The Big Question: Can Irving end poor run of favourites in Supreme?
Brave Inca in 2004 was the last winning favourite in the traditional curtain raiser to the Cheltenham festival. Irish runners have also dominated, winning eight of the last twelve, so should punters tread carefully before backing Irving?
The Paul Nicholls-trained gelding shot to the head of the market when he stormed to a five-length victory from Amore Alato at Kempton last month. The bare form of the race is not exceptional but it was the style of his victory that was impressive and he has displaced Vautour as favourite.
Nicholls has always maintained that Irving was his Supreme Novices’ horse this year and decided to swerve the valuable Betfair Hurdle due to the heavy ground. He did not want to leave his Cheltenham hopes behind in the Newbury mud and his decision appears to have been vindicated.
The ground is drying out for the festival with perfect jumping ground expected for Tuesday’s opener. Irving also owes his position as favourite to a tenuous form line through Newbury winner Splash Of Ginge.
Irving had given him 3lbs and a six-length beating at Ascot in December. However, Prince Siegfried had looked to be Irving’s biggest danger when falling at the last and he finished last in the Tolworth Hurdle next time out.
His victories have all come on flat tracks and the Cheltenham hill is going to be a new experience for him. There is a slight concern over Irving’s hurdling technique as he guessed at the last flight at Kempton.
It is not inconceivable that Vautour could challenge again for favouritism following his three-length victory over The Tullow Tank. Some observers felt that Ruby Walsh had stolen the race by quickening off a slow pace but there was no doubting the winner’s superiority.
Stable companion Wicklow Brave may have been under-estimated after winning five races on the trot. His victory over Lieutenant Colonel may have been better than first appeared with the runner-up also set to take his chance here.
Josses Hill was just edged out by Royal Boy in the Tolworth while Gilgamboa could yet run here in preference to the County Hurdle. Valseur Lido and Vaniteux are other promising types in a top quality field.
If you’re already on Irving at fancy prices, there is no doubt that he is a worthy favourite. If he is as good as Nicholls believes he is, he will win and win well. But there are plenty of obstacles to overcome before you can start counting your winnings.