Andrew Balding’s Youth Spirit emerged as a Derby contender in causing a minor upset with a clear-cut victory in the Chester Vase.
Blue Riband Trial winner Wirko was the 6-4 favourite to cement his Epsom claims for Charlie Appleby, while Law Of The Sea – already a dual winner this year – also carried the Godolphin colours for John and Thady Gosden.
Aidan O’Brien, who had saddled seven of the last nine winners of the Group Three contest, was represented by Craven Stakes sixth Sandhurst – but it was Youth Spirit (15-2) who stole the show.
Wirko cut out much of the running under William Buick, but was a spent force before the home turn, at which stage Fancy Man looked the most likely winner when sweeping to the front.
However, while his effort was ultimately short lived, Youth Spirit – fourth in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket three weeks ago – finished with gusto under Tom Marquand to prevail by a length and three-quarters.
Sandhurst was one of the first off the bridle, but boxed on well to beat Fancy Man to the runner-up spot.
Bookmakers went 25-1 about Youth Spirit’s chance in the premier Classic, and Marquand – sporting the colours of last year’s Derby runner-up Khalifa Sat – said: “To be honest he was a bit behind the bridle, this was my first time riding him and it looked like he did that over nine furlongs at Newmarket.
“That must just be his run style because when I sat into him and gave him a proper squeeze coming to the three he was all there for me.
“The one question he had to answer was the trip, but you’d have to say he hit the line extremely well. It was a muddly race, but he’ll stay in an honest-run race as well.
“Chester is a funny old place and if you swing out your race can be over, but I followed William and I knew he’d take me into the guts of the race. He was really tough, stuck his head out and was there for me.”
He added: “It’s great for Ahmad Al Shaikh to have another one for the Derby because last year that was a fair story with Khalifa Sat finishing second. Hopefully they can go one better.
“Khalifa Sat surprised me in the Derby as he looked more a staying type, whereas this lad is the other way around – 12 furlongs is as far as he’ll want.”
Balding was represented by his wife, Anna Lisa, who said: “Andrew has always thought a lot of him and today has shown what we wanted to find out.
“I’m sure the owner will be looking forward to a runner in the Derby so I’d be amazed if he didn’t show up at Epsom.
“Somebody made me aware the other day that it is 50 years since Mill Reef won the Derby for Kingsclere, which is fantastic, but it will be a little bit quieter this year.
“When Tom got on him he said ‘a Camelot round here on soft ground, he’ll love it’ and he was right. He was a massive price, I couldn’t believe it.
“Andrew’s record in the Derby isn’t great, but he was second and fourth last year.”
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