January 24 – Down Royal – Limerick Lace – 66

A really taking performance from Gavin Cromwell’s mare and one that suggests she could easily take her game to another level. Jumping and travelling well throughout, she showed a decent change of gear to pull clear of the front-running Irish Blaze on the run-in and in doing so, she ended up posting a particularly good time. On this evidence, the best maybe still to come.

January 25 – Fairyhouse – Three Card Brag – 71

Just the four runners went to post for this novices’ hurdle, but it was run at a sound pace and the winner booked his ticket for the Albert Bartlett. Having shaped as though he needed a stiffer test the time before, his pilot was keen to exercise that theory by putting his foot down on the pedal right from the start and those tactics were enough to see off main market rival Spanish Harlem. A horse with a fair engine, three miles should bring about further improvement and the hustle and bustle of a championship contest shouldn’t faze him in any way.

January 26 – Gowran – Carefully Selected – 76

A quite amazing performance from Willie Mullins’ gelding as he looked to be in trouble coming out of the back straight. but his class and stamina kicked into play and he ended up getting up late on. Depending on how the handicapper reacts, both the Irish and Aintree National’s are very much on the agenda.

January 27 – Doncaster – Malystic – 72

Almost a mini version of the Grand Annual and unsurprisingly given the quality of the field and underfoot conditions, a course record was achieved. Rouge Vif, as is his want, ensured it was run at a searching pace and once he fainted two out, it was left for Peter Niven’s inmate to pick up the pieces. By some way a career high, he probably has counted himself out of future handicaps, but under similar conditions, he can hold his own open company. Of the rest, Saint Segal deserves a mention for the way he kept on stoutly in the latter stages and he is building up a body of work to suggest he would be an interesting contender in races such as the Grand Annual itself or the Red Rum Chase at Aintree.

January 28 – Cheltenham – Il Ridoto – 76 

A typically competitive 2m4f handicap containing many of the usual suspects often associated with the track, but in the end, it was fought out between two of the least exposed members of the party who pulled 15 lengths clear of the rest. Good in all aspects from the way they jumped and travelled, the time figure and final circuit splits, both the winner and runner-up are worth following in similar races in future.

January 28 – Fairyhouse – Ashroe Diamond – 71

A race dominated by Willie Mullins down the years and this season’s renewal was no different with the ‘form’ horse justifying her position in the market. Placed in two Grade 1’s already this campaign, the daughter of Walk In The Park took advantage of a drop in class and although there were moments when she looked in trouble, ultimately her natural ability shone through. Now one of the leading players for the Mares Novices’ Hurdle according to the layers, it’s hard to argue with those assessments based on this display.