Don't swerve Irv in Dovecote
Our man Jack Keene provides an in-depth guide to Saturday's Sky Bet Dovecote Novices' Hurdle and expects Irving to deliver.
- Related Content
Amore Alato - Course and distance winner Amore Alato showed his tenacious side when successful here on Boxing Day under an inspired front-running Richard Johnson ride. Nick Williams' five-year-old was unhurried on the lead but had to hold off the challenge of rivals with big reputations, noticeably Vaniteux who has subsequently run away with a Doncaster maiden hurdle. The form of the race looks solid, and although he guns for the Sky Bet Dovecote on the back of a defeat at Cheltenham, he is the only horse in the race likely to make the running. There is every chance he could have a soft time of things in front again - in which case he's dangerous - but Johnson will need to eek as much improvement out of his mount as possible as he takes on a couple of leading players for the Sky Bet Supreme.
Irving - This French Flat recruit has impressed in all three of his racecourse appearances in this country so far and, having won them all, he holds strong claims of making it a four-timer here. He quickened up well off a steady gallop to win on his debut at Taunton before another comfortable success at Ascot. It's the form of his latest victory at the latter venue that makes him of real interest, having beaten the subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner by a little over six lengths. Paul Nicholls views Irving as a genuine Sky Bet Supreme contender, and with the chance of a steady gallop in this seven-runner field his proven burst of speed could prove decisive in the closing stages.
Dubai Prince - Bearing Godolphin's royal blue, Dubai Prince brushed aside the likes of Side Glance and Stipulate to win the Group Three Sky Bet Strensall Stakes in his Flat heyday. Now a fully-fledged National Hunt horse, he won hard held on his hurdling debut on good-to-soft ground before bombing out behind Amore Alato at Kempton in conditions that wouldn't have been to his liking. He was then heavily beaten by Cheltenham Festival-bound Pearl Castle on his retrieval mission at Doncaster, and it's likely that he'll be seen to best effect in spring events when the ground is a good deal drier than at present.
First Mohican - Alan King's six-year-old didn't disappoint when making his eagerly anticipated hurdling debut at Doncaster earlier this month. Although he only won by three-quarters-of-a-length, he jumped well and he was probably in front early enough as his head seemed to come up in the air in the last half furlong. He was always comfortably holding the runner-up, though, and showed his considerable Flat class with the way he cruised through the race. That was his first competitive action for four months so he is entitled to strip fitter for the run. Although a winner over seven furlongs on the level, he isn't a horse with an instant turn of foot, so a slowly run race wouldn't be ideal. Whatever the outcome of this race, the bigger field and guaranteed strong tempo of a Sky Bet Supreme is sure to bring out the best in First Mohican.
Cup Final - The mount of AP McCoy, Cup Final was sent off an odds-on chance to beat Irving at Taunton earlier in the season. He was readily disposed of that day but did return with a nasty cut on his hind leg. It's impossible to say whether that injury effected Cup Final's performance but his jumping seemed unaffected as it was, on the whole, foot-perfect. He and the re-opposing Irving landed over the last together that day, but Cup Final was left behind by his conqueror in a matter of strides. Cut or no cut, it looks a very tough task for Cup Final to reverse form with that rival.
Germany Calling - Ran a bumper debut full of promise at Worcester in September and again ran well on his hurdling debut when second to Lac Fontana at Cheltenham. He hasn't been seen since the middle of October, though, so his wellbeing has to be taken on trust. On the evidence of his two efforts so far he will need to return from his break a much improved horse if he's to mix it with some talented and more experienced rivals.
Vaihau - This JP McManus owned five-year-old is a total unknown quantity and he makes his National Hunt debut in Grade Two company. This looks like a fact-finding mission for connections so he has to be left alone unless a market plunge takes place.
Conclusion: The race conditions are shaping up to favour IRVING, who has proven his ability to quicken instantly in smaller fields and off a variety of gallops. First Mohican has never been a horse with an immediate turn of foot, and in the likelihood that this race could be dictated by Amore Alato, who looks a sound each-way option, he may just be caught flat-footed on this speed track if a sprint ensues.