Rhys Williams has nominated 11 horses which caught his eye over smaller obstacles at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.

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Welcome to the attheraces.com Eyecatchers column. Every week Rhys Williams will pinpoint horses primed to strike in the next few weeks, if not days. Remember, you can add Rhys's weekly updates to your ATR Tracker.


BD - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1), Tuesday 10th March

Captain Guinness’s keen going nature was a prominent feature in his defeat at Punchestown and he once again raced keenly through the early stages of the Supreme. However, whereas at Punchestown he continued to race keenly for much of the race, on this occasion he settled after jumping the second hurdle and continued to race just behind the leaders until starting down the hill.

He moved up to challenge at 3 out but was badly hampered as Elixir d’Ainay jumped across him. Briefly nudged along to recover, he still appeared to be travelling well going to 2 out where Elixir d’Ainay fell and brought him down.

It’s difficult to be sure exactly where Captain Guinness would have finished but he seemed to have plenty left to offer when coming down and he looks an exciting novice chase prospect for next season.

6th - Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1), Tuesday 10th March

Edwardstone was another to race a bit keenly early on in the Supreme, held up at the back of the field. He made a mistake at the first hurdle and another at the third before making some headway to latch on to the back of the main pack as the field turned down the hill.

He was still travelling well going to 2 out and was only about four lengths behind the leader turning into the straight before fading approaching the last and coming home 23 lengths behind the winner in sixth.

I think the testing ground on the opening day was against him and he can make his mark in big field handicaps next season on good ground at tracks with less stiff finishes.

3rd - Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1), Tuesday 10th March

Much of the focus pre and post-race with the Mares’ Hurdle surrounded Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux (with a little on Stormy Ireland and ‘that’ move off the rail). Finishing behind the market leaders in third was Elfile, who looks likely to be suited by a step up in trip in the future.

She raced a bit keenly through the early stages until Honeysuckle moved up to press Stormy Ireland for the lead turning down the back straight. Elfile continued to race handily just behind the leaders before being asked to challenge Stormy Ireland on the run to 2 out and keep Honeysuckle in a pocket.

After jumping 2 out, she was pushed along and then got squeezed up in between Stormy Ireland and Benie Des Dieux, leaving her in fourth entering the straight. While she couldn’t go with the front pair, she responded well to pressure to stay on strongly on the run in and finish third, seven lengths behind Honeysuckle.

Elfile’s previous runs over 2m4f this season have suggested that stamina is now her strong suit and this one was no different, so given the staying hurdling division currently looks shaky, I think stepping her up to 3m next season with the Stayers' Hurdle as the long-term target would be an attractive option.

3rd - Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1), Wednesday 11th March

The field for the Ballymore looked a superb bunch in the paddock and, apart from Sporting John who ran well below expectations, they didn’t disappoint on the track. The giant The Big Getaway is far from the finished article and ran a fine race having taken up the running at the third hurdle and set a strong pace.

He stepped at 3 out but maintained his lead and went two lengths in front just after turning into the straight. Pushed along, his advantage gradually dwindled on the run to the last and he was headed by Envoi Allen shortly before it.

After jumping the last, The Big Getaway had little left to offer and he came home in third. This was a very promising performance and with improvement likely to come for the switch to fences and physical improvement given his stature, The Big Getaway looks likely to be among the top novice chasers next season.

4th - Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1), Wednesday 11th March

The Big Breakaway was another runner in the Ballymore to have started his career with Donnchadh Doyle. He went into the Ballymore unbeaten after winning both starts over hurdles impressively for Colin Tizzard but the race went wrong for him from the off.

It appeared that the intended plan was to race handily but he was squeezed up at the start and had to be briefly shaken along approaching and after the first hurdle. He continued to be a little on and off the bridle at various stages of the race and was bumped along after 4 out.

Robbie Power tried to track Envoi Allen coming down the hill but The Big Breakaway was easily outpaced by that rival after 2 out before staying on after the last. He didn’t have the ideal prep for this race having missed an intended run on Trials Day due to injury and the race didn’t go to plan from the start so I think he’s better than this run suggests.

He’s another who is very likely to be a better chaser and he’s only had four runs in his career so far so he looks one of the top British staying novice chase prospects for next season.  

