Rhys Williams has unearthed ten horses to add to your Tracker, including one he thinks can end the British 58-year drought in the French Gold Cup.

  • Wednesday 26 February
  • Blog
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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.


4th - Racing Post GoNorth Weekend 20-22 March Novices’ Hurdle, Musselburgh, Tuesday 18th February

Arnica had shown minor promise in his two previous runs over hurdles on heavy ground at Newcastle and Kelso and showed a bit more stepped up in trip at Musselburgh. Having initially set off in midfield, he wandered going into the first and made a mistake, and further cautious jumps at the second and third hurdles left him in the detached back group of four.

His jumping continued to lack fluency which left him a long way behind the leading group after yet another mistake at 4 out. He started to make some headway turning the final bend and continued to plug on in the straight under hands and heels to be beaten twelve lengths in fourth.

So far in his three starts over hurdles I think Arnica has run on the wrong ground for him on all three runs, a trip short of what will be his optimum at Newcastle and Kelso, and an unsuitable course at Musselburgh so he’s received a rating of 103 based on runs in unsuitable circumstances.

He’s very much a chaser of the future and when he gets quicker ground over further on a more galloping track, he’s likely to make his mark in handicaps in the north and Scotland next season and beyond.

3rd - Racing Post GoNorth Weekend Stable Open Days Handicap Chase, Musselburgh, Tuesday 18th February

Prior to Musselburgh, The Trigger had only beaten a total of four horses this season in five runs but the eleven-year-old showed far more on this occasion when finishing third and suggested that he’s still capable of winning.

Held up, he was in last place with a circuit to go and had only gained one place by the last fence in the back straight. Switched wide after jumping that fence, he made significant headway to only be half a length behind the leader turning into the straight, still travelling well.

Having come under strong pressure after 3 out, he couldn’t go with the front pair but kept battling away to be beaten 8¼ lengths in third. This was a much more promising run from The Trigger, particularly considering that the ground would have been much softer than ideal, and he can build on it on quicker ground in the future.

2nd - Betsafe Cheltenham Championship Races NRNB Novices’ Hurdle, Doncaster, Wednesday 19th February

Allart was in a different league to his rivals when winning at Doncaster but Red Nika shaped with promise in behind. Having initially set off in a share of the lead, he gradually drifted back through the field as Countermand went tearing off in front and was at the head of the main pack behind the leading trio jumping 4 out. 

Pushed along entering the straight, he started to close rapidly on the leaders but first found a weakening Countermand in his way and then a loose horse ran across his path just before 3 out, at which Red Nika made a mistake.

He gradually regathered his stride and stayed on strongly, moving past Youracert just before the last and then putting ten lengths between them at the finish, as he finished fourteen lengths behind Allart. Red Nika is a long-term chasing prospect and this point to point winner can take advantage of his opening mark of 117 over fences next season as he starts to fill his frame.

3rd - Minsterley Motors Maiden Hurdle, Ludlow, Wednesday 19th February

Fedelta had suffered a fractured shoulder as a youngster which meant that he only made his belated debut as a six-year-old for Francesca Nimmo at Larkhill last month, winning a maiden by 3½ lengths and becoming Trevor Hemmings’s first point to point winner. 

Moved to Emma Lavelle for a career under rules, he made a promising start at Ludlow. His inexperience showed for much of the race with some novicey leaps and racing a little on and off the bridle at various stages.

Briefly shaken up after a mistake at 4 out, he was in last place turning out of the back straight before making headway on the outside to be a couple of lengths behind the leading pair turning into the home straight.

Outpaced after 3 out as Muckamore quickened, he stayed on strongly on the run-in without ever looking like winning to only be beaten 3¼ lengths in third.

It was encouraging that his jumping sharpened up in the closing stages and that he was able to finish close behind a couple of good novice hurdlers on his debut under rules despite clearly still being green. On this evidence, Fedelta looks capable of making up for lost time over staying trips in the future.

8th - Bombardier British Hopped Amber Beer Handicap, Newcastle, Wednesday 19th February

Baronial Pride had a nightmare passage on his return to action after 452 days off last month at Newcastle and once again he had no luck on his latest start over the same C&D.

Dropped in from his stall one draw, he was in last place two furlongs out but after making a little headway found a wall of horses in front of him entering the last furlong. He eventually found a gap but by that stage it was far too late for him to make any impact and he finished eighth.

His running style, particularly when his tendency to be slowly away shows up, means that he is reliant on luck in running but both starts after the long absence suggest that he’s better than his rating of 86.

6th - Betway Handicap Hurdle, Huntingdon, Thursday 20th February

Skylanna Breeze showed ability in point to points in Ireland, finishing second to The Big Breakaway on his third start, but he hadn’t shown much under rules until running better than his finishing position suggests on his handicap debut at Huntingdon.

He raced a little further back than midfield on the outside through the early stages before making headway to track the leaders going down the back straight.

