I’m just back from a road trip to Chester.
I caught the 10:10 from Euston with Mick and David O’Reilly, one of the BF lawyers and a fellow pro-claimer. We caught a cab at the other end, which we shared with a couple of old Irish boys – we had to walk the last bit.
As we approached the course I realised I was was wearing a T shirt. I changed quickly in the car park – the Irish boys caught up and joked that it was the first time they’d seen anyone lose their shirt before getting on to the course. We went through to the course, and David and I were collared by a couple of course attendants for not wearing ties. They insisted we put our ties on immediately and followed us to check – a problem as neither of us had a tie with us. We managed to escape and took the lift to the fourth floor where Michael Owen had his box.
Michael owns Manor House stables, the training home of Nicky Vaughan. I have three horses there – Lilac Moon, Peintre D’Argent (owned by the pro-claimers) and Effingham. Manor House is only 15 minutes from Chester, and Michael was entertaining for all three days of the meeting. Michael and Nicky hadn’t arrived by the time we got there, but the Owen clan were there in full force and made up most of the numbers.
There were two tables – one for women and one for men. I popped out to make a couple of calls, and by the time I came back Mick and David had plonked themselves down on the ladies table. I decided not to point out the obvious mistake and sat down with them. Michael’s mum, his wife and his two sisters were all there – all completely mad on horses and as friendly and unassuming a family as you could find anywhere.
The racing was quality, the main talking point being the effect of the draw. Chester is a famously sharp course – it’s around a mile circle and you’re virtually never off the bend. Low numbers have a big advantage – about as big as anywhere in the UK – and even in longer distance races the horse rounding the final bend in the lead has a great advantage over the remainder. The effect of this was particularly strong as the ground was firming up and the leaders weren’t tiring on it. The Chester Vase was won by what appeared to be a pacemaker. The last race of the day was particularly telling.
The last race was a competitive looking 6f handicap. The money came for all the horses drawn low – as it was the horse drawn 1 came first and the horse drawn 2 came second. The next three places were filled by the horses from stalls 3,4 and 5, although not in the right order. There were 5 non-runners – the horses from stalls 9, 12, 13, 14 1nd 16 (from 16 original runners) – the horse in 15 was entirely out on a limb. It’s hard to know what to think – the non-runners were clearly being taken out because of their bad draws, which seems to be taking the mickey, but it’s hard to blame them as the stats indicate that horses drawn high have next to no chance on fast going. Something should be done – my solution would be to cut down the field sizes a little on sprint distances and stagger the stalls slightly (and have them on the far rail) to give the wider draws a slight head start and a better chance of getting to the rail.
After racing we headed back to Manor House stables – www.manorhousestables.com. We went to see our horses – they were looking extremely well. We broke off to watch Hector Spectre in his Windsor claimer – he drifted in the betting but ran well, finishing second to an outsider. He was only in for £4k and there were comments that he looked good beforehand – he was duly claimed. He’s probably a very fair claim – I doubt he’ll turn out to be special but he’d have been better on softer ground and is on a very fair mark.
We went up to Michael’s viewing lounge where his guests had congregated. I had a good chat with Tony Stafford, formerly of the Telegraph but now Raymond Tooth’s racing manager, and there was a small Coolmore party there. We spent a couple of hours chatting. As we left we walked past Nicky’s 11 year old son – one of the guests patted him on the head and gave him a twenty pound note.
We stayed overnight in the main house and were up early and on the gallops. Lilac Moon cantered and Peintre D’Argent had a full gallop. We drove up right next to her as she was tearing up the gallop, which was a thrill. Later we went back to the lounge where a new collection of guests had assembled. There was a small band from the ROA. David Hood from William Hill was there – he’s no great fan of Betfair so I avoided him. Matt Williams turned up and came over for a chat. “Ah” he said, “it’s the second scruffiest man in racing”. I was deeply offended – “are you suggesting there is someone scruffier than me??”. He wouldn’t tell me who the scruffiest man was, but Tony Calvin texted it to me later.
Max One Two Three goes today at Nottingham. We’ve had this race in mind all season – the ground is not ideal but she’ll go on it. I think she wins. Nicky runs Mister MacAttack in the Victoria Cup, and I’ll be cheering him on. He should have a very decent chance – Michael said he wouldn’t be backing him but it would mean a lot to the stable to win a race like this. At Lingfield I like Chasing Stars who comes over from France to contest this – she’s bred to like faster ground and may never have had the opportunity to show her best.