13:30 Cheltenham: Josses can power up the Hill to Supreme glory
Irving came through his Cheltenham Festival prep-run with flying colours when easily landing the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton. He strode effortlessly clear that day to win by five lengths in the hands, to make it four from four over hurdles despite not ideally being suited by the testing conditions.
Trainer Paul Nicholls believes he has even more to offer given good ground, and he is a strong-travelling sort who jumps well and has an excellent turn of foot. The one concern is that he is yet to win going left handed either on the flat or over jumps and all his wins have come on flat tracks, so there has to be a slight question mark as to whether he will get home up the famous Cheltenham hill.
The leading hope for the Irish is the Willie Mullins trained Vautour who took the step-up into Grade 1 company in his stride when lowering the colours of The Tullow Tank in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.
The French import lived up his tall home reputation in fine style as he completed the hat-trick with a three-length win under a masterful ride from Ruby Walsh, and is bidding to become the first five-year-old since the mighty Istabraq in 1997 to complete the Deloitte/Supreme double. Undoubtedly a very exciting prospect.
Nicky Henderson has a strong pair in the shape of Josses Hill and Vaniteux, and preference is for the former. The gelding joined the Seven Barrows handler after finishing second of 22 to Faugheen on his debut in a bumper at Punchestown and after winning a bumper at Ascot, put in an impressive display to score first time up over hurdles at Newbury.
The six-year-old then went down by just half a length to stable companion Royal Boy in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Kempton on a track which didn’t play to his strengths and the form looks solid as the pair pulled 11 lengths clear of the third. He looks the ideal type for this contest, and the galloping track and stiff finish look sure to play to his strengths.
Of those at bigger odds, Splash Of Ginge and Wilde Blue Yonder look live outsiders. The former is trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and ran out the game winner of the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last time out. He was beaten six lengths by Irving when they met at Ascot earlier in the season, but he didn’t jump well that day and was never happy going right handed.
Connections are convinced that Cheltenham will suit him down to the ground, and he is a really tough sort who is still improving and will not go down without a fight.
Wilde Blue Yonder had some smart bumper form to his name and looked an exciting prospect when winning on his hurdling debut at Newbury.
Things have not gone to plan since, with the son of Oscar failing to complete in two subsequent starts. In the first of those at Newbury he still held every chance when coming to grief at the last, and he then had the race in the bag at Ascot, but again failed to negotiate the final obstacle.
It was his run in the latter which marked him out as an above-average type, as he was four lengths clear of a useful field and still yet to be asked a question when hitting the deck. If he can stay on his feet then he has the ability to go close.