January 31 – Exeter – Striking A Pose – 67

The first race on the card, so the runners were always likely to get the best of the ground, but either way, it was still a strongly run affair won in the end by a horse ridden from off the speed. Royal Jewel ensured the gallop was honest right from the start and once he established a decent advantage down the home straight, he looked unlikely to be caught. However, that proved not to be the case and Joe Tizzard’s inmate ended up picking his pocket right on the line. Now 3-3 at the west country track, staying over hurdles looks the most likely destiny for him in the near future and even off his new mark (rated 135 at his peak), he should turn out to be competitive in similar events. As for the runner-up, he didn’t deserve to get beat and can make amends next time.

January 31 – Kempton – Brewing – 100

A quality seven furlong handicap on paper beforehand and it proved to be a very strongly run affair that suited those ridden off the pace. Jockeys of Lord Of The Lodge and Lord Bertie must have got their fractions wrong as they ended up filling out the last two places whereas the first three home were in those positions turning for home. The eventual winner stayed on best of all from the rear to score with a bit up his sleeve and that’s now five victories from seven starts on the all-weather. Whether he can translate this level of form to the turf remains to be seen but for now, he still appears to be progressing nicely in this sphere and either a easy seven furlongs or six stiff suit him best.

February 3 – Leopardstown – Kargese – 69

Traditionally, one of the key guides to the outcome of the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and this year’s renewal could turn out to be no different based on the strength of the field and speed figure it produced. Majborough took them along at a reasonable pace from the outset and that decent tempo was maintained until the field tightened up at the second last. From that juncture, it became a proper test on the steep gradient to the line and Willie Mullins’ filly was the one who came out on top, showing a tenacity that is often associated with French breds. Too keen for her own good in a slowly run affair at the Christmas meeting, the daughter of Jeu St Eloi was clearly much better served by the gallop set on this occasion and while she may not be as flashy as current ante-post favourite, Sir Gino, it’s hard to see her not being heavily involved come the second week in March. Of the rest, Storm Heart did more for his reputation in defeat than he had done in victory, certainly based on our numbers, and he could easily play some sort of part in the Triumph, while back in the field Ethical Diamond ran a good deal better than his finishing position suggests and he is one to bear in mind in an ordinary maiden.

February 3 – Leopardstown – Madara – 74

One of only three UK-based runners at the two-day festival and Sophie Leech’s inmate proved there was no fluke about his previous victory at Cheltenham. The way he jumped and travelled before putting the race to bed after the last was in the mould of a young chaser going places fast and he looks fully on course for the Grand Annual back at Prestbury Park in a month’s time. Of those in behind, runner-up Path D’Oroux proved best of those who came out of a similar C&D race at the Christmas meeting and he looks to be getting his act together over fences. Likely to head to the Grand Annual also, he might be joined by the third, Solness, who did his future prospects in this division no harm either.

February 3 – Sandown – Nickle Back – 78

Sarah Humphrey’s gelding needed a personal best to defy his pre-race odds but at a track that compliments front-running, bold-jumping performers such as he, the eight-year-old was able of putting in a spectacular display. Right from the outset the son of Mustameet was going along at a tempo his four rivals were clearly finding too hot to handle and it became apparent leaving the back straight it was just a question of whether he could maintain his poise over the last half a mile. Once in the ill-fated Hermes Allen departed the scene two out, the way was paved for him to take at the plaudits he deserved from the packed grandstands and his speed figure of 78 has only been bettered by one horse in this novice ranks all season – namely Gaelic Warrior. It now remains to be seen whether connections decide to roll the dice and take on the likes of Ginny’s Destiny and possibly Fact To File in the Turners at Cheltenham or wait for something else going right-handed. Either way, he will deserve the utmost respect in whichever race they choose.

February 4 – Leopardstown – Ballyburn – 73

Other than Caldwell Potter, this Grade 1 assembled the best field of novices seen out so far this season and it was settled decisively by a horse of serious talent. The way he jumped, travelled and quickened away from top quality opposition in the latter stages marked him down as the leader in this division and, having won over further at the previous meeting, we know he has the stamina should connections opt to go back up in trip. Obviously, conditions nearer Cheltenham will dictate which way they will go with the son of Flemensfirth but either way, most sane trainers will want to avoid clashing with him at all costs. That certainly seem to be the general vibe coming from the Henry De Bromhead camp surrounding Slade Steel’s future prospects and the Baring Bingham would definitely be their number choice. As mentioned in my podcast Sunday, King Of Kingsfield may have the option of tackling something like the County Hurdle off his current mark so look out for the NRNB concessions should he receive an entry in the 2m handicap at the festival.

February 4 – Leopardstown – Fact To File – 70

Only the two runners ended up competing for this Grade 1 prize but it still proved an informative affair. Firstly, the result proved Gaelic Warrior is nowhere near his best going left handed and for that reason we are unlikely to see him at Cheltenham and secondly, how good the winner is. Even allowing for the fact his only rival was edging to his right, Willie Mullins’ inmate was seemingly always going best and he had the race won fully half a mile from home. Even though he was heavily eased on the run-in, he still produced a smart speed figure, in-keeping with his opening effort over fences and he would have undoubtedly gone beyond 75 if he’d been pushed out after the last. The question begs now, as it always does with horses from this stable, which race will he go for at the festival. Based on this effort, he clearly as the speed for the 2n4f of the Turners and that would seem the most logical target at this stage.