WELCOME to our Eyecatchers column. Every Tuesday form expert Alan Thomson pinpoints horses primed to strike in the next few weeks, if not days. Remember, you can add Alan's weekly updates to your ATR Tracker.
12 TO FOLLOW FROM CHELTENHAM 2017
(Skybet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
The curtain-raiser produced a stunning performance from bad-boy-made-good Labaik, which kick-started an incredible week for top trainer Gordon Elliott, but third horse River Wylde produced a career-best in third. Always well placed, he led briefly between the last two flights but made a hash of the last when on the retreat.
His previous three unbeaten runs over hurdles, in the Dovecoat at Kempton and at Ludlow (twice) suggests Aintree’s flat track will suit River Wylde perfectly. If connections feel he is better going right-handed, then Punchestown would be another option.
(Ultima Handicap Chase)
With most of his best recent form coming on flat, right-handed tracks like Ascot, Kempton and Wincanton, there was some discussion beforehand whether Cheltenham would suit Jonjo O’Neill’s chaser, but Go Conquer didn’t appear inconvenienced by the undulations, running a fine race to finish fifth in a thriller won by Un Temps Pour Tout.
Aidan Coleman always had him handy, hitting the front five out before gradually fading in the heat of battle. A less demanding track will play to his strengths.
A GENIE IN ABOTTLE
(JT McNamara National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase)
Travelled over from Ireland with a burgeoning reputation but the drying ground wasn’t ideally in his favour. A Genie In Abottle jumped off well enough before losing his pitch after four fences and despite his tenacious efforts Jamie Codd never really managed to retrieve the situation.
There was no disgrace in finishing fifth to a rejuvenated Tiger Roll but Noel Meade’s six-year-old is better than this.
His two previous visits to the festival had met with disappointment, but this was more like the Bellshill we know. Ruby Walsh was content to sit off a fierce pace, gradually working his way into the race coming down the hill. Bellshill could never get to grips with Might Bite and Whisper, but wasn’t knocked about to take third spot.
Bellshill was most unlucky not to land the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last year (blundered two out), before going on to land a Grade 1 at Punchestown, and Willie Mullins will be plotting a similar course this spring.
(Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle)
Looked well treated off his 125 rating and carried plenty of stable confidence. Wayne Hutchinson dropped his mount out well off the pace, sticking like a limpet to the inside, and was just making his move when Dino Velvet blundered four out.
That effectively ruined his chance but Alan King’s gelding kept on to finish a never-nearer eighth. Better days lie ahead.
(Weatherbys Champion Bumper)
One of the home team’s better prospects, Western Ryder wasn’t seen to best advantage but still emerged with great credit. Taking the brave man’s route up the inside, Gavin Sheehan was content to bide his time, with the consequence that Western Ryder had an awful lot of leeway to make up in a short period of time turning for home.
He passed a whole posse of runners but that effort took its toll as Western Ryder flattened out in the final 50 yards, with fifth spot scant reward for his endeavour.
FOR GOOD MEASURE
(Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle)
Boasted solid course form coming into this ferocious handicap off a 97-day break but his backers were cursing their bad luck in running. Patient Richard Johnson was looking to pick his way into the race when squeezed out at the penultimate flight.
For Good Measure rallied but still had plenty to find when fluffing the last, eventually finishing ninth to Presenting Percy.
(Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase)
Still only six years of age but had backform at the festival, having finished fourth in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and fifth in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle. Starchitect, slightly hampered two out, emerged with his honour intact, although never able to strike a telling blow on comfortable winner Road To Respect from an unpromising position.
Lightly raced since running disappointingly when fancied for the Cesarewitch, Starchitect has a decent handicap in him under either code.
(Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase)
Traditionally one of the weaker races over the four-day jamboree, won this year by outsider Domesday Book, but Sugar Baron may be one for the future.
Nicky Henderson had kept the gelding under wraps since running third to Fox Appeal at Ludlow before Christmas and Sugar Baron may have finished a bit closer than sixth had he not been hampered around halfway.
This was only his fourth start over fences and Sugar Baron may be a spring horse, having scored at Wincanton last May (good to firm).
(Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle)
Having only his fourth run for Dan Skelton since joining the yard as an ex-Kevin Prendergast miler, Mohaayed was pitched into the deep end on his handicap debut.
This bold plan was rewarded with a respectable eighth place behind classy and battle-hardened Arctic Fire, with Ian Popham putting Mohaayed into the race from two out without ever threatening the principals.
Still only a five-year-old, the gelding had romped home on soft at Taunton in February after running behind the likes of Neon Wolf at Haydock and Elgin at Kempton on Boxing Day. Mohaayed should have learned plenty from this experience.
(Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle)
Has been a credit to Nigel Twiston-Davies this season and found only two very smart Irish novices in Penhill and Monalee too strong after being briefly short of room running down to the final flight.
Wholestone has scored four times since September, improving with every run, and he remains an exciting young stayer.
(Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase)
Off the track for 95 days since landing a three-runner event at Plumpton, Theinval responded to cheekpieces by producing a sterling effort in finishing third to Rock The World.
Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old was in the thick of the action two out but couldn’t muster an extra effort up the hill. There’s room for improvement.
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