March has just arrived, which means it is now only days until the Cheltenham Festival kicks off (12-15 March).

The hype and excitement is already running at dangerously high levels as we near the racemeeting which dominates jumps racing in Ireland and Britain.

Some punters have been placing ante-post bets on Cheltenham 2024 as far back as the end of last year’s festival. However, that approach has never appealed to this writer who prefers to wait until the day of the race, when all the variables and uncertainties have been removed.

Previews and tips

Of course, there is no end of previews and tips available in print and online. Undoubtedly there are nuggets of wisdom to be found there but you need to do a lot of mining and sit through a lot of waffle.

In the meantime, allow me to bring two performances on the racetrack from last weekend to your attention. Both horses have big race targets in April and May respectively, if you have any money left by then.

Last Saturday at Fairyhouse, I Am Maximus won the Bobbyjo Chase, a recognised trial for the Aintree Grand National on 13 April.

At this time last year, I Am Maximus was widely regarded as a professional loser, a horse who did not even get a mention from trainer Willie Mullins in the lead-up to Cheltenham, where he finished a modest fourth in a Grade 1 novice chase.

Surprise win

However, a month later I Am Maximus pulled off a surprise win in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse. He was only 8/1, so you could say it wasn’t unpredictable, but the horse was tailed off at halfway and only a miracle ride from Paul Townend saw him get to the lead in the very closing stages.

This season, I Am Maximus looks a much more reliable and professional racehorse, and an improving one. His success last Saturday has seen him promoted to 10/1 joint favourite for the Aintree National and he looks a very attractive proposition for a race which will have ‘only’ 36 runners this year.

Looking even further ahead, take note of a horse named William Munny for the Grade 1 Champion Bumper at Punchestown on Wednesday, 1 May.

Trained by Barry Connell, who shot to fame with his handling of Marine Nationale last season, William Munny won very easily at Naas last Sunday, prompting Connell to declare him, “the best bumper horse in Ireland”. That’s a big shout.