We've reached the final day of Chester's May meeting with the highlight of the week, the Chester Cup, taking centre stage. Tony Calvin previews the ITV races...
"If 3lb claimer Thore Hammer Hansen, who was on board at Newbury and for the Royal Ascot win, can keep him interested early doors from stall eight, he should give us a fair run for our money."
No messing about today, let's jump straight in with Friday's opening 7f127yd handicap at Chester at 13:45.
It was due to mark the long-awaited return of Brentford Hope, who was one of the market leaders for the Lincoln before being pulled out on the day because the ground was too quick, but we will have to wait a bit longer after he was ruled out with a girth gall on Thursday morning (no, me neither, but it sounds unpleasant).
Keeping my powder dry for now
In his absence, Grove Ferry, who ran well under a 5lb penalty in the aforementioned Lincoln and is 3lb lower here, Musselburgh third Ejtilaab and Dulas were the trio that most interested me.
I like Dulas most in that he is a well handicapped horse - I think he got away lightly with a 1lb rise for his excellent reappearance second at Haydock in a quick time - and, as a horse who has made all before at Newcastle, he is primed to attack once again from stall two.
But all his best form has come on the all-weather or on fast ground, and he actually got taken out of Doncaster in March due to the prevailing going (which was good), so I am not sure where connections stand here having entered him on good to soft on Wednesday morning, surely safe in the knowledge it was set to get worse, if anything.
If you ask me, his pedigree gives you every encouragement he will handle dig, so I am not sure where I sit.
If they take him out because of the ground then so be it - and another concern is that Revich in stall one is likely to try and kick on from the off once again (he made all here in August from the inside stall and also comes here on the back of a good fourth at Newbury last time) and Grove Ferry could come across from three as well to make him the meat in a pace sandwich - but he looks such a well-treated horse on the evidence of the Haydock run last time, his first since being gelded, that he was very nearly worth chancing here and now at around 5/1 on the exchange.
However, I am personally going to wait until the day before deciding to back him, so I can hardly put him up here. and I do fear Grove Ferry, who has the look of a punt and who I can see shortening from 13/2.
Surprised that Armory isn't fav
I had to do a double-take on Wednesday morning when the Betfair Sportsbook went up with the prices for the Huxley Stakes at 14:15 as they put in Armory as the 2/1 second favourite behind 11/10 Sangarius.
They may have been prompted by comments from Aidan O'Brien about Armory not wanting soft ground, despite his Cox Plate second to Sir Dragonet coming on that very going, or perhaps they are simply happy to take on all UK runners from the stable at the moment.
But for all Sangarius excelled on soft when impressively winning the Hampton Court back in 2019, and may have been improved by a recent wind op, he does have 6lb to find with a peak-form Armory on official ratings and I would have the O'Brien colt as the favourite.
Granted, that is not a strong enough opinion to be backing him in a race that has "tactical" written all over it, given none of these are front-runners, and a look at the forecast suggests the ground is only going to deepen further.
So maybe the odds-compilers have called this right.
Lion hoping to become King for Alan
Regardless, the 17-runner Chester Cup at 14:45 is more of my kind of race for betting and tipping in.
I have a lot of time for Not So Sleepy under both codes - and he ran a superb race when fourth in the Cesarewitch on his most recent Flat start, considering he was far too free throughout - and he comes here after running a career-best over hurdles in the Champion Hurdle in March, while he wasn't disgraced at Aintree last month, either.
There isn't that much guaranteed pace in here - maybe four or five possibles - so Graham Lee could try and bounce him out from stall 13 and let this free-going sort stride on, on his favoured soft ground.
But no way was I expecting him to be as short as 6/1 across the board.
No thanks then. I was happy to side with another old mate, Coeur De Lion, win-only exchange at 16.015/1 or bigger, but then I decided I wanted place insurance, so I am going with him at 12/1 each-way, five places, with the Sportsbook.
He did us a favour when winning the 2m4f Ascot Stakes last June off just a 3lb lower mark than this (it would have been 1lb, but he is 2lb wrong here) and he has a lot going for him.
A proven stayer, obviously, he shaped very well from miles off the pace when seventh at Newbury last time - his first run since unseating over hurdles at Kempton on Boxing Day - and that run looked all over a tee-up for this race.
On deeper ground and on a track where he has excelled before, Alan King's charge makes a lot of appeal at double-figure odds.
He won the Plate by five lengths on heavy ground here in 2019, having only failed by a neck to land that prize a year earlier on good. Those are his only two outings around here.
If 3lb claimer Thore Hammer Hansen, who was on board at Newbury and for the Royal Ascot win, can keep him interested early doors from stall eight, he should give us a fair run for our money.
Anything 10/1 or upwards is fine.
No further bets but Fact came close
I can see King's Lynn sticking it up to form horse El Astronaute in the 15:15 but so can the layers - he is just a 15/8 chance - so there is nothing doing in the 5f sprint.
I am going to leave it there, though I really was torn as to whether to put Alternative Fact in the 1m2f handicap at 15:45.
His record off a long break has to be a cause for concern but perhaps the booking of Ryan Moore signals intent and certainly the form of the Ed Dunlop yard would give you encouragement (four winners at the end of last month).
And off a mark just 5lb higher than when winning over 1m at Haydock on soft ground last summer (and just 1lb higher than when an excellent second over that track and trip in September), he is weighted to do some damage, especially as he stays this longer trip plenty well enough, too.
But his price is no real bargain at around 5/1 (the Moore booking probably didn't help there), and I do worry about his reappearance record, plus one or two of his rivals to boot.
Away from the ITV races, prices were very slow to form for the Chester Plate at 16:20 a race in which the ex-French horse Green Book, who ran well on his only hurdling start to date for Venetia Williams back in February, interested me, with Franny Norton up.
Once I have a better handle on his likely price - and I see the first firm up made him a very fair 22/1 chance - he could be getting a speculative few quid, though Elysian Flame looks a very worthy favourite to me after his Newbury win.
Oh, and once again, ITV are broadcasting a jumps race, in this case the 11-runner handicap chase at Market Rasen at 14:00 but I am happy to leave that to others.
Tony Calvin P/L - Flat Season 2021
Started April 14; does not include Thursday’s results
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