Williams retains faith in Potters Corner

Potters Corner is recovering from his Grand National exertions – and may well be back at Aintree for the Becher Chase next season.

Christian Williams reports his popular stayer slightly “stiff and sore” after eventually pulling up behind Minella Times at Aintree on Saturday, but otherwise none the worse for his experience.

The Glamorgan trainer has big plans for a clutch of other stable stars in what remains of this season – with Kitty’s Light and Cap Du Nord both on course for this month’s bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Sandown.

Potters Corner, however, has earned a rest. Asked how his Welsh and Midlands National winner is faring after his latest marathon attempt, Williams said: “He’s not too bad. He’s a little bit stiff and sore, but he’s okay.

“We’ll probably leave him now for the season and aim him for the cross-country race (at Cheltenham) and then maybe go back for the Becher Chase.

“The Welsh National-type horses, perhaps that type of race (Grand National) doesn’t suit them (these days).

“Bottomless ground at Chepstow, then Aintree on quicker ground, it’s a different test.”

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He went on: “We’ll put him away now. He hasn’t got masses of mileage – I think he’s only run four times in the last two years.

“We’ve picked out races for him a little bit, so we hope there’s a little bit left in him.

“But he’s been such a great horse for the yard and the owners – we’ll run him in the cross-country, then the Becher, and take a view from there what route we go down, whether to carry on running or we should retire him.”

Kitty’s Light is six years Potters Corner’s junior – and a remarkable example of how horses can defy expectations.

Williams bought the Flat-bred cheaply, has seen him win four of six chases over ever increasing distances in his first season over fences – and is ready to set him his most exacting test yet in Sandown’s big handicap.

He said: “We’re looking forward to Kitty – we’ve had the Sandown race in the back of our mind since he finished third in the Badger Beer (at Wincanton) last year.

“That’s been his main aim for a long time, so it’s all systems go.

“We popped the tongue tie on him at Kelso, and found a little bit of improvement with that as well.

“He’ll be relatively fresh going into the race, and we hope the trip will suit him.

“We think the track, with the nice uphill finish, will suit him.”

Kitty’s Light and Jack Tudor (right) make ground en route to victory at Warwick
Kitty’s Light and Jack Tudor (right) make ground en route to victory at Warwick (David Davies/PA)

Kitty’s Light will be joined by Cap Du Nord, winner of a Newbury handicap and third in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster this season.

“Cap Du Nord will go for Sandown as well,” added Williams.

“He’s got a good profile, just had a blip last time when he pulled up over hurdles – like a lot of those chasers too.

“With his profile before that, we’ll be looking forward to running him.

“He’ll be no back number. We hope he’ll turn into one of those good staying chasers as well.”

Full steam ahead for Cap Du Nord and Kempton

It is “all systems go” for Cap Du Nord ahead of the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

A winner at Newbury earlier this season, the eight-year-old has subsequently chased home possible Gold Cup contender Royale Pagaille at Kempton over Christmas and then finished a creditable third in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.

Trainer Christian Williams feels conditions back at Kempton will suit him much better this weekend and he is excited to be running in a major handicap with a favourite’s chance.

“It’s all systems go and we’re excited. Better ground could be the key to him, we’ll see this weekend,” said Williams.

“We took him to Cheltenham (on Monday) with Potters Corner for a school over the cross-country fences and he went well. It will be a quiet week now before Kempton.”

Reflecting on his Doncaster effort in soft ground, Williams said: “We probably could have gone for an easier race somewhere, but we wanted to be involved in a real nice race.

“We’re up to 142 now so we’ve got to go for the nice races, but it’s great to be involved in them. I could probably find a race midweek that he could go and win, but we want to be involved on the big days as it helps raise the profile of the yard.

“It’s good experience for Jack (Tudor) to be riding in these types of races.”

King’s sights long set on Sky Bet Chase for Canelo

Alan King has been eyeing the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster for the improving Canelo ever since his Rowland Meyrick success on Boxing Day.

The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old has always been highly regarded at Barbury Castle Stables, and is now delivering on that promise.

A win at Aintree was followed by a runner-up spot to Cap Du Nord at Newbury, before he beat Snow Leopardess over Christmas.

“He’s done very little wrong this year and has been very progressive since we put the headgear (cheekpieces) on him,” said King.

“He’s improved race for race, and this looked the logical place to go after his win in the Rowland Meyrick.

“That might have been a decent race – he beat the right horse (Snow Leopardess), who had won at Haydock before.

