February 19 – Carlisle – Jagwar – 65

A race that provided a good battle between the market leaders, with the odds-on favourite eventually emerging the winner. Clovis Island made sure the gallop was honest from the start and for nine tenths of the 2m4f journey he looked like gaining reward for his endeavours. However, credit has to go out to Oliver Greenall & Josh Guerriero’s inmate for sticking to the task at hand in admirable fashion and although he ended up winning by a narrow margin, he will surely turn out to be a good deal better than the bare result suggests – especially over further. As for the runner-up, he appears to be moving in the right direction and although his future ultimately lies over fences, Nicky Richards’ inmate can continue to pay his way until that day arrives.

February 20 – Taunton – Macklin – 61

It’s very rare we would include a hunter chase to the pages of this column, but such was the speed figure Will Biddick’s gelding produced at the west country venue, he felt compelled to break precedence. The story of the race was the strong pace set by Lieutenant Rocco and he was still in there pitching heading down to two out. However, once joined by the son of Masked Marvel, the writing was on the wall and with a good jump at the last, the winner scampered clear to record an impressive success. Clearly a very talented young hunter, it will be interesting to see how connections campaign the eight-year-old for the remainder of the season but, in the hands of a trainer who produced Porlock Bay to win the 2021 Hunter’s Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, an entry in this year’s renewal wouldn’t be out of the question.

February 21 – Ludlow – Latin Verse – 65

A competitive-looking handicap on paper beforehand but it was turned into a procession by a four-year-old taking a marked drop down in class. Runner-up in the Chatteris Fen at Huntingdon previously, Anthony Carson’s inmate appeared to have a workable mark for his handicap debut and so it proved. Picking up the running turning for home both he and the eventual runner-up, Royal Deeside, were seemingly going as well as each other, but no sooner had they pair jumped the second last, the son of Postponed shot clear in a short pace of time. despite being eased down, he still scored by a wide margin (19 lengths) and even allowing for the fact he assessor has raised him 10lb accordingly, it still might not be anywhere near enough to prevent him following up.

February 22 – Lingfield – Hidden History – 63

Tough work in the conditions but the first two home in this novices hurdle hinted they could be above average with the figure they produced and they are both worth following accordingly. The winner had shaped well on debut in a hot contest at Newbury (worked out well since) and, having travelled well throughout, he duly got the better of his market rival in the dash to the line from two out. Being a former point winner, you would imagine he will take higher rank in that discipline further down the line, but for now he can continue to progress over hurdles, especially when the emphasis is on stamina. By contrast, the runner-up, Home Free, shaped like he will be seen to best advantage on better ground and he could be a nice project heading into the spring months.

February 24 – Kempton – Blow Your Wad – 73

Not for the first time this season, Tom Lacey’s inmate has made his way onto this column and victory here took his track record to 3-3. Unsuited by the undulations of Cheltenham previously, he was well backed to show his true worth by on a flat track and although he was niggled along at certain stages down the back straight, he soon came good where it mattered most. On the evidence of this display, he will clearly get further in time but for now he remains one to keep on side when tackling similar conditions.

February 24 – Fairyhouse – I Am Maximus – 71

Another remarkable performance at this track from Willie Mullins’ gelding to add to his Irish National success last spring and on any given day, he clearly is a handful for the very best. Despite continuously jumping out to his left and losing ground, his flat speed between fences kept him in the hunt and by the time he arrived at the second last, it was soon apparent that he was travelling better than at any stage of the race. Clearly a horse with a massive engine, the demands of the Grand National would seem ideal and if he takes to the fences and stays within range of the leaders, nothing will be staying on stronger from the Melling Road onwards.