Four things to look forward to at Chester on Friday
Stoute to unleash another Khairaat?
Unfurling the sail on lightly-raced four-year-olds at this time of year is more or less Sir Michael Stoute’s signature. Khairaat was a prime example in winning Thursday’s opener and precisely 24 hours later El Hayem approaches from a similar angle.
Similarly unraced at two, he made good progress in four starts last year and was not beaten far at all in the Spring Cup despite a sluggish start.
Owners Al Shaqab would not have expected a quick return on their 350,000gns outlay once they send El Hayem to Stoute, but if the gelding is ever to repay his price tag the market suggests he ought to start here.
Moher Derby options for Ballydoyle
Aidan O’Brien got a two-for-one in Thursday’s Chester Vase as both Venice Beach and Wings Of Eagles planted some sort of marker for the Derby.
It is now well-established that O’Brien sends those Epsom candidates deemed in need of more experience to Chester. It seems he had a lot of lessons to cram in this year as, unusually, one of his likeliest Derby types is in the Dee Stakes.
The move is not unprecedented, however, as Magician won the Dee Stakes in 2013 and went on to land the Irish 2,000 Guineas and Breeders’ Cup Turf that year.
Cliffs Of Moher won impressively at Leopardstown on the second of two starts as a juvenile and has something of a game in hand over the Chester Vase first two, as he is already shorter for the Derby than either of them. The flip side is that the Dee Stakes, lower in rank than the Vase, demands a more impressive winning performance to really impact on the Derby betting.
Fast three-year-olds set to clash
High-level three-year-old handicaps at this time of year always come with the possibility of sprouting Group-level careers and the five-furlong sprint on Friday looks particularly fertile ground.
Overnight favourite Rich And Famous has regained the progressive thread this spring, while others such as Tomily, Rosabelle and Partitia are not too far off making the jump to Listed company. Watch out too for Simmie, who won a Listed race in France for Sylvester Kirk last November and has joined Karl Burke.
Throw in that the race is over five furlongs at Chester and it should make for a decent spectacle that should also reward more than one viewing.
The 2016 Derby that might have been
In a parallel universe, Midterm and US Army Ranger were the dominant three-year-old middle-distance performers of 2016. On this day 12 months ago, they were the first two in the Derby betting. Now they fill the same positions, albeit the other way around, in the Ormonde Stakes.
Rip van Winkle could infer that neither colt has hit the promised heights. US Army Ranger did at least finish second to Harzand at Epsom, but has since suffered similar problems to Midterm, whose best effort last year on RPRs came when he was seventh in the Champion Stakes.
The Ormonde is not all about those two. They face the biggest field the race has attracted this century, including Grand Prix de Paris runner-up Red Verdon. For once, should we see a clear-cut winner of the race, we are unlikely to be left wondering about the depth of the form.