Unbeaten hurdler Irving looks to build on his already strong Supreme Novices’ claims when taking part in the Dovecote Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday.
The Paul Nicholls trained six-year-old has already built a considerable reputation due to positive reports from Ditcheat and two impressive performances at Taunton and Ascot.
His Jockey Nick Scholfield believes his mount is good enough to challenge for the Festival opener, a race trainer Paul Nicholls has won already with Noland in 2006 and Al Ferof in 2011.
Scholfield said: “I’ve got a very good feeling off Irving so far this season, you can pick at his form a bit but at the same time he can’t do it more impressively than he has. His jumping is electric, he’s only had three runs so far but is a quick learner and he’s taken to it really well.
“He’s not overly raced on the flat either and he’s won most of his races on the flat and over hurdles, so the world is his oyster at the moment.”
Scholfield also believes the Supreme, regularly run at a strong pace, will be ideal for the Singspiel gelding.
“The stronger run the race the more it will be about his stamina; he’s won over 1m4f on the flat and staying further is no problem to him but he’s got plenty of gears as well. It will a;sp help him settle as he can be slightly keen at times.
“I know he has probably won in slowly run races but you will still see the best of him when they go a gallop. He’s run at Ascot and Taunton which are both right-handed but he’s as straight as a dice so going left-handed is not a problem, it’s just a coincidence that he’s not gone left-handed. He went down the hill alright at Ascot, the undulations didn’t go against him at all and I certainly can’t see Cheltenham being a problem for him.”
Scholfield is also likely to have a ride in the feature of Day 1’s card and arguably the Festival itself, the Champion Hurdle, with Melodic Rendezvous likely to take his chance.
The rider feels Jeremy Scott’s stable star hasn’t been given the respect he deserves with his only real disappointment coming in his biggest test against My Tent Or Yours in the Fighting Fifth. Since then he has beaten two smart Paul Nicholls horses in Ptit Zig and Zarkandar in graded company at Haydock and Wincanton respectively.
Scholfield said: “Melodic Rendezvous has always been a good horse since day 1 when he won his Chepstow bumper. He then went to Punchestown in a Grade 1 when the ground was almost waterlogged and he finished second behind Champagne Fever.
“He’s won seven of his ten starts and if you look at previous form he’s only got one disappointing run which was in the Fighting Fifth. The ground was far too quick in my opinion at Newcastle for him and he came back a little jarred up. I felt he was beaten after a mile that day.
“I think everyone thought that was his day to prove himself. He definitely didn’t feel right that day and he was almost forgotten about after it. I expected him to win at Haydock after that and he did well to beat a very good horse in Zarkandar in the Kingwell last weekend.
“The owners are very sporting and though it could be a golden year for the Champion Hurdle, it wouldn’t surprise me if he outran his odds and especially if the ground was soft. He’s a hardy horse and he handles soft ground very well, it’s got to be unlikely even with this weather that we will get that on the opening day of Cheltenham though.”
The eight-year-old has shown a particular liking for heavy ground but while Scholfield believes that would boost his chances considerably in a Champion Hurdle, he also believes significant cut in the ground is not imperative to his chances.
“He handles the ground better than most, he’s clean winded and has a good turn of foot on it. I’m sure the owners would think it’s Christmas if it did come up like that, but he has won on better ground too. I’d like to see him have another go on better ground.”
Paul Nicholls so far has a strong book of challengers for all of the Novice Chase events this Festival and Scholfield himself has ridden two of his leading lights, Wonderful Charm and Black Thunder, to victory this season.
French import Wonderful Charm disappointed in the World Hurdle last year but has impressed over fences, with three wins from four to his name already. Despite that defeat at the hands of Oscar Whisky on his latest start at Cheltenham, he still goes to the main event with a strong chance and the six-year-old is still currently the 6/1 antepost favourite for the race.
Scholfield noted: “I’m sure Paul will keep one for the JLT and the other for the RSA. Wonderful Charm is a 10lb better horse on good ground. He’s got a lot of gears and though he was beaten by Oscar Whisky when last seen at Cheltenham, he had had a few runs in a short space of time and I think he’s a much better horse than he showed. If it was genuinely good ground I think he’d have a massive chance.”
Black Thunder, a general 25/1 shot for the RSA Chase has some strong novice form to his name, including beating Many Clouds, Warwick’s Classic Chase winner Shotgun Paddy and on his last start finishing second at the same track to the potentially smart Corrin Wood.
“With Black Thunder, he got beat at Warwick last time but looked a bit flat. He beat Shotgun Paddy before then at Lingfield on bottomless ground when I rode him and he did it easily that day. If it’s soft ground then he’d have a great chance in the RSA.”