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.
“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.”
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Christian Williams Williams would have no qualms about sending Potters Corner to the Cheltenham Festival without another run.
Last season’s Welsh National winner was due to run in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase on Friday, having finished third over the unique fences last month.
However, Williams was forced to rule him out of the race with a dirty scope and while it is not certain, he could wait until March to run his stable star again – with the Grand National in April his main aim.
“We’ll just look at the cross-country in March and the Grand National now,” said Williams.
“If he’d won on Friday he’d probably have had 10lb more to carry in the Grand National anyway.
“The way he jumped the fences in November I wouldn’t have thought he’d have needed another run over them before March – I was delighted with him from halfway.
“Cheltenham are good to us, we gave him a little school over them the other day, which was when we found the dirty scope. We’ll probably do the same in March before the Festival.
“I don’t want to say he definitely won’t run again before March, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he didn’t as he could even go to Punchestown too, so there’s plenty of races at that time of year.”
He added: “It would have been nice for his owners to run, but I’m sure they won’t lose any sleep.
“What with Easysland out as well it’s unfortunate for Cheltenham as it looked a really classy race at the five-day stage.
“We take Cap Du Nord to school over the fences with him and he absolutely loves it. He might be one further down the line for these races.”
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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.
“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.”
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Potters Corner could kick off his campaign in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham next week.
The 10-year-old gave Christian Williams the biggest success of his training career so far when lifting the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow last Christmas, with his owners famously including Welsh rugby star Jonathan Davies.
Potters Corner was then due to head to the Grand National at Aintree, which was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but he did still claim a victory of sorts because he came home first in a virtual edition of the great race, which raised £2.6million for NHS charities.
Williams took his stable star to school over Cheltenham’s cross country course on Wednesday and could now give him an entry in next Friday’s three-mile-six-furlong event, the first of three such heats run at the track over the season.
He said: “He’s in good form, and we just thought the cross country route might give him a few more options, this season and next.
“Those staying chases are quite specialist, and you don’t want to be running in them every other week, so the other options for him are hurdles or those cross country races.
“He schooled very well – he seemed to enjoy it and he will probably get an entry at Cheltenham next Friday. I don’t think you go into those races first time thinking you’ll win – I don’t know how much experience you need.
“It might give him a bit more longevity, and if he’s badly handicapped you can have a look at the cross country route.”
Dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll won the cross country event at the Cheltenham Festival before each of his Aintree wins.
Williams added: “It has worked out well for Tiger Roll – he’s a special horse, but so is Potters Corner.”
The Glamorgan trainer confirmed a delayed date with destiny in the Grand National is the top priority this term, although an exact course to Aintree in April has yet to be mapped.
“Aintree is the main aim this year,” added Williams.
“Obviously he won the Welsh National last year – but whether we want to run there again or look to Aintree, we’ll have to see what the owners want to do.”
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Winning trainers Kayley Woollacott and Christian Williams voiced resounding endorsements of Warwick’s pilot crowd meeting.
Woollacott had most to smile about with a big-priced double to bookend Monday’s eight-race card – while Williams sent out a promising winner and a second from his four runners.
Both were full of praise too, though, for on-course arrangements as the Government-backed trial event welcomed back annual members and hospitality guests among a crowd approaching 500.
Since racing resumed on June 1 following the coronavirus shutdown in mid-March, only Doncaster has been able to allow racegoers in – but that just lasted one day after the local public health authority pulled the plug due to an increase in Covid-19 cases.
As Newmarket plans to stage a three-day trial at its Cambridgeshire meeting this week, Williams made it clear he has been highly-encouraged so far.
“It was brilliant – I think everything has been run so well,” said the Glamorgan trainer.
“I think we’ve advertised ourselves well, and it was just great to come in today and see the crowd here.
“It’s our sport, and it’s great to see people back at the races.”
Government concern about a resurgence of infection nationwide is evident – but Williams is convinced at least that racing is doing everything possible to provide a safe environment.
“I’m not sure which way things are going to go, with us maybe going into a second wave a little bit now,” he added.
“But I hope positives can come out of today. Racecourses, and the sport as a whole, are showing that things can be done in a proper way.
“Every time you go racing, it is impressive the way things are done – one-way systems, it’s all very professionally done.”
Woollacott, who began the card with a 66-1 success thanks to Especially So in the Wigley Group Novices’ Hurdle, echoed Williams’ words.
“It’s great to have some owners here cheering them in and a bit of a crowd as well,” she said.
“It’s a long way off where we want to be – but at least we’re racing, and there’s a bit of an atmosphere here today.”
Especially So kickstarted the first double of the Devon trainer’s career, scoring by a neck under Tom Scudamore.
Woollacott said: “I thought she was overpriced. I’m not saying I thought she’d win, but we did tell syndicate members she was a decent each-way bet.
“The step up in trip has helped her, and I’d imagine we’ll be looking at handicaps now.”
She later landed the concluding Get Daily Tips At racingtv.com Handicap Hurdle, with 25-1 chance Tipalong Tyler pulling 11 lengths clear in the hands of 7lb claimer Josh Newman.
“She just wants a trip, bless her – she’s not very quick,” Woollacott added.
“The cheek-pieces have probably helped her, and the 7lb claim has helped as well.
“It’s my first double, which is great. We don’t often have two runners on the same day, never mind two winners.”
Williams’ yard favourite Cottonvale had to settle for second behind Tipalong Tyler.
But he had struck earlier with Kitty’s Light (3-1 joint-favourite) as jockey Jack Tudor earned the plaudits in the Join Racing TV Now Novices’ Handicap Chase.
The saddle slipped before the home turn, yet Tudor somehow managed to conjure a late charge from his mount to prevail by a length and three-quarters, before ending up on the turf not long after the line.
Williams was thankful to Tudor, but unsurprised at the skill shown by the rider who won last season’s Welsh Grand National for him on Potters Corner.
At the suggestion Tudor had performed a minor miracle, he said: “Yes – but we’ve known how good he is for a while, so it’s just another day in the office for him really!
“He’s an exceptional talent, a very good rider.”
Williams was grateful that fortune was on his side too.
He added: “We’re lucky there was no weight cloth on the saddle – because it looks like it would have gone. But everything stayed intact.
“He’s just a bit of a lean horse, only a four-year-old and hasn’t really filled into his frame yet.
“I should have run him in a breastplate rather than breastgirth, and it looks like the saddle just slipped and then carried on slipping.”
Racecourse manager Andre Klein, meanwhile, was pleased with how the day unfolded.
He said: “I’d like to thank everyone who joined us today for adhering to all the safety guidelines in place and helping us create a safe environment for a fantastic day’s racing.
“It’s been a challenging few weeks in the preparation stages, but we’re delighted that our annual members, hospitality guests and owners could be on course to enjoy it with us – and we’re really pleased with everyone’s feedback.
“We’ve learnt a lot in the process, and I am looking forward to being able to share those learnings with other courses to help the sport prepare for whenever we can safely welcome crowds back to our venues on a more regular basis.
“It is really important for us as a small racecourse to be able to showcase that we can offer a safe, and socially-distanced raceday while adhering to all the strict guidelines in place.
“Smaller racecourses are the foundation of the sport, particularly those hosting regular midweek fixtures, and I can’t thank my team enough for their efforts over the past few days and weeks.”
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