The feature race on the final day of Chester’s May Festival on Friday is the prestigious and valuable Chester Cup (15:35), a historic handicap over 2m 2f which was first run in 1824.
Seventeen are set to go to post in this year’s renewal, and Cleonte looks decent value at 6/1 with BetVictor to land the spoils now dropped back in grade following an eye-catching run on seasonal reappearance.
That came in the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes over 2m at Ascot where, after being held-up off the pace, the Andrew Balding trained son of Derby winner Sir Percy kept on nicely to be nearest at the finish and a four-length third of seven to Dee Ex Bee off a 101 official rating.
It was a highly promising return to action and Cleonte is due to be put up to 104 for it in future assignments.
That means, now switched back to handicap company off an unchanged mark, he is officially 3lb well-in at the weights and among the best handicapped in the race.
Cleonte will also appreciate the step back up in trip having run an absolutely stormer on his final start last season when staying on strongly from miles off the pace to finish a 1 1/2 lengths third of 33 to Low Sun in the 2m 2f Cesarewitch at Newmarket.
He now meets the winner on 3lb better terms and that should be more than enough to see Cleonte turn the tables.
It’s also interesting that Silvestre De Sousa, who partnered him for the first time last time out, is once again in the saddle and another plus is that Cleonte has bagged the plum draw in stall one.
Austrian School the pick of Johnston quartet
Trainer Mark Johnston launches a four-pronged attack on the race in a bid to win it for a first time and Austrian School, who heads the betting at 5/1 with Betfair, looks the clear pick of the quartet.
This four-year-old landed a handicap over 1m 4f at this meeting 12 months ago when scoring in game fashion by three-quarters of a length off a mark of 85.
Austrian School went on to post a string of solid efforts to make the frame when stepped up in trip, including on his final start of the campaign when an excellent two-length third of seven to Ghostwatch in a warm Listed contest over 1m 6f at Ascot off a 102 official rating.
That run suggested there may be even better to come this season form Austrian School, and that view was confirmed in no uncertain fashion when he romped to a six-length success in the valuable 14-runner Queen’s Cup at Musselburgh last month.
Austrian School made a total mockery of his handicap mark of 102 and it was a performance which suggested he could be a pattern performer in the making.
If that does prove to be the case, then the son of Teofilo could be thrown-in at the weights in this off just 3lb higher.
As Austrian School also has a handy draw in stall five from which to get a good early pitch, a bold bid to follow-up looks assured.
The one question mark is stamina, but Austrian School shapes as if the 2m 2f of this should be within his compass.
Irish raider Low Sun commands respect
Irish trainer Willie Mullins does particularly well with his raiders in staying contests like this, so the aforementioned Cesarewitch winner Low Sun looks a key player under Ryan Moore.
This Rich Ricci owned six-year-old, who can be backed at 9/1 with Betway, is a very useful dual purpose performer that has won three of his six starts on the level.
Prior to his game neck success in Newmarket, he landed a very competitive 2m handicap at The Curragh in fine style by 2 1/2 lengths and a 20-runner handicap hurdle at the Galway Festival.
Low Sun now has to shoulder 8lb more than when winning the Cesarewitch and a revised rating of 106 requires much more. He does, however, have no stamina worries and is versatile as regards ground.
While Low Sun also remains open to further progression on the level, the big concern for his supporters is he’s drawn widest of all – out in the car park in stall 17.
That is going to make things very tough under 9st 6lb but, with Moore in the saddle nothing is impossible, and granted luck in-running a big run looks on the cards
Shabeeb a fascinating contender
Ian Williams, who saddled Magic Circle to land the spoils 12 months ago in runaway style, has four contenders this time around. The one that appeals most is Shabeeb, who can be backed at 8/1 with Paddy Power.
This six-year-old won three times when in the care of Roger Varian and also posted some eye-catching efforts in defeat last season.
They included when a fast finishing 6 1/2 lengths fourth of 14 to Rotaj Line over 1m 3f at Epsom off a mark of 96.
Shabeeb went on to win next time up over 1m 6f at Newmarket where, after racing at the rear, he powered home to beat Fire Jet by a neck.
The way in which he finished off in both those contests suggests that the son of Smart Strike may well have more to offer when stepped up further in trip.
He gets that now and makes his debut for Williams having been bought by “Mr Chester” Dr Marwan Koukash, who loves this race more than any other and saw his famous grey colours carried to victory last year by the aforementioned Magic City.
Shabeeb is sure to be primed to the minute and, off a revised rating of 98, still looks potentially ahead of his mark. So, at the odds on offer he makes plenty of each-way appeal.
OpenOdds’ Chester Cup shortlist
Austrian School ✮✮✮✮✰