over this course and distance last time out and will not be inconvenienced if any rain gets into the ground.
Chester 2.45 A tightly-knit sprint handicap in which Army Of India makes some appeal as an alternative to the likely favourite, Showalong. As is the case for several of these, it is uncertain whether softer ground will see him at his best but he likes to get on the pace, looked to be an improved performer when third on his seasonal debut at Doncaster and has the Chester specialist Franny Norton to do the steering.
Chester 3.45 As an in-form front-runner with a low draw, Uncle Jumbo has almost everything you could wish for in a contender for a sprint handicap at this track. All that is missing is a proven ability to act on soft ground, but runners by his sire, Territories, have a decent record on easier going and a price around 7-2 looks more than fair.