What to Wear to Chester Racecourse

Derby Festival 2023: Chester’s May Meeting shows potential of Oaks and Derby contenders

Chester’s May Festival provides Epsom Oaks and Derby contenders with a popular trial for the Derby Festival, as its tight corners are similar to the famous Epsom course.

The results from the feature races, showed the exciting potential of this year’s young contenders.

The Cheshire Oaks

Savethelastdance (8/11 Favourite) catapulted herself into 6/4 favouritism with the race sponsor for next month’s Betfred Oaks at Epsom Downs, after sauntering to a 22-length success in the Listed Weatherbys Digital Solutions Cheshire Oaks at Chester on Wednesday 10th May.

The last Oaks winner to come out of this race was the 11-time Group/Grade One winner Enable in 2017 and Savethelastdance certainly produced a performance to suggest she could be something special, soon settling into affairs despite missing the break.

Moore looked comfortable throughout on the daughter of Galileo and quickly put the race to bed with a sweeping move around the bend for home, galloping away for a dominant success.

That victory was a record-extending eighth in the race for trainer Aidan O’Brien, who revealed after the race that Savethelastdance would now head straight to Epsom Downs on Friday 2nd June.

Speaking away from the track, he said: “We were delighted with her. We were delighted with the way she won her maiden (at Leopardstown last month) and obviously it’s unusual to win a race like that by so far, but she’s very well bred.

“She handled the ground and I think it was soft enough for her when she won on the last day. We think she’d be OK back on quicker ground, she’s a good moving filly and I think Ryan was very happy with her. We’ll go straight for the Oaks.”

The winning jockey Ryan Moore added: “She stepped (out) a little slow, but they went very hard early on and she just relaxed and followed them round. They kind of all gave up and she was only just getting going. I thought I’d just make sure she knew what she has to do and she stretched all the way to the line.

“She was a little edgy when she first went in (to the stalls) but she stays well and she was real good the last half mile. She’s probably given me as a good a feel in this race as the ones I’ve ridden before.”

Paul Smith, representing Savethelastdance’s owners Coolmore, said: “It was nice to see that, especially after the weekend. Ryan was really complementary, he said that she gave him a lovely feel and he hit the line very hard and powered through the line, so we couldn’t be happier.

“Aidan said she was in good form at home and had bounced out of her last race in Ireland very well. We know that she handles any dig in the ground so we didn’t think that would be a problem. She’ll go straight to the Oaks now, fingers crossed and we look forward to that.

“We’ll just have to see what happens in the trials (between now and The Derby Festival), that’s the key. The ground is a little bit up in the air at the moment so we’ll see what Aidan wants to do.”


The Chester Vase

Also on the card was the Group Three Boodles Chester Vase Stakes over an extended mile and a half, in which the John Gosden-trained Arrest (10/11 Favourite) put his name into the reckoning for the Betfred Derby with a classy performance under Frankie Dettori.

The mile and a half contest is seen as one of the stronger trials for the Epsom Classic, with the last horse to win both races being the Aidan O’Brien-trained Ruler Of The World back in 2013.

The soft conditions turned the race into a true test and Dettori was always prominent on Arrest, on what is likely to be his final race at the Roodee. The 52 year old quickly took control of matters with a decisive move around the bend for home and the son of Frankel responded well, bounding clear for a six and a half length success.

That victory saw Arrest shortened into 6/1 second favouritism (from 14/1) with sponsorsBetfred, though the winning trainer John Gosden hinted that his participation in next month’s Classic would hinge on the going.

He said: “He travelled well and he handled the conditions well. Frankie was anxious to stay in the fresh ground, so he stayed a little wide and in the straight he nearly took out the grandstand. He’s delightful and he’s gone and won well over the trip. He did a full mile and a half today out wide and we’ll leave all options open for Epsom.

“I think he enjoyed the ground today and if Epsom was fast I don’t think he’d enjoy that so much. That’s what the jockey felt but there’s no reason he won’t be in the Epsom Derby at this stage. He’s that build and type (to need a little bit of cut in the ground), he’s different to a Golden Horn, but he’s done nothing but mature and improve.

