January 29 – Naas – Echoes In Rain – 71

A good opportunity on paper beforehand for Willie Mullins’ mare to re-establish herself as a bone fide Mares’ Hurdle candidate and it was an open goal she didn’t miss. Exhibiting her trademark tendency to race keenly, she got to the front readily on the run to the last and from that point she sprinted right away for a decisive victory. Fifth in last season’s Grade 1 at Cheltenham, the daughter of Authorized seems in even better form this time around and she is one to consider from an each-way perspective.

January 30 – Hereford – Half Dozen – 63

A thoroughly competitive novices’ handicap and, unsurprisingly, it went the way of a horse making his debut in this sphere. An eye-catcher the time before in a useful contest at Chepstow, Paul Nicholls’ gelding was still quite difficult to access but, on the evidence of his display at the Midland venue, there can be no doubt now of his true ability. Seemingly appreciating the better ground, the son of Sageburg was always travelling best and although he had to be shaken up momentarily to assert late on, he left the impression he had a good deal left if required. Due to run again at Taunton tomorrow, he is likely to prove well ahead of his mark before being reassessed.

February 4 – Sandown – Gerri Colombe – 74

While most of Ireland’s top novice chasers locked horns over at Leopardstown, Gordon Elliott’s gelding flew the flag for the raiders in what appeared a decent renewal on paper for The Scilly Isles and he ended up coming through his stiffest task to date with aplomb. For a horse ostensibly seen as a stayer, the son of Saddler Maker impressed with the way he coped with the strong pace over 2m4f and other than one mistake (last in the back straight) his jumping stood the test. Whether connections end up resisting the temptation of Cheltenham this season only time will tell, but either way, this long-term Gold Cup project is a horse to keep on side.

February 4 – Wetherby – City Chief – 72

Just the four runners but Nicky Henderson’s gelding made sure it was a decent test at the trip and once again he proved he is a decent stayer in the making. Obviously, his life was made easier when his main rival, Ballygriffincottage, blew out due to bursting a blood vessel, but given the time figure, Dan Skelton’s inmate would have done well to win anyway. Not seen as a Cheltenham horse by connections at this stage of his career, it would come as no surprise, however, if that stance were to change by next season.

February 5 – Musselburgh – Pay The Piper – 72

Probably the most competitive contest of the weekend away from Leopardstown and it came as no surprise to see the overall speed figure representing that view afterwards. The well-fancied Fidelio Valis ensured the pace was honest from the start and that set things up nicely for the winner, who has frequently showed his best form when coming through late on off a sound gallop. Unlikely to head to Cheltenham, Ann Hamilton’s gelding could end up being well suited by something like the Red Rum Chase at Aintree.

The Dublin Racing Festival and ramification of the times will be discussed at length on a separate podcast found on the Cheltenham home page.