While Jamie Vardy tries to beat the Premier League’s consecutive goal-scoring record at Old Trafford, Paul Nicholls’ Irving is trying to bag his third graded race in a month and consecutive Fighting Fifth crowns.
But the Irish trainers – or Willie Mullins anyway – have had the monopoly on 2m speedsters in recent years and sense there may be some sweet booty worth snaffling in the UK on the road to the annual Cheltenham bank raid.
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Wicklow Brave has improved more than Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp since deciding that jumping off with the rest of the field was the way forward and was last seen putting the frighteners on Faugheen at Punchestown – even if Nichols Canyon stole the reigning Champion Hurdlers’ thunder. Henry de Bromhead also sends over Identity Thief who is on the up and was impressive in a Grade 2 at Down Royal despite nearly fluffing his lines at the last.
But both have yet to win Grade One Hurdles while Irving’s been there, done that, and has the sad, vacant stare of the long-distance commuter to prove it.
‘How much more does Wicklow Brave have to improve?’ asks Ruby Walsh in his PP Blog column. And who are we to argue with Ruby? He’s a very good arguer.
Of the others, Top Notch looks a big-enough price to reverse form with Irving after going down less than a length at Haydock last weekend and could come out on top from Beltor, & Intense Tango in the battle of the four-year-olds.
Selection: Wicklow Brave Alternative: Irving
There’s a danger that more chasers than hurdlers will line up for the main race on Newbury’s under card.
Reigning World Hurdler Cole Harden and dual Liverpool Hurdle champ Whisper go toe-to-toe again with the score at 1-1 after last season’s Grade One clashes.
Warren Greatrex’s runner dented a few reputations when winning the 3m feature at Cheltenham last March where Whisper taking the scenic route before finishing fifth. Nicky Henderson’s stayer got his revenge at Aintree though and comes here rated 3lb higher (167-164) than his younger rival.
But there’s always the fear that the former Coral Cup winner only really performs at his best when the Factor 15 is out even though he has won heavy-ground handicaps before.
Tom Scudamore has hopped on the improving Thistlecrack who was last seen chasing home Cheltenham Festival winner Killultagh Vic having won the Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree before that but has plenty to find on ratings.