TDN Weekend

May 2018

TDN Weekend December 2016 Issue 9

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will only help Chester renew its historic lustre. Its Classic trials were in trouble a few years ago. Hills himself never quite nailed the Derby, a series of near-misses crowned by Hawaiian Sound in 1978. Ridden by Willie Shoemaker, he was beaten a head by Shirley Heights. Curiously enough, Hawaiian Sound was sent off at long odds after being turned over on the Roodee, going down by a neck when odds-on for the Vase. "But that's the thing about Chester," Hills explained. "Whatever they do there, they'll learn something and do better next time. They'll learn more in one race there than in two or three at other places. From a Classic point of view, it's got a pretty good record over the years. It's an ideal place to find out about a horse. "Actually I think Hawaiian Sound got beat in the Vase because he didn't really stay a mile and a half. Of course plenty of those types have won the Derby. Epsom is different kettle of fish. And he was unlucky not to win there. But I thought he'd win at Chester, I was disappointed. He just didn't quite see it out." One way or another, he has learned never to count his chickens on the Roodee. Perhaps the unluckiest horse he ever ran round there was Hickleton, who had a featherweight in a Chester Cup in the early '70s. "I bought him out of a seller at Newmarket for 500 quid," Hills recalled. "He was only a pony, but I knew he'd stay. But he was knocked over on the bend. Would have won otherwise. That's easy to say, but he won a string of good races after that: an Ascot Stakes, a Queen Alexandra, a Prix Gladiateur." But reverses of that kind would never diminish spirits in the evening. "Robert was a good winner and a good loser," Hills shrugged. "He knew what to expect." And so should everyone else, fortunate enough to sample this strange and wonderful carnival. It would be easy to envy someone going for the first time, so startling and so delightful is the novelty. But it is better still going back.

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