“I was impressed with the horse who finished a head in-front of him at Saint-Cloud last year (Dubai Mile). He’s gone on to run the best Derby trial in the Guineas (when fifth), so right now they’re two horses who deserve to be right at the top of the betting.

“We put him in the Arc yesterday. He’s got the scope to train on at four and five if you wanted to. We had two 52 year olds leading the way in that race there (Franny Norton and Frankie Dettori), there’s 104 years between them and they’re still in great form.

“Frankie is in great form and he’s enjoying his racing and his last year here in Europe. It’s phenomenal, he’s just won a Guineas and a Chester Vase and before that he won an Italian Guineas and a Dubai Turf, which certainly won’t have hurt his bank balance.

Dettori picked up just his second victory in this race and speaking afterwards, he commented: “We liked him as a two year old but he was very weak.

“I rode him in work last week and he’s strengthened up a lot and we know that the ground and distance was no problem. The race fell apart at three out so I had to do my own thing on the way home, but he couldn’t have won any easier.

“We know he stays well and he doesn’t mind the ground. I spoke to John and the Juddmonte team and he’s not a horse who would want Good To Firm going at Epsom. Last year we had a soft ground Derby, so you never know.

“He’s got a million alternatives, but that’s the only thing if I have to be a bit suspicious. He’s so big that he might find it a bit of a challenge (on good ground), but who knows what the weather will be like.

“It’s an open picture plus he’s a strong horse who stays really well. This is a good trial and he doesn’t lack pace either, so he ticks a lot of boxes. We’ll have to see what the opposition is like.

“It was great to win on my final ride at Chester and it was even better that it came in such an important race. I can dream a little bit of a Derby ride.”


The Dee Stakes

San Antonio (16/5) produced a professional display to hand Aidan O’Brien a 10th victory in the Listed Boodles Dee Stakes at Chester on Thursday 11th May, and added his name to an increasingly intriguing line-up for next month’s Betfred Derby at Epsom Downs.

The son of Dubawi started the afternoon as a 50/1 chance for next month’s Classic (The British Classics – click here), having opened his account in maiden company in straightforward style on the all-weather at Dundalk in March.

This extended 10-furlong contest was a sharp step up in class for San Antonio, though it was one he took in his stride with a prominent display under Ryan Moore, holding off the late bid of the fast closing 11/10 favourite Alder for a one and three-quarter length success.

That victory saw San Antonio shortened into 16/1 for the Betfred Derby with the race sponsor and should he line up he would be bidding to emulate Kris Kin (2003), the last Dee Stakes winner to win the Derby. However, his trainer suggested that his plans for Epsom Downs were still to be formalised.

Speaking after the race, O’Brien said: “We were delighted. It was messy around there and it was tactical. Ryan gave our horse a great ride and he had him in a great position and controlled the race. He was very happy with the horse.

“He was always going to ride him forward, but he was happy to have horses around him. I don’t think they went too fat but he said they got home well and when he asked he found plenty.

“He got the mile and a quarter very well there. I know it wasn’t a fast pace but it was slow ground. He obviously looks very adaptable and looks like a horse who’d get further and this was a trial, so he has to be looked at as one who could go to a Derby – either Epsom or France or Ascot or whatever.

“The lads will decide what they want to do, they’ll discuss with Ryan. He’s been going very well at home so I’m delighted with him.”

Jockey Ryan Moore has now won five of the last six renewals of the Dee Stakes and speaking after the race, he said: “He’s a very likeable colt. It was a messy race early on, I was going forward but the horse on my inside and the horse on my outside were keen.

“He got into a nice rhythm and when I asked him to quicken he picked up well. He’s a brave horse and kept finding, he’s probably improving and I’d like to think there’s more to come.”

Auguste Rodin

Meanwhile, O’Brien confirmed that Epsom was still very much the plan for the current ante-post favourite Auguste Rodin, who finished down the field in last weekend’s QIPCO 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.

He continued: “Obviously we always thought the world of Auguste Rodin, everything always came very easy to him and it didn’t matter what distance you worked him over. The good thing is he has come out of the Guineas well and we’re really looking forward to him on the next day.

“Auguste Rodin is going straight to the Derby, that’s the plan. It will be all normal exercise, he’s easy to do things with and is very natural always so it will just be a case of minding him really.”

Reports by Nick Seddon.

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