As Chester Racecourse opened for business in 2011, on Wednesday 4 May, the sun shone and the crowds poured in to enjoy the popular May Festival.
While the ladies strutted their stuff in the usual fabulous fashion concoctions, the action on the track was equally exciting across the three days:
“It’s magic – it’s the Chester Cup!” said a delighted Donald McCain following a trademark front-running performance by Overturn in the historic staying handicap, less than a month after the trainer’s victory in the Grand National at Aintree.
The popular dual-purpose seven-year-old responded to Eddie Ahern and took advantage of being drawn from stall one to get an early lead – and stayed there!
“All he does is gallop and he kept on galloping. He’s a wonderful little horse and it was always the plan to come here and we got a good draw.”
“If this horse never wins another race, he’s done enough,” added McCain, who trains at Cholmondeley, eight miles south of Chester.
Champion flat jockey of 2010 Paul Hanagan landed the opening race of the meeting aboard Lily’s Angel, while Wonder of Wonders landed the Weatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks (for the Robert Sangster Memorial Cup) when Ryan Moore unleashed his mount and she accelerated readily inside the final furlong.
Doctor Parkes provided Paul Hanagan with a double when landing the Stellar Group Handicap Stakes for Lancashire trainer Eric Alston, and Columbian was successful in the Merseyrail Maiden Stakes.
An action-packed day concluded with another local victory in the Ware Investment and Bridging4U Handicap when Brown Panther overhauled Fadhaa to win by a neck for Richard Kingscote and Tom Dascombe.
“Michael Owen puts a lot in, he’s at his full-time job today, he’s been on the phone and he’s delighted,” reported Dascombe.
Chief Executive Richard Thomas commented: “It’s been a relaxed day with a good temperature and fantastic racing.
“The new facilities and changes we’ve made had worked well today and will ease congestion. It’s great to have a local winner of the Chester Cup.”
Thursday 5 May was Ladies’ Day on the Roodee, featuring the MBNA Group 3 Chester Vase.
Market principals Nathaniel and Treasure Beach battled out the finish of the MBNA Chester Vase in front of packed stands: Treasure Beach had a neck advantage on the line and landed the booty for the powerful Aidan O’Brien yard.
Representing the owners, Paul Smith remarked: “We’re delighted and we’ll have to look at the Derby.”
Winning jockey Ryan Moore brought the winner through the field and said: “It’s an easy thing to do when they are travelling that well, he came to the front easy.”
The O’Brien/Moore combination had already been in the winners’ enclosure when Await The Dawn galloped clear of his four rivals to land the Betfair Huxley Stakes.
Frankie Dettori was cheered into the winners’ enclosure following a one-length victory aboard Crown Counsel in the Boodles Diamond Eternity Handicap for trainer Mark Johnston.
Richard Fahey was successful with Gabrial in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden Stakes. The trainer said: “The owner loves this place and I’m delighted to get him a winner here.”
Mark Johnston recorded a double when Jutland came wide into the home straight and won the Times+ Handicap for jockey Joe Fanning by one and a quarter lengths.
Owner Marwan Koukash also celebrated a double following a success with Lexi’s Hero in the B&M Retail Handicap Stakes. Trainer Kevin Ryan remarked: “It’s a local meeting for the owner and it’s great that he has winners here. Chester means everything to him.”
“There’s an excellent crowd; it’s very busy today with a good atmosphere,” was the day’s summary from the Chief Executive Richard Thomas.
Father Christmas came early to Chester Racecourse when St Nicholas Abbey showed a Frankel-like turn of foot to annihilate the field by nine-lengths and win the Boodles Diamond Ormonde Stakes, giving Ballydoyle a 100% strike rate with their four runners at the three-day meeting.
Representing winning connections, Paul Smith said: “The crowd enjoyed that today!
“We’re delighted, it was great to see. He travelled beautifully through the race and it was great to see his speed.”
Successful jockey Ryan Moore added: “He was very relaxed on the way down.
“It was a very nice performance. It was a messy race; they went from quick to steady.
“He was going that easy, I let him go. He wasn’t stopping.”
The Fahey Factor was again evident at Chester Racecourse as the trainer landed a quick double, aided by champion jockey Paul Hanagan.
Glen’s Diamond was backed down to 2–1 favourite for the Addleshaw Goddard Dee Stakes and justified the market support with a run up the centre of the track to pass long-time leader Maqaaratt and land the Group 3 prize.
“Someone spoiled the party, but first, second and fourth isn’t bad!” was how the result of the Layla Hotel Earl Grosvenor Handicap Stakes was summarised by owner and staunch Chester supporter, Marwan Koukash, responsible for three of the four principle finishers.
Paul Hanagan continued in great form to conjure up a late run from Kyllachy Star and grab the race on the line from Pintura.
A win for Lalyla Jamil in the Highstreetvouchers.com Maiden Fillies’ Stakes also provided Marwan Koukash with a four-timer at the meeting.
The owner said: “We’ve been given a fair chance; it’s nice to get four winners at a place where it’s hard to get winners.”
The famous Godolphin blue colours worn by Frankie Dettori were first past the post in the Victor Chandler Handicap Stakes. Ahtoug responded to Frankie with a good turn of foot to pass horses and pull clear.
The meeting concluded with a win for Imperial Day in the Boxes And Packaging Handicap Stakes and Lovers Causeway made all to land the Cruise Nightspot Handicap.
Richard Thomas, Chief Executive of Chester Race Company, summarised the three-day May Festival “We are all very pleased with the 2011 May Festival, we have had an amazing attendance of more than 63,000 over the last three days. We’ve seen some great racing here from the dream result of Overturn, trained by local Donald McCain winning the Chester Cup to St Nicholas Abbey romping home in the Boodles Ormonde Stakes.”
Saturday, 21 May is the next scheduled meeting at Chester Racecourse when the Romans will be returning to the historic Roodee for Roman Day.