CHESTER really is a marmite track for punters – you either love it or hate it. Often jokingly referred to as a greyhound track, the tight turns mean it’s almost impossible for horses drawn wide or who miss the break to gain a prominent position.
The riders in the 3.15pm today won’t have so many fears over the draw with only seven runners, but it’s still a considerable advantage not to be on the outer.
My selection BLITHE SPIRIT has an outstanding chance for Eric Alston, a trainer who has a deft touch with sprinters. This filly has run really well on her four visits to Chester, winning her last two here.
She gets in off bottom-weight with another 3lb taken off by her rider Jason Hart. On her seasonal reappearance she chased home the very useful Mecca’s Angel, who won her next start by eight lengths. The daughter of Byron looks a great bet at 10/3 with Star Sports.
Both the Group races on the card look trappy. Mount Athos might be able to repeat his win last year in the Ormonde Stakes in what looks likely to be a tactical battle, while anything Aidan O’Brien sends to Chester must be respected.
His duo Century and Kingfisher in the Dee Stakes haven’t looked like world-beaters yet, but the Irish maestro has often used the Group Three as a stepping stone to better things.
In the opener, the Earl Grosvenor Handicap (1.45pm), I’m willing to give BIG JOHNNY D another chance. David Barron thinks a lot of this gelding and he rattled up a hat-trick last season making all each time.
The five-year-old went off well-fancied for the Challenge Cup at Ascot in October but hit his head as he came out of the stalls and was never competitive.
Connections obviously think he is still well-handicapped as he was punted into favouritism at Haydock two weeks ago. He stumbled that day and that effort can be excused.
With first time blinkers, a plum stall in two, and in a contest where mainly out of form horses line up, this one might be able to resume winning ways from the front on a track which will play to his strengths.
At Ascot this evening CHOCALA should be backed for the in-form Alan King yard in the two-mile handicap (6.05pm).
He ran really well behind two progressive sorts who were second and fourth in the Chester Cup on Wednesday and this is a far easier assignment. With Richard Hughes up, the son of Rock of Gibraltar will be hard to beat.
Saturday has a difficult look to it but I will be supporting RIBBONS in Ascot’s Sodexo Fillies’ handicap (3.05pm). James Fanshawe’s charge was given too much to do in a Listed race at Kempton last month but still finished second.
The return to a handicap should see her regain winning ways and take her strike-rate to five wins from seven starts.
The feature race in Berkshire is the Victoria Cup (3.50pm) over seven furlongs and, as one would expect, it is wide open.
My sole selection will be LOUIS THE PIOUS at 16/1 with Paddy Power, who are paying each-way on the first five home. This one has always threatened to land a big one and his run last time was full of promise. Granted luck in running, Daniel Tudhope’s mount should make a bold bid.
BIG JOHNNY D e/w 1.45pm Chester (today)
BLITHE SPIRIT 3.15pm Chester (today)
CHOCALA 6.05pm Ascot (today)
RIBBONS 3.05pm Ascot (tomorrow)
LOUIS THE PIOUS e/w 3.50pm Ascot (tomorrow)