A lively crowd of more than 20,000 people headed to the Roodee for the 2023 Summer Festival at Chester Racecourse, on a day where Arabian Racing made its return to the track after a near 20-year absence. The feature race came at 3:42pm in the Chandon Garden Spritz Handicap (Class 2), with ground conditions remaining Good (Good To Soft in places) throughout the afternoon.
Race 1 – Champagne Laurent-Perrier EBF Maiden Stakes (GBB Race) (Class 4, 2yo, 5f)
A race in which the entire field of seven were only separated by little more than 6 lengths, a strong late burst of speed from Liv My Life (5/1) settled the contest in a matter of strides, the Richard Hannon inmate eventually coming home ¾ of a length to the good under Sam Hitchcott. Positioned in midfield on the tails of the leaders, Liv My Life was kept quiet under the rail by Hitchott through the opening couple of furlongs, Etoile D’Alexandre (15/8F) taking the field along at a good clip as Desert Master (4/1) sat in rear-division. As gaps started to appear around the home turn, Hitchott nudged his mount along and was soon in the clear as the early leader began to struggle under the pressure. Responding well under the Hitchott drive, Liv My Life galloped on strongly down the centre of the track in the final furlong, seeing out the race well and eventually holding off Desert Master, who made up a lot of ground late on under Franny Norton and looks a future winner in waiting. A jockey known for his various high-profile winners around the globe, Hitchott has won Group or Listed races in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, and the UAE during his career; what a CV!
Race 2 – Ultimate Provence Handicap (Class 4, 3yo+, 1m 4 ½f)
A Hayley Turner masterclass proved to be the winning formula in Race 2 when Scintillante (11/4F) pulled out all the stops in the final furlong to see off Zealandia (7/2) by ½ a length for trainer Andrew Balding. Content to sit towards the rear of midfield, Hayley Turner kept Scintillante dropped in throughout the first circuit of the contest, with Natchez Trace (7/1) challenging for the early lead ahead of Zealandia (7/2) and 11-year-old Restorer (6/1). Passing the three-furlong marker, Scintillante had made a couple of positions but still had a fair bit on as Natchez Trace kicked on into the lead around the home turn. Angling for a run between horses as the leaders thundered into the final furlong, Scintillante ran on well for pressure under Turner and readily found the perfect gap between Zealandia and Natchez Trace at the half furlong pole to sail into an unchallenged lead, securing an eased down victory in cosy fashion. Still showcasing her classy race-riding skills, Hayley Turner also recently claimed Royal Ascot glory in the valuable Britannia Stakes aboard Docklands!
Race 3 – Grey Goose Essences Handicap (Class 3, 3yo+, 6f)
Not content with one winner on the day, Roman Dragon (7/2) provided Hayley Turner with a quickfire double in Race 3, the Roodee specialist now securing his fourth victory at the track and bring home the spoils for Hugo Palmer. Adopting his usual front-running tactics out of the stalls, Roman Dragon soon shared the early lead with veteran of the field Hyperfocus (16/1), the pair ahead of the likes of Princess Shabnam (5/1) in midfield and Cuban Breeze (3/1F) towards the tail-end of the pack. Travelling strongly on the bit as he led the field into the home straight, it looked to be plain sailing for Roman Dragon, with the remainder of the opposition now under strong pressure to bridge the deficit. Kicking on impressively with just over a furlong to go, Roman Dragon received a couple of reminders and soon accelerated away from Hyperfocus with the winning post in sight, galloping on resolutely all the way to the line to record yet another win at his favourite track; Princess Shabnam and Cuban Breeze made eye-catching progress in the closing stages to finish third and fourth places respectively. Still young enough to add more races to his Roodee CV, Roman Dragon is now just two victories away from equalling Chester stalwarts Gabrial The Tiger and Powerallied, who themselves won a record six races each at the track during their careers!
Race 4 – Chandon Garden Spritz Handicap (Class 2, 3yo, 7f)
Given a smart ride from the King of Chester (Franny Norton) having been in rear-division throughout, Equatorial (10/11F) quickened away in the style of a smart recruit in the feature race of the day, the 3-year-old gelding 2 ¼ lengths clear at the line for the Newmarket-based Roger Varian stable. After the early drama of Sam James falling from his mount upon leaving the starting stalls, Starnberg (10/1) led the field along at a strong gallop, with Equatorial racing in rear division having been hampered by the loose Think Climate (18/1) in the early stages. As Starnberg rounded the final bend and maintained the lead into the straight, Equatorial made stylish headway through the field to take a prominent position, readily galloping into second place with the furlong marker looming. Entering the final 200 yards of the contest, Starnberg succumbed to Equatorial’s turn of foot, the new leader careering away into a commanding lead and swiftly putting the race to bed under a smart ride from Norton. A trainer in flying form with two recent Royal Ascot successes, Roger Varian also took Group 3 honours at Newcastle yesterday in the Hoppings Fillies’ Stakes with progressive filly Al Husn!
