Irving set for starring role in Cheltenham Festival opener
The Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old now has only Vautour ahead of him in the betting for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Sunday 23 February 2014
With Cheltenham now just 16 days away and the senior stars fully honed, ready and waiting, it was the turn yesterday of the young guns to get in one last bit of match practice before the big game.
None of them made more of an impression than Irving, who confirmed himself the leader of the home side's challenge for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle with a comfortable success in the Grade Two trial at Kempton. The Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old now has only Vautour, from Willie Mullins's yard, ahead of him in the betting for the two-mile novices' crown, setting up a classic Anglo-Irish showdown in the Festival opener.
Irving, sympathetically ridden by Nick Scholfield, cruised past the trailblazing Amore Alato after the second-last obstacle and, despite a misjudgement at the last, pulled five lengths clear on the run-in. He is now four from four over hurdles and, in the opinion of both his trainer and rider, will improve for underfoot conditions less testing than yesterday's.
"The ground was holding and dead," said Scholfield, "and early on he wasn't travelling with his usual zest, though he picked up well on it when I asked. He'll be so much better when I can let him stride on and wing them."
The Singspiel gelding, recruited from Germany after winning four times on the Flat, is judged a 4-1 shot for the Supreme by sponsors Sky Bet, with Vautour 11-4. "He's got all the speed in the world," said Nicholls, "and faster ground will sharpen his jumping. He's a proper horse."
The victory of Activial in the equivalent juvenile contest was as authoritative, but whether or not he lines up for the Triumph Hurdle remains to be seen. "We've loved him since the day he turned up in the yard," said his trainer, Harry Fry, "but he'll be better next year and is a chaser for the future."
Activial's three-and-a-half-length defeat of Commissioned had the knock-on effect of his own last-time-out conqueror, Calipto – in the care of Nicholls, Fry's old boss – hardening as 5-1 favourite for next month's four-year-old feature. Commissioned's trainer, John Ferguson, was encouraged by his inexperienced charge's performance, knowing he has a much better one at home in Broughton.
The afternoon's richest prize went to the smallest stable represented, that of Caroline Keevil, as Bally Legend stayed on stoutly to beat Bury Parade, blocked and switched in his challenge, and the favourite, Tour Des Champs, in the BetBright Chase. The 28-1 chance, ridden by Ian Popham, was the Dorset-based Keevil's 100th runner of the season (Bury Parade was Nicholls's 415th) and the £100,000 Grade Three handicap the biggest success of her career.
At Newcastle, Wyck Hill and Smoking Aces notched a one-two for their owner, J P McManus, in the Eider Chase, at four miles and a furlong the third-longest race in the domestic calendar and a traditional Grand National pointer.
The winner, trained by David Bridgewater, can now be backed at 25-1 for the Aintree showpiece, as can On His Own, who gave Mullins his fifth success in the Bobbyjo Chase in 10 years as he turned one of Ireland's most reliable National trials into a procession.
Latest in Sport
William Carvalho to Arsenal? Gunners make new enquiry for £35m rated midfielder
Manchester United transfer news: More signings expected, indicates Ed Woodward
CM Punk 'never ever ever' going to return to WWE (so he probably will)
Manchester United transfer news: Completed summer deals
James Rodriguez joins Real Madrid: World Cup top scorer completes £63m move
- 1 UK pirates will get four warning letters a year
- 2 Apple has installed security backdoors on 600m iPhones and iPads, claims security researcher
- 3 Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Pro-Russian rebel 'admits to shooting down plane'
- 4 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 5 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: 'Nine Britons, 23 Americans and 80 children' feared dead after Boeing passenger jet is 'shot down' near Ukraine-Russia border
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains
£55000 Per Annum plus company car and bonus scheme: The Green Recruitment Comp...
competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Hand - QCProgressive are recruiting...
£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Chemical Eng...
Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...