The champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls was confident his stable would move quickly up through the gears come November following a stalled start to the campaign and he has been true to his word.
Nicholls will be anxious for Irving, who looked such a class act for much of last winter before his Cheltenham Festival flop, to get back on track in Wincanton’s Elite Hurdle.
Several of today’s rivals were brushed aside by the Champion Hurdle joint-favourite The New One at Kempton recently and Irving (3.15 Wincanton) will need to do something similar to be regarded as genuine title rival. This is no gentle reintroduction, especially with the 2012 champion Rock On Ruby lining up, but Irving is not one to give up on yet.
The Badger Ales Chase could turn into a real slog and Benny’s Mist (2.40 Wincanton), a soft ground specialist with an impressive track record, will be in his element.
It will be fitting if Jamie Spencer can sign off on a high note before his retirement in Doncaster’s November Handicap aboard Dashing Star. But Headline News (3.35 Doncaster), also trading at around 16-1 following his recent Newmarket success, is another who will appreciate the conditions.
Mud-lovers Levitate (1.50 Doncaster) and Jack Dexter (2.25 Doncaster) are both back in top form for the same races they won on this card 12 months ago.
Solwhit, the winner of eight Grade One races, including the 2013 World Hurdle at Cheltenham, died after breaking a shoulder in a schooling session yesterday.
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