The always eagerly anticipated opening day of the Boodles May Festival is a celebration of our city-centre location and heritage which sees some high-class action on the track to get our racing season underway.
The traditional curtain raiser of the Boodles May Festival is the Lily Agnes Conditions Stakes for two-year-olds over the flying five-furlongs, which is run in honour of the mare who had a highly-successful career both on and off the track. In the 1870s Lily Agnes recorded twenty-one victories which included all six of her two-year-old starts before she landed a trio of major races: the Northumberland Plate, Doncaster Cup and the Ebor. In her second career she then went on to become one of the leading broodmares as she was the dam of the unbeaten Triple Crown-winner Ormonde, a colt bred in Cheshire who we also recognise with our feature race on Thursday.
The two Class 1 events on Wednesday’s card then see the focus switch to the three-year-olds and they are races to watch closely with the potential for future stars to be on show. In comparison with other historic races at Chester Racecourse, the Cheshire Oaks is a relative newcomer as it was first run in 1950 when the winner was Requete. The Listed race has been targeted by leading trainers, including the legendary Sir Henry Cecil who won it three times including with subsequent Epsom Oaks heroine Light Shift. The most successful trainer in the race is Barry Hills who landed the prize seven times, while Aidan O’Brien and John Gosden have won the last five renewals between them. The star-name amongst the roll of honour is none other than Enable who was actually gaining her second-career success when she won the 2017 Cheshire Oaks for Gosden, a victory that began an exceptional twelve-race winning streak for the wondermare.
With the Cheshire Oaks being for fillies, the Chester Vase offers the opportunity for the males to gain valuable experience with trainers using Chester as a key part of their horses’ development. First established in 1907, the Vase has an illustrious roll of honour with one of the early winners of the race being the great Hyperion, who began his three-year-old career on the Roodee before going on to success in both the Derby and the St Leger. Moving onto the 80s and 1980 and 1981 saw back-to-back winners of the Vase follow-up in the Derby, with the American-bred Henbit gaining Classic glory at Epsom followed by the legendary Shergar a year later. In more recent times, the master Irish-trainer Aidan O’Brien has built up an excellent record in the Chester Vase, winning the race a record nine times. In 2013, his Ruler Of The World had not run as a two-year-old and only made his debut a month prior to the May Festival. He would win the Vase by an impressive six lengths and the experience of Chester helped the son of Galileo quickly progress to become a Derby winner.