Irving not certain for Betfair

  • Last Updated: February 3 2014, 17:28 GMT

Conditions at Newbury by this Saturday could have forced Paul Nicholls into a reshuffle of troops for the Betfair Hurdle.

Irving: Could miss Newbury
Irving: Could miss Newbury

The ground is already very soft at the Berkshire course, with further rain on the horizon, and the trainer's reluctance to risk ante-post favourite Irving in such conditions has seen stablemate Irish Saint leap ahead of him in the sponsors' market.

Irving could then be steered back down the novice route towards Cheltenham with another of the Axom syndicate's horses, Far West, taking his place.

Nicholls said of Irving, who is unbeaten in three starts since arriving from Germany: "I'd be very concerned if the ground got very testing at the weekend, so we'll have to see how it unfolds.

"We're keen to run, but he's not the biggest or most robust and he definitely wants decent ground.

"He'll get an entry in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham but I want to run him in the Supreme and if he doesn't run on Saturday, he could go for the Dovecote at Kempton instead.

"Far West was going to run in the National Spirit at Fontwell but I left him in at the last minute in case I didn't run Irving as he's owned by the same people and it gives us options."

Irish Saint was a leading juvenile who won the Adonis at Kempton and finished third at Aintree last season.

After a slow start to the new campaign, he won a valuable handicap at Ascot by 11 lengths last month and gets into the Betfair with a 5lb penalty.

"I'm quite sure on Saturday you'll need a horse who stays two and a half miles," said Nicholls. "He stays well and is a few pounds 'well-in'. He must have a leading chance."

The jockey situation at Ditcheat is once again slightly up in the air in regard to the illustrious handicap.

Nicholls announced Noel Fehily would be aboard Irish Saint, after being in the plate at Ascot, and expects Nick Scholfield to continue his partnership with Irving, although part of his agreement when Scholfield signed as second jockey was to allow him to still ride the Jeremy Scott-trained Melodic Rendezvous, a live Champion Hurdle hope and current Newbury top-weight.

This leaves stable number one Daryl Jacob waiting to see where he is required.

Nicholls went on: "Daryl will have plenty of rides for me on Saturday. I think too much is being made of the jockey situation - you need a team of jockeys, as in the case of next weekend when we'll have big runners at Haydock, Wincanton and Ascot."

Nicholls showed off a few of his other likely Newbury runners at a press morning at the yard.

Calipto, who won his only British start at the Hennessy meeting, is to reappear in the Cash Out Your Saturday Multiples With Betfair Novices' Hurdle, and Nicholls said he was "not ruling anything in or out" over a possible challenge at the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Others to appear will be Black River, Sam Winner and As De Mee, who may head to Aintree if impressing in the Listed bumper.

Paying five places on ante-post bets in the Betfair Hurdle with Sky Bet