“He’s on 148 now, he travels very well through his races but might not do a whole lot when he hits the front. I’m hoping there’s a bit more to come from him.

“This will be another test, but it looked the obvious place to come after Wetherby.”

Aye Right bids to gain due reward on Saturday for a series of consistent efforts.

Aye Right (right) ran well int he Ladbrokes Trophy to finish second
Aye Right (right) ran well in the Ladbrokes Trophy to finish second (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

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Trained in the Scottish Borders by Harriet Graham, the eight-year-old was second over an inadequate two miles and a furlong first time out this season to subsequent Old Roan winner Nuts Well.

He was then a very creditable third to Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase before posting arguably a career-best effort when second in the Ladbrokes Trophy to Cloth Cap.

Since then, Aye Right has run in a jumpers’ bumper at Newcastle – where he showed up well for a long way before finishing sixth – but Graham does not want the ground to get any softer.

Graham told Sky Sports Racing: “We’ve been hit hard by the weather up here – we’ve only just got rid of the snow, but James Armstrong at Newcastle has been helpful, (so Aye Right) galloped there the other day and ran in a jumpers’ bumper.

“He’s a very consistent horse and he’s easy to train. He’s always jig-jogging and loves to go out. We sometimes feel we do too much with him, but Callum (Bewley) said he couldn’t pull him up the other day – he nearly went round again.

“We’ll not run if it gets heavy, but the forecast is much more positive now. Earlier in the week, I didn’t think we’d be running. In an ideal world I’d have liked it to be good to soft – and probably over another three furlongs.”

Cap Du Nord has been all the rage for this race all week as Christian Williams attempts to win a contest he landed as a jockey on Big Fella Thanks in 2009.

Cap Du Nord was an easy winner at Newbury but has gone up in the weights
Cap Du Nord was an easy winner at Newbury but has gone up in the weights (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

A winner at Newbury in November, Cap Du Nord then chased home Royale Pagaille at Kempton over Christmas – form which continues to be well advertised.

The winner scored in even easier fashion at Haydock last weekend to be talked of as a Gold Cup candidate – while the third Double Shuffle, 19 lengths behind Cap Du Nord, won next time out.

Despite the handicapper raising Cap Du Nord twice since his initial reassessment, he is 3lb well-in because this was an early closing race.

“We thought it would be competitive. But it’s good prize-money, and I think the track will suit our horse,” said Williams.

“It’s nice to be in a feature race on a Saturday. It’s great to have a horse on the upgrade with a chance.

“Cap Du Nord could go for the cross-country race at Cheltenham, along with Potters Corner. I’ll speak to the owner. We’ll see how we get on on Saturday.

“There’s a chance he could get in the Grand National. We might go straight there, or we could use the cross-country race at Cheltenham for him.”

Trainer Olly Murphy has always had a high opinion of The Butcher Said, but he fears the ground may be too testing this weekend for him to show his best.

The Butcher Said might not enjoy the testing ground
The Butcher Said may not enjoy the testing ground (David Davies/PA)

“I think he’s well capable of winning a nice handicap,” said Murphy.

“I’m not sure he wants it as testing as it’s going to be – but he’s in good form, and it’s worth a lot of money.

“He’d have an each-way chance if he got the rub of the green and things went his way.”

Give Me A Copper (red) won the Badger Beer Trophy last season
Give Me A Copper (red) won the Badger Beer Trophy last season (Steven Paston/PA)

Paul Nicholls runs Give Me A Copper, who is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson.

“He hasn’t been the easiest to train and made a very pleasing return from a year off when keeping on stoutly to run Rocky’s Treasure close at this track last month,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“Doncaster suits him well – he handles the ground, and we know he is a proper stayer. Give Me A Copper is in serious order at the moment, which is key to his performance. When he is right, he is a good horse.”

The Nick Williams-trained One For The Team and Philip Hobbs’ Musical Slave are others among the market leaders.

Shishkin poised for next step at Doncaster on Saturday

Shishkin is all set to make his eagerly-awaited next appearance in the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster on Doncaster.

He will face four rivals in the Grade Two event, which his trainer Nicky Henderson won 12 months ago with Mister Fisher.

Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner has been faultless in two outings over fences to date – but might not have it all his own way against Eldorado Allen, Cheddleton and Fast Buck who all have decent form to their names. Nico de Boinville takes the ride on Shishkin.

