NOTHING rouses the Roodee like the totesport.com Chester Cup, and a stirring renewal yesterday brought warmth to a chilly opening day at the popular May meeting.
Mamlook and Tastahil fought like a pair of alley cats in the prestigious handicap, with Mamlook prevailing in a photo-finish. The six-year-old was not winning out of turn, having previously gone close in a series of significant staying handicaps.
For Peter Deal, who owns Mamlook with Gerry Lowe, it was a moment to savour. "I was born in Cheshire, so this is my local track," Deal said. "I have had some great wins but this is right up there. It's tremendous to win one of these proper, old-fashioned handicaps."
Deal triumphed with a proper, old-fashioned horse. Mamlook served a reminder of the days when dual-purpose runners captured the imagination -- notably Sea Pigeon, the dual Chester Cup winner of the 1970s, who also won the Champion Hurdle twice.
Mamlook is not in that league but Richard Hughes, the winning jockey, has always had eyes for him. Hughes rode him to finish runner-up in the Cesarewitch in October and felt he learnt a valuable lesson. Come April and the jockey happened to pass David Pipe on a rare visit to Aintree.
"It was lucky, I literally bumped into David and told him to make sure he put this horse in the Chester Cup," Hughes said of his chance encounter with Mamlook's trainer. "I kept tipping him to people over the winter. He's the ideal type for the Melbourne Cup."
Barry Hills said that Tastahil, who just failed to defy top weight, lost his concentration after moving to the lead inside the final three furlongs. "The draw didn't help him either," Hills said. "But he has run a fantastic race."
If Mamlook is a throwback to a rare type of horse, Gertrude Bell was rarer still: a pioneering woman who graduated from Oxford in the 1890s and helped to establish the modern state of Iraq. Thankfully, the filly named after this associate of Lawrence of Arabia, and winner yesterday of the Weatherbys Bank Cheshire Oaks, turns out to have talent of her own.
Trained by John Gosden for his wife, Rachel Hood, Gertrude Bell won a tactical battle that saw her advantage threatened by a spate of fast-finishing fillies in a slowly run race. However, her superiority is almost certainly more pronounced than implied by her winning margin. She will have the chance to prove it when tackling the Oaks on her next start.
"She wants a truly run 12 furlongs and a stiffer track would suit her better," Gosden said. "She did well to win as it was not quite her scene." Gertrude Bell was confidently ridden by William Buick, who doubled up on Masamah in the five-furlong handicap.
Tom Dascombe, who started training in these parts in December, wasted no time in making himself at home by winning the opening Manor House Stales Lily Agnes Stakes with Julius Geezer. The winner is named appropriately, albeit with contemporary frivolity, given Chester's Roman origins.
Rain brought a damp conclusion to the day, by which time Alrasm had carried top weight to victory in the 12-furlong handicap.
© The Times, London