The ground was certainly on the soft side on day one and with more heavy showers in the area it will be more of the same for the middle day of Chester’s May meeting.
A sprint handicap to kick things off on Thursday so the first port of call is the draw. Jabbarockie has the ideal berth in stall one as front runner after a good win at Musselburgh on seasonal debut when making all. He is up 3lb but trainer Eric Alston loves a winner on the Roodee and he has a 7lb pull for three and a half lengths on Count D’Orsay on a Haydock meeting back in September.
Count D’Orsay does like to get his toe in so has ideal conditions and looks to be the choice of David Allan of the Tim Easterby pair, but I am a big fan of their other runner, COPPER KNIGHT. He always pays his way and ran second in this race in 2019 after a pipe opener. He has won twice previously at this meeting, the Lily Agnes in 2016 and the 3yo sprint handicap in 2017. His course figures read 1102 and he looks a solid each way proposition from stall three, an ideal berth to track the pace.
Mondammej is a lightly raced runner who won at Pontefract on quick ground last time. He needs to prove himself on slower turf, while Lihou is a course winner who has been very consistent over the winter and is respected under William Buick.
All the high-profile connections are represented in the Dee Stakes, another classic trial at Chester this week.
Godolphin are represented by Sandown Classic Trial third, Yibir. He had the run of the race there and was headed by stablemate and eyecatcher Adayar close home. There seemed to be no excuse and other than he will be expected to come on for the run and with a big question mark over the ground, he can be taken on at the short prices.
Aidan O’Brien brings over Ontario who was third in the European Free Handicap at Newmarket’s Craven meeting. His only victory was in a Galway maiden, but his Royal Lodge second sets the standard but until the O’Brien classic generation show some better form on these shores, he can be passed over at the prices.
Maximal was perhaps a reluctant leader at Newbury last time but was still readily brushed aside in the closing stages and I was left a little disappointed by his finish. Maybe getting a lead this time will see him improve but he was well-beaten on his only prior start on soft.
All this means FOXES TALES could improve past them. He is a half brother to Fox Chairman who has been placed at Group level multiple times and has winning form on soft. He won comfortably at Newbury recently on his first start as a 3yo after a promising debut second last year and this 400,000 guineas purchase gets the nod.
A competitive seven furlong 3yo handicap which has an even more open look now with Sir Michael Stoute’s My Swallow an absentee.
AQUAMAN will be popular after winning nicely at Catterick a couple of weeks ago. He was runner-up on soft on his final juvenile start, could be well treated on handicap debut and is well stalled in three to get a prominent position early.
Buxted Too was second in a good Sandown handicap last time but was beaten six lengths and would have been third if Rifleman had not swerved and unseated Ryan Moore. He did win on the all-weather prior to that, has the ideal stall and William Buick takes the ride.
Aleas must have a decent chance on his 3yo debut. He won his last two starts at juvenile, including one on heavy ground, but the form of his latest win hasn’t really worked out and he is drawn a quite wide.
Yazaman ran in lots of good races as a youngster but appeared to have his own ideas at times, while Bakersboy makes his turf debut for local connections and a market watch is advised.
The Ormonde Stakes has attracted a stellar field for this Group 2 contest, the highlight of the week.
In the last ruing Morando ploughed tough the mud to lower the colours of Aidan O’Brien’s Kew Gardens. Morando is back for more and has his ground and this time Coolmore pitches in Japan for his seasonal return.
Japan is a bonafide Group One horse, but he never turned up on several occasions last season and returns here as a 5yo with something to prove, not least the ground, despite winning a maiden on heavy - that was down to his ability and he is a much better horse on decent ground. So, he is overlooked while Morando has course figures of 112, including victory in this two years ago.
He loves soft ground but didn’t exactly have a stellar year himself and has over eight lengths to find on TRUESHAN on their Long Distance Cup meeting on Champions Day. Trueshan does have a 5lb penalty for that effort but he was mightily impressive and looks still to be improving as a stayer.
He handles conditions and he looks the most likely to give his running for Alan King and Hollie Doyle en route to a potential tilt in the Ascot Gold Cup.
Sonnyboyliston is a lightly raced progressive type for Johnny Murtagh who does not have too much to find on the figures on some solid handicap form, but this is another step up and he has not totally convinced on soft ground, while Sextant at a price is another course winner with solid form here. He was owned by the Queen and trained by Sir Michael Stoute before a switch to a jumping campaign with Keith Dalgleish and if back to song, it could hit the frame at a big price.
A tricky ten-furlong handicap to solve comes along as the fifth race of the afternoon.
First Impression was last seen on the flat, winning at Ayr’s western meeting in September and has won a couple of hurdles races over the winter to remain in good heart and has in the inside stall for this contest which starts at the top of the straight.
Al Madhar has been a little disappointing since his novice win with ease in the ground at Newbury last June but the handicapper has cut him some slack and could be a threat under Jim Crowley while Baryshnikov is a course winner who should build on his comeback at Doncaster when a well beaten ninth.
Ahead of him that day was SARVAN in fourth and he was made favourite for that race, he had no chance with the winner and was arguably unlucky not to finish closer in the City and Surburban at Epsom two weeks ago when meeting trouble in running.
David Probert rides and he has been in tremendous form lately with ten winners from his last 37 rides and he is a tentative selection to get his head home in front.
Many of the others have chances like course winner Kryptos but he is drawn very wide in 11.