21st Century Stars of the Chester May Festival

For many racing fans, Newmarket’s Guineas Meeting marks the moment when the latest flat season really kicks into gear. Barely has the dust settled on the opening Classics of the season, before the next multi-day meeting rolls onto the calendar, with the three-day midweek treat that is the Chester May Festival.

The meeting offers something for everyone, from quality juvenile contests to the marathon handicap of the Chester Cup. However, it is the classy trio of the Cheshire Oaks, Chester Vase, and Dee Stakes which regularly attracts the highest-quality of performers, with many runners using the races as a stepping stone towards the Epsom Classics in June.

Not all winners of this trio of events go on to greatness, but some certainly do, and here we take a look back at five of the best from the current century.

5. 2019 Dee Stakes: Circus Maximus

  • Trainer – Aidan O’Brien
  • Sire – Galileo
  • Peak Career Rating – 120

The combination of Aidan O’Brien and Galileo has been tough to deny in the 21st century, and Chester has certainly felt the force of the powerful double act. The first of three entries on our list representing that trainer/sire combo, is the 2019 Dee Stakes champ, Circus Maximus. Sent off as the market leader on the back of a close-up fourth in the Vertem Futurity Trophy on his final start at two, Circus Maximus rewarded favourite backers with a tenacious verdict over stablemate Mohawk by a length and a quarter.

Finding the 1m4f of the Derby a trip too far on his next start, the colt would experience his finest hours when dropped back to a mile. In 10 outings in Group 1 one-mile contests, Circus Maximus only finished outside of the first three on two occasions – picking up wins in the St James’s Palace Stakes, the Queen Anne Stakes, and the Prix Du Moulin.

4. 2013 Chester Vase: Ruler of the World

  • Trainer – Aidan O’Brien
  • Sire – Galileo
  • Peak Career Rating – 122

Whilst the Cheshire Oaks, the Chester Vase, and the Dee Stakes are excellent prizes in their own right, many winning owners likely have the ultimate dream of tasting Classic success at Epsom. Not too many have managed to follow up a Chester win with a Derby triumph in recent times, but Kris Kin completed the Dee Stakes/Derby double in 2003, whilst Wings Of Eagles finished second in the Chester Vase before his 40/1 Derby victory in 2017. Just edging out Kris Kin for a place on this list, is the only horse to do the Chester Vase/Derby double in the current century: 2013 champ, Ruler Of The World.

A perfect one from one headed into the 2013 Chester Vase, this Aidan O’Brien runner was sent off at a shade under evens, and made short work of his rivals in pulling clear to score by six lengths. His finest hour would then come at Epsom around three weeks later when, just like his sire before him, Ruler Of The World stayed on best of all to claim Derby gold. In truth, the colt was never quite so good again, with his only subsequent win coming in the Group 2 Prix Foy at Longchamp in 2014.

3. 2013 Dee Stakes: Magician

  • Trainer – Aidan O’Brien
  • Trainer – Galileo
  • Peak Career Rating – 124

2013 proved a good year for Aidan O’Brien and Galileo, with the duo also teaming up to land the Dee Stakes with Magician. Despite finishing last of seven in his final outing at two, this Michael Tabor-owned runner still started as a warm 13/8 favourite for the race, and landed the odds in impressive style with a powerful finishing effort in the straight.

Whilst Ruler Of The World went for the Derby, it was the Irish 2,000 Guineas which was next on the agenda for Magician, and he again delivered in spectacular style – scorching clear close home for an easy win by three and a half lengths. Bombing out when last of 12 in his next start in the St James’s Palace Stakes, he bounced back with arguably his greatest performance, when mowing down John Gosden’s multiple Group 1 winning mare, The Fugue, to claim Breeders’ Cup Turf glory.

2. 2000 Chester Vase: Millenary

  • Trainer – John Dunlop
  • Sire – Rainbow Quest
  • Peak Career Rating – 121

Having only scraped home to land his maiden at the third time of asking, Millenary didn’t look like an obvious Group race winner ahead of the 2000 Chester Vase. However, John Dunlop had clearly seen something he liked on the gallops, and the colt took the step up in class in his stride – displaying the battling qualities which would serve him so well throughout his career to get on top late for a half-length success.

Millenary disappointed when sent over to France for the Prix du Jockey Club, but bounced right back in the Autumn when staying on admirably to land the St Leger at Doncaster. Racing on until eight years of age, Millenary became one of the most popular stayers in training, with his stamina-laden successes including a Lonsdale Cup, Yorkshire Cup, Jockey Club Cup, and two Doncaster Cups.

1. 2017 Cheshire Oaks: Enable

  • Trainer – John Gosden
  • Sire – Nathaniel
  • Peak Career Rating – 128

Topping our list is one of the finest mares of recent times – the John Gosden-trained superstar, Enable. Heading to the Roodee in 2017 with only a maiden win to her name – and having been beaten in her previous outing – it was in the Cheshire Oaks that Enable first really hinted at what would follow. Given a confident ride by Frankie Dettori, she ultimately won by an eased down one-and-a-quarter lengths from the well-fancied Aidan O’Brien runner, Alluringly.

That success proved to be just the first of 12 consecutive victories for Enable, including five-length romps in the English and Irish Oaks and back-to-back editions of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. By the time she retired in 2020, the daughter of Nathaniel had bagged no fewer than 11 Group 1 events, to take her place amongst the modern greats.