WELCOME to our Eyecatchers column. Every week 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.
SIX TO TRACK FROM CHEPSTOW'S SEASON OPENER
Simon Munir and Isaac Souede are seasoned and successful talent-spotters in France and Gallic recruit Echiquier has the stamp of a potentially useful chaser.
He mopped up a moderate novice hurdle at Hexham last month before being elevated sharply in class by Nigel Twiston-Davies for this Grade 2 contest.
Daryl Jacob had him in front straight from the tapes and Echiquier jumped well, giving his hurdles plenty of air before missing out the penultimate flight when the taps were turned on in earnest.
He faded out of contention into fifth behind well-touted Thyme Hill but was by no means disgraced.
This is traditionally a fairly strong early-season Limited Handicap for aspiring youngsters and winner Torpillo certainly fits the bill for Echiquier’s owners.
Back in fourth spot came Petit Palais, formerly a winner at Wolverhampton for John Gosden and twice successful in low-key hurdle events for Tom George last season.
Petite Palais was quite keen returning from his summer break and had run his race when the leaders got away from him three out.
However, he plugged on and will be better served by a drier surface.
Speed Company may have had fitness on his side but this was still an impressive performance as he took the race apart under a confident ride.
Ian Williams kept Speed Company going through the summer on the Flat and was rewarded with some very consistent middle-distance efforts, including a Pontefract victory in June.
Tom O’Brien settled him well off the pace and had only a couple behind on the home bend.
His mount closed the gap quite stylishly and the race was over by the time he fairly winged the final flight.
The deep ground looked more of a help than hindrance and Speed Company can remain competitive off his revised mark.
Winner machines Dan and Harry Skelton added another scalp to their belt with Flash The Steel tuned to the minute, despite a 168-day absence.
He brought some strong form into this cut-throat contest (earlier winner Speed Company was back in third when Flash The Steel scored at Doncaster in late December) so his generous 16-1 starting price was something of a surprise.
The one to take out of the race is possibly favourite Imperial Aura. Kim Bailey’s gelding was having his first handicap start on the back of a bumper and two novice hurdle victories, and looked the most likely winner at one stage.
David Bass had him fairly handy throughout and moved into second as the pace increased off the home bend.
Hitting the front, Imperial Aura’s momentum was checked when he tried to demolish the penultimate hurdle but the lightly-raced six-year-old still held every chance until fading into third on the run-in.
Punters adhering to the old ‘outsider of three’ adage were laughing as 11-2 shot Jarveys Plate beat his two better-fancied rivals in an intriguing little affair.
Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan often come up trumps early in the season and Jarveys Plate was having his first start since finishing down the field in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
Settled out the back, he made steady inroads up the straight under a fairly vigorous ride.
Odds-on Reserve Tank had taken the measure of leader Posh Trish when Jarveys Plate loomed large running down to the final flight.
A mistake sealed Reserve Tank’s fate and Jarveys Plate was driven clear for a well-executed debut success over fences.
His next port of call could be Cheltenham where he won on New Year’s Day.
Templehills was having his first start for Jonjo O’Neill following a switch from Nigel Twiston-Davies but never threatened to take a hand in the finish, which was disappointing.
Outsider The Bay Birch survived a misjudgement at the final fence to gallop his rivals into submission and could well follow up under similar attritional conditions.
Templehills often ruins his chance by making jumping errors but he has the ability to pick up a race for his new stable.
His fourth to Frodon in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree last season was a very respectable effort and he beat a couple of rivals at Warwick last October on a sounder surface.
His next outing should tell us a bit more.