Cliffs Of Moher takes Dee Stakes on Chester return
Aidan O'Brien strengthened his grip on the Investec Derby when Cliffs Of Moher ran out a workmanlike winner of the Homeserve Dee Stakes at Chester.
After providing the first three home in the Derrinstown Derby Trial on Sunday, the Ballydoyle handler repeated the feat in the Chester Vase on Thursday and Cliffs Of Moher had been well backed prior to his run on the Roodee.
While every other stable in the land would be content with six Derby hopefuls, O'Brien also won the 2000 Guineas with Churchill who is still in the frame for Epsom, although the likelihood is that he will be kept to a mile, and runs the touted Sir John Lavery at Lingfield on Saturday.
Bookmakers were not too impressed with the Ryan Moore-ridden winner, with many choosing to leave his price unchanged at around the 6-1 mark.
The 4-5 favourite needed to be niggled along from some way out to keep tabs on the free-going Max Zorin, before staying out stoutly to claim a length and a half win from Bay Of Poets.
Max Zorin just held off the fast-finishing Mirage Dancer for third, with the latter possibly being the one to take out of the race given it was just his second run and he had nowhere to go at a crucial stage.
Cliffs Of Moher comes through a worrying period mid-race to land the odds and win the Dee Stakes at Chester pic.twitter.com/z0JbxEsMKi— ITV Racing (@itvracing) May 12, 2017
It is perhaps being a bit churlish to be too critical of the winner given O'Brien had made it public knowledge that both Cliffs Of Moher and Sir John Lavery had been held up in the spring and in fitness terms are some way behind the others who had been running.
You get the impression, as long as John Lavery does the business at Lingfield, that Moore's choice of mount in the Derby will be between those two.
"He just raced a bit sleepy the whole way really," said Moore.
"He came out a little bit slow, the tempo wasn't strong and he was able to sit second, but he was always just having a look around.
"It was his first run of the year and he just felt a bit rusty, but I'd be very happy with him.
"It's loose ground and it's not ideal for him, to be fair."
Paul Smith, son of part-owner Derrick Smith, said: "Aidan said that he was just ready to start today and he'd really come on a lot for the run. Ryan thought that too and he was very happy with him.
"I think Aidan and the boys will sit down next week after the trials and make a plan and decide which way they're going to go."
Charlie Appleby was thrilled with Bay Of Poets and has not ruled out the possibility of him being supplemented for Epsom.
"I'm obviously delighted. It was a step forward again from Epsom. He' not in any of the Derbys, he's not got any big, lofty entries, but he's a horse that's putting his profile up now," he said.
"We will have to discuss with His Highness (Sheikh Mohammed) and John Ferguson what we are going to do with him in the foreseeable future.
"We'll probably all sit tight until the Dante is run next week and then we will start to get a clearer picture. We all know there is only one Derby, but we will also have in the back of our mind that we've got Ascot coming up soon afterwards.
"I wouldn't say the Derby was out of the question, but we will wait until after the Dante and then start to make some decisions."
Trainer Andrew Balding was delighted with the performance of Max Zorin.
He said: "I thought he'd nicked it for a moment, but we're thrilled with him.
"We'll have a look and see where he goes next, but he could be the type to take to America later in the season."
Connections of the Michael Stoute-trained Frankel colt Mirage Dancer are in two minds as to whether to let him line up at Epsom on June 3.
Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Khalid Abdullah, said: "He galloped out really well at the finish and from the horse's point of view it was a good effort.
"He was a bit luckless, but that is what can happen here.
"We still have high hopes for him and we'll just have to see how he does, but if we aim very high, which means the Derby, then you are asking him a very big question.
"Otherwise we'd be looking at Royal Ascot and the King Edward VII.
"On that, the Derby still looks a big ask but he'll have learned a lot today. He'll have to show some good things at home to go to the Derby."
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