Not So Sleepy chasing Cup riches at Chester

2015 Dee Stakes hero tackles handicap highlight.

Not So Sleepy
Not So Sleepy Picture: Pat Healy Photography

The mercurial Not So Sleepy  bids to prove the toast of the Roodee for the second time in his remarkable career in the Chester Cup.

Hughie Morrison's quirky but classy nine-year-old was a surprise Listed winner at the May Festival in the 2015 Dee Stakes on just his third racecourse appearance.

That narrow and tenacious front-running success was an appropriate preface to his enduring and endearing ups and downs, which have often confounded but also rewarded punters both over hurdles and on the Flat.

Morrison will not be among them despite Not So Sleepy's status as favourite in a typically competitive 17-strong renewal of the historic handicap on Friday – in which Dermot Weld's top weight Falcon Eight and Alan King's pair Who Dares Wins and Coeur De Lion are among a string of dangerous rivals.

Not So Sleepy has been back to Chester twice since his victory six years ago – and ran well again on the second occasion – but as his trainer points out, the snag is he will need to prove he can do it over an extra lap of the famously sharp course this time.

Looking back on his 2015 success, Morrison said: "I always remember it – because it was the day after the General Election.

"Somebody said to me (recently) 'do you think he'll like Chester?' I said 'well, he's won there – he won the Dee Stakes'.

"But the trouble is what he doesn't know is he's got to go around for another circuit this time!"

Not So Sleepy has proved in the intervening years that the extra yardage is no problem, often confounding the odds with unexpected wins – notably when the 20-1 winner of a big Ascot handicap hurdle in December, for the second season in succession.

Fewer people would be surprised if he were to prevail again this time, but Morrison said: "Well, I won't be backing him anyhow.

"I think the top-weight (Falcon Eight) is good – I've seen him win a Listed race (Esher Stakes 2019). So it has great strength in depth.

"I'm realistic. I prefer to go there when the public doesn't fancy him, like at Ascot."

This week's downpours appear to be in Not So Sleepy's favour – although Morrison does not sound so sure.

He said: "If it doesn't rain again it will be terribly puddingy – which might be a bit like Aintree, which we didn't like (when seventh in a Grade One hurdle last month).

"Ideally, it would be raining on the day. It's better this way than firm ground, but I'd like it wetter ground really.

"It will be pretty chewed up by the time we get to Friday, I imagine."

Not So Sleepy was given a winter break before outrunning huge odds to be an honourable fifth in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and then going on to Aintree.

Morrison admits, though, that even he can only guess when the chestnut will run up to his best form – especially on the Flat.

He said: "I think the easiest way to predict him is when he's jumping now – because he doesn't always school very well, but if he schools well, he runs well.

"But I can't really be schooling him to find out if he's going to run well at Chester!

"He always seems enthusiastic and looks well, so you just hope he's going to run well.

"He is quite quirky. He doesn't sweat up and get worried, he just gets excited.

"Courses like Chester sometimes help horses like him, because they don't know where the winning post is!"

Lightly-raced Irish challenger Falcon Eight has a lot less mileage on his clock, and is the class act in the field.

Frankie Dettori is an eyecatching jockey booking for the six-year-old's first appearance since June, and following his gelding operation.

Fiona Craig, bloodstock adviser to owners Moyglare Stud, said: "He's not very quick, and there isn't a race in Ireland long enough to run him in, so I think that's why he's going.

"He hasn't won a race for two years and he's top-weight, which rather surprised me. That's based on him winning a Listed race two years ago, I guess.

"I think the long-term aim is the race at Ascot (Long Distance Cup in October)."

She warns too that any further rain will be no help.

"I don't think he wants very soft ground," added Craig.

"It's an American pedigree, if you go back far enough, and none of them have really wanted soft ground, apart from maybe Sapphire.

"I think this horse is a bit like (full sister) Search For A Song in that he's better on top of the ground."

Who Dares Wins is another prominent in the betting, with stablemate Coeur De Lion not far behind, and King reports his two 2020 Royal Ascot winners in fine shape for their returns to Chester.

Coeur De Lion won the Plate consolation when it was last run here two years ago, and Who Dares Wins has been placed in the last three editions of the main event.

"They're both in good order and have both got form round there," said their Barbury Castle trainer.

"The ground should be fine, but the more rain that falls, the better for both of them – the softer the better."

Who Dares Wins receives just 1lb from Falcon Eight, while Coeur De Lion is another 8lb lower at the bottom of the weights.

King added: "Coeur De Lion was the last one in. I would have preferred to have been in the other race, but there we are.

"He had a nice little pipe-opener at Newbury the other day when the ground would have been plenty quick enough for him.

"I would hope both horses will run well."

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