By Simon Jackson at Kempton Park
Irving surged to the forefront of the betting for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after an impressive win in the Grade 2 Sky Bet Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton Park.
The six-year-old kept tabs on the leaders throughout before challenging two fences out to score by five lengths under Paul Nicholls’ second jockey Nick Scholfield and is now best priced at 3-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The emphatic victory on soft ground on Saturday was his fourth in as many starts over obstacles for the son of Singspiel and connections believe that he will improve again on better ground.
“I just thought that in the earlier part of the race he wasn’t travelling with the same zest as he has at Ascot,” said Scholfield, who will retain the ride at Cheltenham. “But the ground is quite holding and dead and he is obviously a totally different horse on good ground.
“He’s a very smart animal, we expected him to win this and he has done it well. On that ground he has picked up well.”
The victory delighted Nicholls and the seven-time champion trainer says he intends to just keep him ticking over ahead of the Cheltenham Festival that commences on March 11.
“He will be much better in a really fast run race where you can just settle him in a little bit, rather than set him alight too soon and just improve his jumping a little bit on better ground,” Nicholls said.
“I won’t need to do anything with him [before Cheltenham]. We will just keep him ticking over. He is clean winded and he won’t need to do very much at all. We will just do one canter up the hill every day and a bit of schooling. He is a horse that wouldn’t want a lot of work.
“He is very laid back in everything he does. From the minute we have had him, we have always liked him.
“When he started running Daryll [Jacob – stable jockey] was injured and Nick has done well on him so it is really hard to take him off him. You have got to spread it [the rides] round a bit as I have tried to stress in the last few months. They all get opportunities and you need them all on different days when jockeys are injured. Nick rides him well and he is a top class jockey so it is good to have him onside.”
The feature race of the day, the £100,000 BetBright Chase, produced an upset as 28-1 shot Bally Legend prevailed in the Grade 3, three mile contest to provide trainer Caroline Keevil with her biggest winner to date.
“I’m still shaking – that my biggest winner by a long shot,” the emotional Keevil said
“I’ve had him since he was a wild three-year-old. As a small trainer, you have some highs and lots of lows, but whenever I’m at my lowest ebb, Bally Legend pulls it out of the bag.
“This was the target. He is entered in the Byrne Group Plate, but Cheltenham is only two weeks away and it might be a big greedy.
“The fields around us are lakes and the gallops have been damaged, but days like this help you shrug it off.”
Jockey Ian Popham said: “He is so tough. He is an absolute legend. Everytime you need a big jump he will come for you. He is so brave.”
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