Nudged along leaving the back straight, he moved into a share of second place jumping 3 out and appeared to still be going well after it but once pushed along turning the final bend he had little left to offer and faded to be beaten thirteen lengths in sixth.

I think Skylanna Breeze is likely to be seen in a far better light on quicker ground and when he gets that ground, he can show himself to be better than his rating of 94.

2nd - Markaye Contracts Ltd Michael Purcell Memorial Novice Hurdle (Grade 3), Thurles, Thursday 20th February

Front View was stepped up significantly in trip on his third start over hurdles at Thurles, racing over 2m5f, and he caught the eye with handicaps in mind.

The race didn’t start ideally for him as he was squeezed up going to the first hurdle and after the fall of The Little Yank, found himself in last place. He raced towards the back of the tightly packed field until making headway after 4 out and continued that progress on the very long run between 3 and 2 out, moving into a leading line of four turning into the straight.

He still appeared to be going well shortly after 2 out but after being bumped and hampered by Five O’Clock on the run to the last, he looked held by that rival when Front View made a bad mistake and landed awkwardly. He did well to recover from that to regain second place on the line, six lengths behind the winner.

Front View has been given a rating of 139 by the British handicapper and he looks to have a good chance in whichever of the three races he turns up in at the Cheltenham Festival.

5th - Be Wiser Insurance Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race, Exeter, Friday 21st February

Conditions were very testing at Exeter, particularly by the time of the bumper where a newcomer shaped with promise on his belated debut. The Denholm Bandit was making his debut as a six-year-old, an outcome that may have been due to connections allowing him time to start to fill his considerable frame.

Racing towards the outside of the field through the early stages, he was constantly hampered by Doyannie going down the hill in the back straight which caused him to briefly drop back into last place. Regaining his position going up the hill, he travelled strongly towards the end of the back straight but was forced wide on the final bend.

He travelled smoothly widest of all to be in a leading line of eight early in the straight but after being bumped a couple of times by Mocacreme Has he lost his place and was switched towards the middle of the course. The Denholm Bandit looked green under pressure before finishing off the race strongly to be fifth.

This was a promising debut in such testing conditions by a horse who is anything but a bumper type and is only going to improve with time.

2nd - Betway Handicap Chase (Grade 3), Kempton, Saturday 22nd February

Paul Nicholls had four runners in the Betway Handicap Chase at Kempton and Black Corton ran best of them, finishing second despite the race not going ideally for him. Having been a bit fractious when lining up, he raced widest of all going to the first and slipped back into midfield soon after.

He continued to race wide before making headway to track the leaders with a circuit to go. He lost that position slightly going down the back straight before making some headway again going to 5 out. Pushed along turning the final bend, Black Corton responded generously and kept closing all the way to the line but couldn’t catch Mister Malarky and was beaten by two lengths. This was an excellent run by Black Corton off 159 considering that the race didn’t go to plan.

The problem is that he’s difficult to place as he’s now back up to 161, which makes it difficult to win handicaps, and he’s short of Grade 1 company in Britain. The Oaksey Chase on the final day of the season is an obvious target but I think there’s a Grade 1 that he would have a good chance of winning.

While he has won three Grade 1s over hurdles in France, a French Grade 1 over fences is a rare thing to have eluded Paul Nicholls in his career so far. Join Together in the 2013 Prix La Haye Jousselin and Sire Collonges in the 2015 Grand Steeplechase de Paris have been his only two runners in such races but both were some way short of the quality required.

That wouldn’t be the case if Black Corton was to line up in this year’s Grand Steeplechase de Paris. The open French chasing division is currently as weak as I’ve known it with last year’s Grand Steeplechase winner Carriacou not looking the strongest off the bridle, last year’s Prix La Haye Jousselin winner Bipolaire being tough but lacking pace and the strength of last year’s four-year-old division being questionable after Goliath Du Berlais retired in the middle of the year.

While the ground is often heavily watered in preparation for the Grand Steeplechase meeting and officially never quicker than very soft, it is actually rarely any softer than good to soft so this would be no problem for Black Corton.

The steadier early pace than in British Grade 1s will suit him as he can settle in a prominent position and he has the speed for when the pace quickens on the final circuit and I think the extra distance wouldn’t be an issue for him.

The race is after the end of the British season so it wouldn’t interfere in Nicholls’s attempt at a twelfth trainers’ championship and there’s the small matter of €820,000 prize money on offer. If there was ever a year to have a go at this prestigious race, this is it.

4th - Betway Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race, Kempton, Saturday 22nd February

The bumper at Kempton looked a strong race beforehand and Ballymillsy showing promise for the future, faring best of the newcomers in fourth. Held up in the early stages, he showed signs of greenness, particularly crossing the path on the side of the course.

Nudged along after, he then had no room shortly before leaving the back straight and dropped back into last of the main group. Pushed along more vigorously turning the final bend, he responded well and continued to stay on strongly all the way up the home straight to finish 11¾ lengths behind the winner in fourth.

This was an encouraging debut from a four-year-old who I think is likely to be seen at his best over distances around three miles over obstacles in the future.  

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