CHESTER'S racing season is launched next week with a new-look May Festival.

The format - Wednesday, Thursday and Friday - rather than between Tuesday and Thursday- has already proved popular with racegoers, advance ticket sales being split much more evenly across the three days than in previous years.

The Festival starts with a bang, for Wednesday remains Chester Cup day and an exciting 169th running of the two mile and two furlong feature race is in prospect.

Anak Pekan has been installed by the sponsors totesport as the ante-post favourite. But, as always, it will be a hugely open race. Who would bet against last year's unlucky runner-up Big Moment being victorious in 2004, while last season's Newcastle Northumberland Plate winner Unleash - from the National Hunt yard of Philip Hobbs -will be a major fancy.

The second highlight on day one is the Cheshire Oaks, sponsored for the first time by the racecourse's caterers Letheby & Christopher.

Thursday remains Ladies' Day. And now the feature race is the MBNA EuropeBank Chester Vase, one of the two big Derby trials of the May Festival.

Thirty-five minutes later, more fine thoroughbreds will be on show in the Breitling Watches & Waltons Of Chester Huxley Stakes.

Friday is truly a new day - City Day. All eyes will be on the runners in the Jardine Lloyd Thompson Dee Stakes, the race won twice since 1999 by the subsequent victor in The Derby.

Few would have chosen Kris Kin 12 months ago as the likely Epsom hero in June, but the Jardine Lloyd Thompson Dee Stakes is a great trial and may produce the winner of the Flat racing 'blue riband' once again.

Many an old favourite will be on show in the second feature event of the third and final day - the Betdaq Ormonde Stakes. Racecourse ticket prices in 2004 range from £5/6 for the Open Course on all days to £35 for the County Stand concourse and up to £47for the Long Room during the May Festival.

As well as via the web site (, badges can be bought on the racecourse's credit card hotline on 01244 304610 which is open between 9am and 4.45pm Mondays to Fridays.

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