Race 5 – Born To Mix Absolut Vodka Novice Stakes (GBB Race) (Class 4, 3yo+, 7 ½f)
Although the market suggested he looked likely to secure the fifth race with O G Beachwear (EvsF), it was Hugo Palmer’s lesser fancied stablemate Princess Niyla (4/1) that took home first prize under Paul Hanagan, the novice eventually squeezing ahead by ½ a length at the line on her turf debut. Almost a case of déjà vu, yet another jockey (Laura Pearson) was unfortunately unshipped out of the starting stalls when her mount Woody’s Angel (66/1) veered badly right and quickly reduced the field down to six in the 7 ½ furlong contest. Racing towards the rear of the field, Princess Niyla took a keen hold under Paul Hanagan in the early stages, with stablemate O G Beachwear leading the field under double-seeking Franny Norton, with the likes of Maremma (9/2) in mid-division. Kicking on strongly on the turn into the straight, O G Beachwear almost looked home and hosed with a furlong to go, stretching a couple of lengths clear of the opposition with little dangers coming from in behind. However, gathering a head of steam and showing a bright burst of speed in the final 200 yards, Princess Niyla was fairly flying down the outside of runners and readily took over the lead in the shadows of the post to snatch victory frow the jaws of defeat, with Maremma also running on well to rob the valiant O G Beachwear of second place. Now entering his 25th year in the saddle, Paul Hanagan also has Royal Ascot winning pedigree of late, taking both the 2021 & 2022 Norfolk Stakes!
Race 6 – Jam Shed Handicap (Class 4, 4yo+, 2m)
Another inspired ride from Franny Norton in the sixth race on the card provided the local jockey with another Roodee winner in the shape of Military Two Step (5/2), coming home 3 lengths to the good for trainer Charlie Johnston. Having not been the sharpest out of the gates, Military Two Step quickly made good ground on the outside of runners to sit prominently behind early leader Mancini (18/1), relegating Malakhana (15/8F) and Buxted Reel (8/1) to a share of last place in this marathon contest. With the majority of her rivals now firmly under the pump as the field passed the three-furlong marker, Military Two Step travelled ominously well around the home turn and quickly swept into a commanding lead with just the home straight to negotiate. Going after the leader having made progress through the field, Malakhana tried her level best to peg back Military Two Step in the final furlong but ultimately came up well short in the end, with the leader simply not for catching on her way to a very straightforward victory. Enjoying his first season as a singular trainer, Charlie Johnston has already amassed 87 winners in 2023, including the talkSPORT Burradon Stakes (Listed)!
Race 7 – IFAHR Trophy (Group 2 PA, 3yo+, 6f)
The first Arab race to take place at Chester Racecourse in almost 20 years went the way of Ekleel Athbah (11/4), winning the race for the second time after last year’s renewal in Newbury, bringing back a valuable prize for trainer Mr Philip Collington and providing Sam Hitchott with a double. Pulling his head for much of the contest, Ekleel Athbah raced towards the rear of a tightly grouped field, the lead held by Abiyah Athbah (4/1) for the most part ahead of Ajs Saaeq (EvsF). Travelling smoothly up the inside as the field made their way for home, Hitchott spied a gap along the rail and quickly pushed Ekleel Athbah into a winning position approaching the final furlong, with AJS Saaeq repeatedly snatched up having not got a clear run at the cutaway. Surging clear under hands and heels, Ekleel Athbah soon had the race sewn up in a matter of strides after passing the furlong pole, eventually going on to score cosily ahead of the unlucky AJS Saaeq, with Zayin Angkor Centurion (14/1) coming home in third place; many congratulations to winning connections Athbah Racing!
Race report by Adam Perkins
THE CHAMPAGNE LAURENT-PERRIER EBF MAIDEN STAKES (CLASS 4,2yo) (GBB RACE)
Distance: 5f,15y | Prize: £9,000
THE BORN TO MIX ABSOLUT VODKA NOVICE STAKES (CLASS 4,3+yo) (GBB RACE)
Distance: 7f,127y | Prize: £10,000