Henderson told Sky Sports Racing: “He’s a very straightforward horse and I’m hoping he’s straightforward enough to cope with what is probably going to be very messy ground. He’s has been in soft ground before. He jumped five fences the other day and was very good and Nico was happy.

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“This seems the sensible place to be going. There are only two races you can run him in between now and the Arkle – the Kingmaker at Warwick is the alternative, but it’s the same day as we would like to be running Altior at Newbury, so I don’t really want them to be in two different places at the same time.

“Within reason I think this is the right place to be. Doncaster is a good novice chase course. The fences have got to be jumped and this is always a good race.

“Shishkin is a genuine two-miler, so this should be a good place to be, even if it’s a bit wet.”

Handicap snip Cap Du Nord is among a field of 13 for the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.

Trained by Christian Williams, the eight-year-old won at Newbury earlier this season before chasing home potential Gold Cup runner Royale Pagaille at Kempton over Christmas. Given the exploits of that one last weekend Cap Du Nord is a hot favourite for the feature handicap.

Colin Tizzard’s Mister Malarky is at the head of the weights, after Brian Ellison did not declare Definitly Red.

Cap Du Nord is all the rage for the Sky Bet Chase
Cap Du Nord is all the rage for the Sky Bet Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Alan King’s Canelo, Ladbrokes Trophy runner-up Aye Right and the Nick Williams-trained One For The Team are also among the runners.

Rehearsal Chase winner Yorkhill has been declared, but only as his second preference in case Cheltenham’s meeting is lost to the weather, where he is due to run in the Cotswold Chase.

The Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle is dominated by the Henderson pair of Floressa and Marie’s Rock.

Floressa came out on top at Newbury when the previously-unbeaten Marie’s Rock met trouble in running.

Cap Du Nord seeking to book National ticket with Sky Bet success

Christian Williams is hoping Cap Du Nord can put himself in the picture for the Randox Health Grand National with a big run in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster on Saturday.

All eyes will be on Cap Du Nord, after 18 horses stood their ground at the the five-day confirmation stage, following Royale Pagaille’s impressive victory in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock at the weekend.

The eight-year-old was only beaten three and a quarter lengths by Royale Pagaille at Kempton over Christmas, and Williams is pleased the form of that race has worked out so well.

“It was nice to see Royale Pagaille do what he did on Saturday,” he said.

“The third (Double Shuffle) has won since and the seventh, The Kings Writ, ran very well to finish second in the Somerset National. It’s great.

“We’ll see what the handicapper does (on Tuesday), but it won’t affect Saturday’s race at all. The weights are already out.

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“We’re looking forward to Saturday and we’re thinking he could be really suited to the Grand National.

“We’ll try to sneak into that race if we can. He’s rated 139 today (Monday). He might go up again for Royale Pagaille winning. You want to be on the 144 mark maybe to get into the Grand National. It would be great to get him in.”

Canelo, winner of the Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby and runner-up to Cap Du Nord at Newbury in Newbury, could bid to give trainer Alan King a third success in the Sky Bet.

Others in the mix include Ladbrokes Trophy runner-up Aye Right for Harriet Graham, Colin Tizzard’s Ascot Silver Cup scorer Mister Malarky and the Sandy Thomson-trained Yorkhill, who bounced back to form with a 66-1 success in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle.

Kim Bailey’s dual course and distance winner Rocky’s Treasure and Paul Nicholls’ Give Me A Copper are among other possibles, while the weights are headed by Brian Ellison’s stable stalwart Definitly Red.

The star attraction on the card is set to be the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin, who tops 12 entries for the Lightning Novices’ Chase.

Shishkin could bid to maintain his unbeaten record over fences in the Lightning Novices' Chase
Shishkin could bid to maintain his unbeaten record over fences in the Lightning Novices’ Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle victor has won both his starts over fences in tremendous style and is already odds-on for the Arkle Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Jennie Candlish-trained Cheddleton, Phil Kirby’s Whoshotthesheriff and the Nicholls duo of Fast Buck and Tamaroc Du Mathan are among the potential opposition.

Henderson has Newbury winner Floressa and Marie’s Rock in the Grade Two Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle, for which there are 11 entries.

Henderson could send Emir Sacree for the other Grade Two on the card, the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices’ Hurdle.

The French import made a winning debut for the Seven Barrows trainer at Ascot last month on his first start for 635 days.

There are several promising types among the 14 entries, including the Dan Skelton-trained Ashtown Lad, Bobhopeornohope from the Bailey stable, and Nicholls’ Flash Collonges.

