The Chester Cup

The Chester Cup is the feature race on the third day of the Boodles May Festival and is the most valuable race in Chester’s calendar of fixtures. The combination of the uniqueness of the track and distance of the race over 2 miles 2 ½ furlongs has produced some fantastic battles on the Roodee Turf over the years.

In terms of data available it is worth noting that the meeting didn’t take place in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, and the 2021 fixture was held behind closed doors although the big race and a number of others were shown live on ITV racing.

With things relatively back to the new normal last year’s race was won by the Aidan O’Brien trained 4yo Cleveland who had been stepped up markedly in trip having previously only run 4 times at distances of 8-10 furlongs.

Being out of the Derby winner Camelot it was no surprise that he would have needed further to tap into his potential.

Before we delve into the key traits of the past winners of this prestigious race, we thought it would be interesting to highlight some of its historical roots.

The Chester Cup was established in 1824 and was originally called the Tradesman Cup, and the winner of the race, in which horses had to start at the castle gate, was Doge of Venice.

Due to the passing of the Municipal Capital Reforms Act of 1835, which made it illegal for public money to be devoted to racing prizes, the locals of Chester increased their subscriptions, which resulted in the Chester Cup becoming an important race in the racing calendar.

The first really famous racehorse to win the Chester Cup was the prolific winning mare Alice Hawthorn in 1842.

Owned by John Plummer of Skipton, the very next day she was saddled in a handicap stakes race, which she won easily, and went on to achieve a third success at the course the day after in the Cheshire Stakes.

Ridden by Bumby Heseltine that record of three wins in successive days at the May Festival still stands.

When Hawthorn gained her Chester Cup success, she was handicapped at six stone, but two years later she had to carry 9st 8lbs, that race was won by the Duke of Richmond’s 3yo Red Deer who made history by being the first 3yo to win the race.

Red Deer was trained at Goodwood by John Kent and ridden by the diminutive jockey Kitchener, who remarkably weighed just 3st 4lbs.

If Red Deer made history by being the first three year old to win the Chester Cup, it was bettered by another three old in 1852 called Joe Miller trained by William Day, who was the first horse to complete the Chester Cup and Ascot Gold Cup in the same year.

The record attendance on Chester Cup Day was in 1946 when Retsel won the Chester Cup ridden by Clifford Egerton Richards, the younger brother of Sir Gordon Richards in front of a crowd of 103,993.

There have been nine dual winners of the Chester Cup, but the former trainer Barry Hills remains the only trainer to have trained four winners of the race, they were Arapahos, Rainbow High (twice) and Daraahem.

If we now, consider the most recent 25 renewals since 1997 the most prolific winning age has been those aged 6 with 10 wins in total from 102 that took part. The 2021 winner, Falcon Eight, made it 3 winners from the last 5 that were 6yo’s when they competed, whilst the other 2 were both 3yo’s.

Although the 2008 winner Bulwark was returned at 33/1 as one of the 10 aged 6 the rest were more to the fore of the market with starting prices ranging from Rainbow High (2001) at 9/2 through to Montaly (2017) at 16/1. Cleveland went off at 6/1 but given the connections this was not surprising.

A top ten position in the betting market would have been responsible for all but 2 of the winners since 1997 so with 15-17 runners the norm that stat could remove a few from our review processes come race day.

Trainer wise of those still with us only Richard Fahey (2 from 22), Donald McCain (2 from 10) and Ian Williams (2 from 19) have won the Chester Cup more than once since the 1997 renewal.

Mark Johnston won the big race in 2019 with Making Miracles and has had 8 others place but often has more than one runner in the race.

That winner was ridden by Franny Norton who has a solid record at the track and his other rides in the Chester Cup for Mark Johnston resulted in the following outcomes: –

Trumpet Man 5th of 16 in 2021 Time To Study 5th of 16 in 2018 Watersmeet 6th of 17 in 2017 Gulf Of Naples 3rd of 16 in 2012

It will be interesting to see how the yard tackles the big race now that the reins have been handed over to the son Charlie at the start of this year, and we should therefore take note should Charlie have a runner with Norton booked for the ride in this year’s renewal.

When we consider the last time out finishing position of the recent winners, we find that a top 3 placing was achieved by 10 of them but 181 runners in total had that trait which works out to be a 5.52% strike rate and a loss to level stakes of 47.00% to SP.

If we contrast that with those runners that finished 4th or worse on their last outing, we find the strike rate is slightly better at 6.61% and the losses are around the 7% mark at SP but a small profit at Betfair SP.

With that in mind including one with that trait on a short list looks a sensible if speculative option.

As with a lot of other races of this nature the recent trends point to a better class of horse winning with the last one not having an Official Rating of 93 or higher being Admiral in 2006.

Overall, 20 of the most recent 25 renewals have been won by a horse rated 93 or more and backing all rated 93+ would have achieved an A/E of 1.11 and a level stake profit at SP (+5.29% ROI) and at BFSP +24.62%.

There have been 9 recent winners that were making their seasonal reappearance and had last run at least 121 days prior.

The remaining 16 had last been to the track between 8 and 60 days but that trait covered off a big chunk of the runners so is useful to know but not a blind route to profits in the Chester Cup.


Key Trends

  • Play close attention to the 6yo runners, but don’t discount lightly raced 4yo’s
  • Top 10 in the betting market
  • Take note of the Charlie Johnston/Franny Norton combination
  • Those outside of the top 3 placings lto should not be discarded without a closer look at their profile to the other trends.
  • Focus on those entries with an OR of 93 or higher.

On race day we will analyse the entries against the highlighted trends and share our selection(s) with Platinum members in the members’ area.

Steve Carter

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