8th - Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3), Wednesday 11th March

Birchdale had an unusual season prior to running in the Coral Cup, having just one run over fences at Ascot in November where he was well beaten. In the Coral Cup, he was held up towards the back of the field on the outside and was still there as the field turned to come down the hill.

He still travelled very well going to 2 out before being pushed along on landing. He came under a bit stronger pressure in the straight and closed to be about three lengths behind the leader jumping the last but had no more left to offer on the run in and finished 9¾ lengths behind the winner in eighth.

Birchdale was badly positioned considering the slowly run nature of this race so his performance can be upgraded and I think the ground may have been softer than ideal for him. As long as he has a clear run of health next season, I think he can show himself to be better than his rating of 145 over hurdles or fences.

9th - Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3), Wednesday 11th March

Coko Beach finished second in the Boodles last season and ran respectably at the Festival again this season when shaping better than his finishing position suggests in the Coral Cup. Wearing cheekpieces for the first time, he raced in midfield for much of the race before being pushed along on the run to 2 out.

He jumped that just behind the leaders but was nearly turned sideways on landing after Champagne Well landed awkwardly in front of him and he lost his place. He ran on well under strong pressure in the straight but his chance had gone and he could only stay on into ninth.

Reportedly a very idle horse, he’s one to keep an eye on through the season with the Spring Festivals in mind and it may be that the Pertemps ends up being the chosen target.

7th - Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3), Wednesday 11th March

Theatre Of War had seemingly been saved for this race having not been seen on the track since finishing an eyecatching second at Leopardstown over Christmas.

Held up at the back of the field, he raced keenly through the early stages and was still at the rear of the main pack starting down the hill. He made headway travelling strongly on the run to 2 out but made a mistake at that hurdle and landed awkwardly.

Nudged along after, he recovered his position and moved up to challenge the leaders on the run to the last. He jumped it about ¾ length behind Aramax but had nothing left on the run in and faded to finish 5½ lengths behind in seventh.

The ease with which he travelled into the race and recovered from the mistake at 2 out suggests that Theatre Of War could be better than his current rating and on a less demanding track, he could take advantage of that.  

5th - Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1), Friday 13th March

The decision to run Janidil in the Albert Bartlett was one of the most surprising placements of this year’s Festival, stepping him up a mile in trip after winning a two mile handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse on his previous start.

Initially he raced keenly under restraint towards the back of the field on the outside before being switched to the inside after one hurdle. Towards the back of a tightly packed field coming down the hill for the final time, he started to make smooth headway after 2 out until being squeezed up between Cobbler’s Way and Fury Road.

Pushed along after, he moved to be just behind the leading line two furlongs out but after coming under stronger pressure approaching the last, he gradually dropped away and was beaten 11½ lengths in fifth. This run gave the impression that 3m is further than ideal for Janidil and, when dropped back in trip, he can continue to improve next season.  

5th - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, Friday 13th March

There was a standing start in the final race of the Festival and that had a negative impact on The Bosses Oscar who failed to get away quickly and was then hampered.

The race didn’t improve for him at the second hurdle as he suddenly had a cluster of horses in front of him and effectively approached the hurdle blind and unsurprisingly crashed through the hurdle. That left him towards the back of the field and a slightly awkward landing at the sixth hurdle resulted in him dropping back to last place.

Nudged along at various stages after, he was still towards the back of the field and being pushed along more vigorously starting down the hill. He responded well to pressure on the long run between 2 out and the last, despite being slightly hampered after the last, and stayed on well to finish 3¾ lengths behind the winner in fifth.

Given that he didn’t travel with much zest for most of the race after the problems early on, this was an encouraging handicap debut from The Bosses Oscar and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him back at the Festival next season in handicap company over hurdles or fences.

7th - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, Friday 13th March

Five O’Clock fared better in the standing start and he raced a shade keenly in a prominent position early on before being badly hampered by Escaria Ten as the field turned away from the stands. That dropped him back to midfield where he remained before being pushed along on landing after 2 out.

He stayed on well under stronger pressure in the straight, despite making a mistake at the last, to be beaten 4¾ lengths in seventh. Five O’Clock is a chaser on looks and I expect he will make the switch to fences next season where he can make his mark over distances from 2m4f to 3m.  

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