Boodles May Festival History

The Boodles May Festival is the most famous and well-known racing fixture to take place at Chester. Steeped in history, there is lots to learn about each day of this prestigious meeting.


Trials Day

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 two talking points of the Boodles May Festival Trials Day is the Cheshire Oaks and and the Chester Vase.

In comparison with other historic races at Chester Racecourse, the Cheshire Oaks is a relative newcomer as it was first run in 1950 was originally contested over 1 mile, 4 furlongs and 53 yards when the winner was Requete. The Cheshire Oaks was extended by several yards in 1970 and was relegated to Listed level in 1986.

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 Aidan O’Brien who has landed the prize eight times and 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 ten 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.

Ladies Day

While raceday fashions are a big part of the second day of the Boodles May Festival, the Ormonde and Dee Stakes are the highlights on the track and the Class 1 races have developed a high-class roll of honour over the years.

Following on from Wednesday’s Chester Vase, the Dee Stakes is also a recognised trial for the Derby although it is run over the shorter distance of one mile, two furlongs and seventy yards. Named after the river which runs alongside the racecourse, the race was established in 1813 and was originally open to both colts and fillies.

The leading trainer in the Dee Stakes is Barry Hills who recorded a fantastic eleven winners of the race, while Aidan O’Brien has dominated things of late. The master Irish-trainer has won the Listed contest ten times since 2005, including the last two runnings. His most recent winner of the Dee Stakes was San Antonio in 2023.

The Ormonde Stakes is one for the staying horses as it is run over a distance of one mile and five and a half furlongs. The naming of the Group 3 race can be traced back to 1886, which was when the Chester race crowd witnessed the unbeaten Ormonde, a colt bred in Cheshire, gaining success on the Roodee. He went on to win the Triple Crown of Classic races at Newmarket, Epsom and Doncaster during his three-year-old season and he would remain unbeaten through his 16-race career.

Chester Cup Day

The Chester Cup started its life as the Tradesman’s Plate back in 1824 when it was first run. Originally, the Stand Cup was the feature race of Chester’s May meeting, when this was the only fixture held each year on the Roodee. However, the Tradesmen’s Plate (then the Tradesmen’s Cup) quickly became the feature race of the meeting in the mid-1800’s before its name was changed to the Chester Cup in 1892.

As the longest race run at Chester with the biggest field each year, the Chester Cup is the highlight of the year at the course and one of the major handicaps of the British racing calendar. Nine horses have famously won the race twice, with dual winners including the likes of Rainbow High, Top Cees, Anak Pekan and the Champion Hurdler Sea Pigeon.

Earlier on the card, our Group 2 Huxley Stakes is named after the small village located on the outskirts of Chester and the origins of the Tradesman’s Cup go back to 1824 when the Chester Cup was originally run under this name. Despite the Huxley Stakes only first being run in 1999, it has already established a top-class roll of honour which led to the race being upgraded to Group 2 status for the first-time in 2018.

The most successful horse in the Huxley Stakes is Maraahel who completed a remarkable hat-trick of wins in the race between the year of 2005 and 2007 for Sir Michael Stoute, before only missing out on a fourth victory by a neck in 2008. Other leading performers to have won the Huxley Stakes include John Gosden’s Debussy who was an impressive winner of the race in 2010 and it served as a springboard to further success as the four-year-old won the Grade 1 Arlington Million before finishing a close third in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket. The 2014 edition saw Frankel’s brother Noble Mission make just about all under a fine front-running ride from James Doyle, ahead of a field that included the 2013 Huxley winner Danadana and Sir Michael Stoute’s Telescope. Noble Mission finished off an excellent campaign with success in the Champion Stakes at Ascot in October beating a quality international field; a clear indication of the class of runners this race attracts to the Boodles May Festival meeting.

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