January 20 – Ludlow – Karl Philippe – 72

Fergal O’Brien’s gelding had been in quite deep on his first two starts over fences – performing creditably each time – but he was much more patiently ridden at the Shropshire venue and those new tactics made all the difference. Bobhopeornohope took the field along at a decent pace from the start, allowing the son of Kentucky Dynamite to settle nicely in the rear, and by the time he was delivered with his challenge turning for home, it was soon clear he had plenty left in reserve. Staying on best of all in the final half a mile, the seven-year-old just had to be kept up to his work to repel the veteran Gardefort after the last. On the evidence of this performance – particularly as far as the clock is concerned – even his revised rating of 130 is someway short of his true ability and he is likely to prove that theory correct under similar conditions next time.

January 21 – Lingfield – Frero Banbou – 68

There were three quality chases on the first day of the new Winter Million initiative and this race was by some way the best. Eclair D’Ainay made sure the gallop was honest from the outset and Venetia Williams’ gelding had to be on her A-game to keep in touch, but he managed to do so and by the time the pair had jumped the last, his superior stamina kicked in. With a big gap back to the third, easy Chepstow winner Le Ligerien, the form looks strong and both the front two deserve marking up and followed accordingly in due course.

January 22 – Haydock – Tommy’s Oscar – 71

One of the biggest success stories of the winter has been the levels of improvement shown by Ann Hamilton’s gelding and he captured his most notable victory to date with some panache. Navajo Pass ensured the pace was generous from the start and that really suited the son of Oscar who sat off the early gallop before pouncing late to score going away. Still someway short of the likes of Honeysuckle and Sharjah at this stage, he still, however, deserves to take his chance in the Champion Hurdle on the basis of he will probably never go into a big race in as better form as he does right now and there is plenty of prize money to by won further down the list.

January 22 – Ascot – Shishkin – 81

Billed as the race of a lifetime in some quarters, the pre-match build-up was akin to a heavyweight title clash in Caesar’s Palace and it didn’t disappoint. Energumene had Shishkin seemingly on the ropes as the pair turned for home, but just as he appeared to be down and out on the canvas, Nicky Henderson’s gelding delivered the knockout blow with the better turn of foot on the run-in. Considering Shishkin made one or two notable errors on the way around, his effort in victory was even more commendable and even though connections of the runner-up will fancy their chances in the rematch at the Cheltenham Festival, it’s still hard to see him turning around the form with his great rival.

January 22 – Lingfield – Lower Street – 96

An extremely competitive renewal of this fillies’ handicap and it went the way of the biggest improver in the field. A smooth winner of a class 4 contest at Southwell previously, David Simcock’s filly still had to find plenty to mix it with several who had shown a better standard of form over the past year or so, but she did so with the minimum of fuss, coming from last to first with a devastating turn of foot. Quite where she goes from here is anyone’s guess, but given an all-weather surface, she is likely to prove a match for any horse of her own sex over this sort of distance.

January 23 – Lingfield – Two For Gold – 71

While the likes of Allaho (71) and Ballyshannon Rose (70) were posting similar time figures in Graded races over at Thurles, the big chase over on these shores went the way the of a chaser who still proved he can mix it with the very best when he receives his ideal conditions. In a race that was strongly run throughout, Kim Bailey’s gelding had to prove really tough in the latter stages when challenged either side by Bristol De Mai and Dashel Drasher and even though this performance can not be considered top class form, connections will not be too worried after bagging a cool 78k for their troubles.