Before we dive in, some basic rules for a horses to follow list is to keep them in a tracker and on your radar for the next three runs, bearing in mind ideal conditions across variables like venue, ground, opposition and price are satisfactory to you as a punter. This column should help you build up a list that proves profitable under those circumstances, provides timely reminders to reduce repeated form study and assist with your enjoyment of a season be it National Hunt or Flat racing in the UK and Ireland and sometimes beyond.
If you want to see previous editions check out Donn McClean's library of past horses to follow here.
Night And Day was a long odds-on shot for the opening mares' maiden hurdle at the re-scheduled meeting at Clonmel last Tuesday, but she could hardly have been much more impressive than she was in winning. Prominent from early under Paul Townend, she moved to the front at the second flight, and she didn't see another rival thereafter. She got in tight to one of two of her hurdles early on, but she warmed to her task nicely, her jumping down the back straight was good, and she won by 22 lengths, with bucketloads in hand. And the winning time was good, even allowing for the omission of the second last flight, it was the fastest by far of the four races run over the course and distance on the day, almost six seconds faster than the next fastest.
Trainer Willie Mullins has now won four of the last five renewals of this race, including the 2019 renewal, which he won with subsequent Grade 2 winner French Made, and last year's renewal, which he won with the talented Dinoblue. Night And Day was allowed take her chance in the Grade 1 mares' novices' hurdle at Fairyhouse last April on her first run for Willie Mullins, and this was her first run since. She should progress from it and, a fine strapping mare, her future may lie over fences, but she will be of interest now again over hurdles in the meantime, when she steps up in grade.
Mahler Mission was impressive in winning the three-mile beginners' chase at Navan on Saturday. Sent to the front from flagfall by Ben Harvey, he quickly settled into a nice rhythm in front, jumping and travelling easily. He was challenged by Shantreusse at the top of the home straight, but he jumped on over the third last fence, despite getting in a little tight to the obstacle, and he picked up well from there, coming away from his rivals over the last two fences and winning by 10 lengths in the end from Tenzing, who kept on well to take second place.
John McConnell's horse is an exciting young staying chaser now. He was a talented hurdler, he won the Grade 2 River Don Hurdle at Doncaster last January, when he battled on well to beat this year's Dipper Chase winner The Real Whacker - now rated 153 over fences and a potential Gold Cup contender - with the pair of them clear. He started off his chasing career with an abject performance in a three-horse race at Cheltenham's October meeting, but he put that behind him with a really encouraging run to finish a close-up third behind the progressive mare Must Be Obeyed at Punchestown on New Year's Eve. This was another step forward from that, and it augurs really well for the future. His trainer mentioned the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham as a potential target now, and that makes sense. He will also be of interest if he is aimed at one of the high-class staying handicap chases in the spring.
Indie Belle ran better than the bare form of the run suggests in the 80-109 two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle at Navan on Saturday. Prominent from early, she moved into a clear lead on the run to the third last flight and, when Aidan Kelly gave her a kick and she moved on over the second last, it looked like she might have an unassailable lead, as evidenced by an in-running low of 1.1. But her chasers closed on her on the run to the last, and she was caught with just 100 yards to run, fading into fourth place by the time they got to the winning line.
It was still a good performance by Robert Widger's mare. A winner over hurdles in February last year, she got off the mark over fences in a beginners' chase at Tramore in early December when she battled on well to get home by three parts of a length. The handicapper raised her by just 1lb for this run, which takes her up to a mark of 95, and means that she remains eligible for an 80-95 contest. She will also be of interest when she goes back over fences. She is rated 3lb higher over fences than over hurdles, but she has plenty of scope to go beyond that mark over fences now, a six-year-old who has raced in just four chases to date.
Lucky Max is another horse who ran better than his finishing position in fourth place suggests in the Navan Handicap Hurdle on Saturday. Settled in mid-division early on by Rob James, he made good ground across the top of the track, and he moved easily into the front rank at the top of the home straight, jumping into the lead over the third last flight. But it is a long way home from there at Navan, and that factor appeared to be more in evidence than usual on the soft ground on Sunday, as a few leaders tired on the run up the hill. Lucky Max led over the second last flight, and he led over the last and until half way up the run-in, where he was caught by the winner HMS Seahorse, before losing two more places between there and the winning line.
It was still another fine run by Sean Doyle's horse. A three-time winner for his current trainer in the early part of last season, he ran twice for Dan Skelton last spring, but he returned to the Wexford handler for the start of this season. He was impressive in winning a handicap hurdle at Cork in early January off a mark of 129, and he proved with this run that he was more than capable of his new mark in the high 130s. He stays this two-and-a-half-mile trip and, out of a half-sister to Lamool, a dual winner over two miles and five furlongs, he could get three miles. It is interesting that he holds an entry in the three-mile handicap hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival next weekend.
Haut En Couleurs probably would have won the Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles on Sunday. Held up early on by Bryan Cooper at the back of the six-runner field, he made nice ground across the top of the track, and he travelled well in fourth place, just behind the leaders, as they turned for home. Moved towards the outside at the top of the home straight, he travelled best of all down to the final fence, and he moved into the lead on the approach to the obstacle. He jumped the fence well too, he was just a little long, but he just didn't get his landing gear sorted on time and he came down. It was an unlucky fall.
Of course, it is impossible to know for sure whether or not he would have won, and the winner Fakir D'Oudairies was strong on the run-in, pulling six lengths clear of French Dynamite, but Haut En Couleurs probably had plenty more left to give too, it is probable that he would have won. He is a talented horse, he won a hurdle race in France on his racecourse debut, and he ran in the 2021 Triumph Hurdle on his first run for Willie Mullins, just his second run ever, in which he did well to finish third behind Quilixios having raced keenly early on. He hasn't won over fences since he won his beginners' chase on his chasing bow at Leopardstown last Christmas, but he didn't run badly in the John Durkan Chase on his debut this season, and he was in the process of putting up a career-best on Sunday before he came down. Strange that he doesn't hold an entry in the Ryanair Chase, but it may be that he will be supplemented to the race and, if he is, he could be a big player. He is only six so he has the potential to continue his progression now over fences.