February 13 – Wolves – War In Heaven – 101

Although we are still knee-deep in the National Hunt season, there’s still the odd race on the all-weather which is worth highlighting and this extended 1m1f contest at The Dunstall Park venue falls into that category. Victorious in his three previous starts, Michael Appleby’s gelding adopted his usual position close to the early pace in his bid for the nap hand and, despite being on the sharp end of a fast pace throughout, he found the necessary reserves once kicking clear off the home turn. In posting a career-high number, the son of Exceed And Excel will surely find himself with a rating somewhere in the 90’s, but on the evidence of this display, who’s to say his winning run is at an end. Of the rest, a special mention goes out to runner-up. Precision Storm, who came from towards the rear to get within half a length of the winner. His backend sectionals were the best of the entire field and he can be seen to good effect next time.

February 16 – Clonmel – Whiskeywealth – 65

It was pretty low-key stuff during the week, but this performance by Terence O’Brien’s gelding was worthy of note. Setting off at a decent pace at the Powerstwon Park venue, the son of Yeats maintained a healthy gallop throughout and at no stage did any of his rivals look like pegging him back. Clearly a horse on the up, the unexposed chaser can pick up a decent pot at some stage towards the backend of the campaign.

February 18 – Ascot – Shishkin – 76

A good deal has been made of the former Arkle winner’s form since pulling up at last year’s Festival, but with one or two tweaks here and there, he bounced back to something like his best. Always in his comfort zone at the Berkshire venue despite the strong pace set by Pic D’Orhy, the way he went clear in the latter stages was reminiscent of him as a top-class novice and now all roads lead to the Ryanair in less than a month’s time, where he looks a worthy favourite.

February 18 – Wincanton – I Like To Move It – 78

Just the four runners sent to post for this Grade 2 affair but, with Knappers Hill ensuring a strong pace from the beginning, it actually became a stiffer test than expected. Heading out of the back straight, it soon became apparent that Nigel Twiston-Davies’ gelding was running all over his two main market rivals (First Street the other), and without too much fuss, he readily drew clear. Despite being eased down late on, he still finished 17 lengths ahead of his nearest pursuer and it came as no surprise to find his winning time right up there with some of the best seen so far this season. Obviously, it will be a big ask to go and lower the colours of the brilliant Constitution Hill and the improving State Man in the Champion Hurdle, but he does have quite a bit going for him regarding hitting the frame at the very least. Firstly, he has a very good record at Cheltenham and secondly, he also seems well-suited to small fields. Given that we are likely to see five or six runners at best in this season’s renewal, he makes perfect sense from an each-way perspective at this stage and with some firms offering prices without the favourite, only something going badly wrong would prevent from finishing in the first four either.

February 18 – Gowran – Janidil – 66

An intriguing race to watch as there was an element of cat-and-mouse attached to the first part of the race, but once the four runners gathered themselves for the final push, it was Willie Mullins’ supposed second string who exhibited the best turn of foot. Considering this was his first start for some time, he is entitled to come on for the run and with the Ryanair looking a wide open affair if you take Shishkin out of the equation, the nine-year-old rates a viable each-way alternative in a race he finished second (behind Allaho) last season.

February 18 – Lingfield – Berkshire Breeze – 98

A competitive 1m4f handicap on paper beforehand won in the style of a progressive middle distance type who just seems to be coming to himself. The way he travelled before quickening right away from a good field in the latter stages suggests he has a good all-round game and it will be interesting to see whether he can translate the same sort of form over the Turf. No match for the winner, the runner-up, Crystal Delight deserves to be significantly marked up on this effort as he received a pretty brutal trip right from the word go. He too, can pay to follow.