Williams sets out Sky Bet Chase aim for Cap Du Nord

Cap Du Nord is on target to head for Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase at the end of this month.

Christian Williams’ improving eight-year-old was a good winner at Newbury on his penultimate outing, before having to settle for second behind the impressive Royal Pagaille at Kempton over Christmas at Kempton.

He finished 19 lengths clear of the third horse, but had no answer to Venetia Williams’ winner – who has since been entered for the Cheltenham Gold Cup following a 14lb rise in the weights.

Cap Du Nord went up 4lb, and Williams is hoping he runs well enough at Doncaster on January 30 to get himself high enough up the weights for a run in the Grand National.

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“Doncaster was the aim before Kempton really – we just didn’t want to wait eight weeks between Newbury and Doncaster,” said Williams.

“He’s quite a sturdy horse so eight weeks would have been too long to wait.

“When I was riding myself I rode Big Fella Thanks in the Kempton race – he unseated me on the second circuit when I felt we’d nearly have won and then we went to Doncaster and won, so I always had that in the back of my mind.

“Our horse is fairly adaptable regards the ground. We thought he wanted better ground after Newbury, but I think he’s fine on most because he’s run well on very bad ground before. I just think he’s more the finished article now.

“He could have bumped into a 160-horse at Kempton. He won very well, but we made a bit of a race of it, and the pair were miles clear.

“We bought Cap Du Nord off a good friend of mine, and he’s always threatened to be a really good horse. Before now, while we’d had some fun, he was still lowly rated. He’s finally shown this year he might be a decent one, which is nice because he’s for a good, supportive owner (Ian Marmion).”

Should Doncaster go to plan, Williams may be adding another string to his Aintree bow along with last season’s Welsh National hero Potters Corner.

“He’s rated 137 now. If he goes and wins this he could be a proper National horse, and that would give Jack (Tudor, jockey) something to think about with Potters Corner as well,” added Williams.

“I think about 144 almost guarantees a run at Aintree, so you think he’d go up 7lb if he wins at Doncaster.”

Potters Corner to miss Chepstow in favour of cross country campaign

Christian Williams has decided to take the Tiger Roll route to Aintree with Potters Corner, and will skip a defence of this month’s Welsh Grand National in favour of the cross country chases at Cheltenham.

Potters Corner was a famous home winner at Chepstow last year, owned and trained by proud Welshmen, so the decision to stay away this time must have been a tough one – but Williams is adamant he is doing the best thing by the 10-year-old.

Potters Corner finished third on his first run over Cheltenham’s cross country course last month, and is set to return next week and then again at the Festival in March.

“I know the horse well and I know how long it took him to recover last year,” said Williams.

“I told the owners last year he only had a certain amount of those National-type races left in him – and with the cross-country races, they are constantly on the turn and it’s not the same endurance.

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“The ground is never too soft either, because they only race on it three times a year, (so) it doesn’t get opened up.

“It’s completely different – after he ran in the cross country last month, he could probably have run somewhere else the next day. But after the Welsh National, we were goosed for months before he was back to himself.

“We think he could win the Welsh National again this year, but I put it to the owners that we could go to Cheltenham with a realistic chance and still have him for Aintree – and they were brilliant about it.

“We think he’s got a good chance at Aintree – it will suit him, and we also think he deserves to go to the Festival with a chance.

“It was his first time over the fences the other day, so we rode him conservatively but we were delighted how he took to it. We’ll probably ride him further forwards next time and further forwards again in March – and he always comes on for a run.”

Williams will also scratch his other Welsh National entry, four-year-old Kitty’s Light – who was placed in the Badger Beers Trophy last time out.

He added: “Kitty’s Light will be scratched as well. He’s only four, so we might look at the Rowland Meyrick with him, and his main aim will either be the Bet365 Gold Cup or even the Scottish National – we’ll work backwards from there.”

The trainer saddled a good winner at Newbury on Saturday in Cap Du Nord, and this time next year Chepstow could be on his agenda.

“Cap Du Nord might just be a staying chaser in time,” he said.

“He’s been a great horse for us. I think he’s the type who copes better in better races. We thought he was better than his rating, and he’s in a better place this year.

“He could be a Scottish National type. I don’t want to say he doesn’t go on soft yet, but he broke the track record at Newbury.

“He’ll probably go to Kempton on December 27 for a 0-140 – and then I’d have thought the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster, which I won as a jockey on Big Fella Thanks, would be the race for him.”