/ Racing

Six set to challenge Irving in Dovecote Hurdle at Kempton

Updated: Friday, 21 Feb 2014 19:13 | Comments

Irving is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles
Irving is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles

Trainer Paul Nicholls hopes the decision to skip going for a huge pot at Newbury with Irving pays dividends in the Sky Bet Dovecote Novices' Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday.

One of the ante-post favourites for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle next month, Irving looked a blot on the handicap for the Betfair Hurdle but the former champion trainer decided not to risk him on heavy ground.

That race was eventually won by Splash Of Ginge, behind Irving at Ascot in December, and Nicholls feels the smaller field in the Dovecote will be better preparation for his main aim at Cheltenham in just over three weeks.

The Ditcheat handler said: "He's been off for a while but he's been ready to run.

"I just thought there's one or two beat on form at Kempton, not like at Newbury in the Betfair Hurdle when there's about 20 to beat."

Irving is owned by the Axom syndicate, whose racing manager, Dan Downie, said: "It's all really exciting.

"We were desperate to get another run into him somewhere if we could and in an ideal world we could have done with this race being last Saturday to have given us an extra week before Cheltenham.

"It looks a good opportunity, though, and, like Paul says, even if he gets beaten he won't have as hard a race as he would have done at Newbury in that ground.

"Ideally we'd want better ground but if we wanted to run, this is about as good as we're going to get. It's certainly not bad enough to stop us running."

Irving, who is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles, was a decent performer on the level in Germany - but not as good as Alan King's First Mohican.

Placed in Group company in France, when trained by the late Henry Cecil, he made a smooth transition to hurdles when winning a decent novice event at Doncaster.

This race has been the plan ever since and he needs to perform with credit to book his Cheltenham ticket.

"First Mohican, who runs in the Dovecote, won really well at Doncaster first time out and had a good blow afterwards, so, hopefully, there is improvement to come," the Barbury Castle handler told www.alankingracing.co.uk.

"He has worked well since and schooled on Thursday, and if all goes well it will be the Supreme next."

The Nick Williams-trained Amore Alato beat some well-touted individuals in a traditionally hot novice hurdle at Kempton over Christmas but he could only finish third in handicap company next time out at Cheltenham.

However, Williams believes the ground may have been to blame that day.

He told At The Races: "He was very impressive at Kempton over Christmas so he's a course and distance winner and has a lot going for him, I would have thought.

"The heavy ground probably didn't suit him at Cheltenham if he's run to his mark of 135.

"He still ran a solid race but he didn't show that he was particularly well handicapped."

Charlie Longsdon's Germany Calling is the unknown quantity and has had a slight setback since his hurdling debut, when second at Cheltenham in October.

"He was a very good second at Cheltenham, but has been off since then with a slight muscle injury," the Oxfordshire trainer told www.charlielongsdonracing.com.

"This is a very tough race to bring him back for, but he is a nice novice and if he does not win I could easily see him running in all the big novices next season."

John Ferguson's Dubai Prince, one-time ante-post favourite for the Derby, was ultra-impressive winning on his hurdling debut but did not look the same horse when pulled up behind Amore Alato at Kempton and when beaten by Pearl Castle at Doncaster.

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