January 8 – Naas – Champ Kiely – 74

A decent-looking Grade 1 on paper and it saw the return to form of a horse who was given a smart ride from the front. Disappointing when failing to settle fully in the Royal Bond previously, Willie Mullins’ gelding was much more amenable to restraint at the Co Kildare venue and that allowed him to finish off his race with plenty of zest. Form-wise, all the ‘right’ horses were in behind him with no real excuses to offer, so this has to go down as a smart effort and a solid piece of form going forward.

January 10 – Southwell – Tiger Crusade – 100

A well-contested six-furlong handicap bringing together several in-form performers at this level and it provided the perfect platform for David Simcock’s gelding to show his true worth. Often a hostage to fortune in many of his previous races given the way they developed, this strongly-run affair allowed him to race not too far off the speed before gathering in the pace-setters in pretty decisive fashion. Clearly this surface and track suited him well and if he can be found a similar contest at the Midland venue in due course, he’s likely to take high rank.

January 12 – Newcastle – Forest Of Dean – 100

A small but select field went to post for this fast track qualifier and it saw the winner provide another boost to the form of the Churchill Stakes at Lingfield a month earlier. Held up towards the rear, John & Thady Gosden’s gelding exhibited a smart turn of foot to quicken by his main rivals late on and even at the ripe old age of six, he’s still got plenty to offer at this level. Of the five horses to have run out of that track record at the Surrey venue previously, that’s now four who have won, so it’s clearly as strong a piece of form as the figures suggested.

January 14 – Warwick – Haddex Des Obeaux – 72

An all-the-way winner at Doncaster previously, Gary Moore’s gelding was given a similar ride at the Midland venue and at a track that favours front runners, he never looked in too much trouble. Clearly able to maintain a relentless gallop over the minimum trip, it would come as no surprise if he were to be aimed at the Lingfield Winter Festival – again, at a track that should suit his style of running.

January 14 – Kempton – West Balbao – 71

A thoroughly competitive renewal of the Lanzarote Hurdle and with only four finishers, it turned out to be a brutal affair. Noted going well throughout, Dan Skelton’s mare looked as though she may have thrown the race away with a poor jump at the last, but to her great credit, she rallied to the cause and ended up forcing the issue again close home. On a similar trajectory to stable mate Roksana, she wouldn’t be out of place in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival even though the ratings suggest she has a bit to find.

January 14 – Fairyhouse – Blood Destiny – 69

Visually very good without knocking the ball out of the park on the figures on his Irish debut at Cork, Willie Mullins’ gelding produced an altogether more exciting set of numbers at the Co Meath venue and he now ranks highest juvenile hurdler we have so far to date. Considering he produced this smart time without being fully extended says a lot for his natural talent and it will be interesting to see whether he has another race in between now and Cheltenham or whether he goes straight to the Triumph. Either way, he commands plenty of respect – even off the likes of Lossiemouth.

January 15 – Punchestown – Impervious – 78

Flagged up on here earlier in the season, Colm Murphy’s mare continues up the ranks and this performance against the boys has to go down as the best by any novice chaser so far this term. The way she jumped and travelled before outstaying a useful guide in Journey With Me suggests she has the full package and the only surprise coming out of this contest is the daughter of Shantou isn’t outright favourite for the Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.