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Last Updated: 07/02/14 4:45pm
Far West: Newbury hopeful
Paul Nicholls may not be running the ante-post favourite Irving in Saturday's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, but he still has two big chances with Irish Saint and Far West.
Nicholls, who has targeted the big handicaps this season in his attempt to wrestle back the champion trainer crown from Nicky Henderson, felt Irving may ruin his chance in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle next month if he endured a slog in a deep ground, which it is sure to be if the meeting survives a 7am inspection.
However, Irish Saint had no trouble with very soft ground at Ascot last time out after disappointing twice earlier in the season and he is actually 7lb well-in as the weights came out
before his Ascot romp.
"He was slow coming to hand this year and knocked a hind joint," said Nicholls.
"He wasn't ready for the Gerry Feilden, and then he got behind in a big field in The Ladbroke.
"We were never really happy with him until after Christmas and then he absolutely hosed in at Ascot. He relished the soft ground that day.
"Like a lot of the four-year-olds I've had, they get better over a trip and I think you need a stayer to win this race. The softer the ground, the better, and he runs under a 5lb penalty so he's a few pounds well-in."
Far West runs in the same Axom colours as Irving and he is certainly an able substitute having finished second in the Triumph Hurdle last season.
He ran well on his comeback at Wincanton but disappointed at Haydock, after which a problem was found.
"He was a really decent juvenile last year and was second to Melodic Rendezvous at Wincanton. He was very ordinary at Haydock, but we found he was suffering from ulcers, which he has been treated for," said Nicholls.
"We were looking at running him in the National Spirit but we decided to leave him in at the last minute when there was uncertainty about Irving running because of the ground."
Henderson has three runners with top weight Rolling Star the subject of positive vibes earlier in the week.
Barry Geraghty has chosen him over Gibb River (Tony McCoy) and Vasco Du Ronceray (David Bass) in the hope that he can put his poor run in The Ladbroke behind him.
"He won nicely at Haydock, that was a good run, and then went off favourite for The Ladbroke and disappointed there. That was too bad to be true, he was beaten by halfway," said Geraghty.
"I think if he shows what he does at home, he'd have a big chance, but you never like to have top weight on heavy ground."
Alan King is another who fields two contenders with Montbazon, not seen since finishing fourth in the Supreme two years ago, and Vendor, a good winner at Newbury's Hennessy meeting.
King has had well-publicised problems this season but his horses appear to be back in good heart now, with First Mohican making a winning debut on Thursday.
Robert Thornton rides Montbazon with Jack Doyle on Vendor.
"It won't be easy for Montbazon after nearly two years off, but I just had to get a run into him somewhere. There are no other options for him. He's done all his work with First Mohican," said King.
"We put him in the Champion Hurdle but unless he wins by 10 lengths or something, I'd imagine he'll run in the County Hurdle.
"Jack Doyle rode Vendor to win at Newbury last time, so the owners were keen for him to ride again. I'm not sure even Vendor would want the ground this deep, they'd both prefer much better ground."
David Pipe is yet another with two runners in Greatwood winner Dell' Arca and last year's third from this race Swing Bowler.
Tom Scudamore rides Dell' Arca and admits he is unsure where he would have finished in The Ladbroke after he was brought down by Recession Proof three from home.
"He seems very well, I sat on him the other week and schooled him and he's shown no ill effects from Ascot," Scudamore told Racing UK.
"It was just unfortunate, a horse fell in front of us, he went left and I went right.
"It was frustrating, I felt we were going comfortably at the time but at the same time, the third-last at Ascot is a long way from the winning line.
"The way Willow's Saviour won, you'd be hard pressed to say you'd have won it, but at the same time I was feeling pretty confident.
"He seems in good form, we know he'll handle the conditions so hopefully he goes there with a good chance."
Swing Bowler was due to run in The Ladbroke but was pulled out on the morning of the race.
Owner JP McManus has taken this prestigious prize twice in recent years with Get Me Out Of Here (2010) and My Tent Or Yours (2013) and is double-handed this time with the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Alaivan and Prompter.
Alaivan was a very good novice when with Edward O'Grady, finishing third in the Triumph Hurdle, but was off for more than two and a half years and only returned to action in December.
"Alaivan has had his problems. He's had a leg twice and has come back after a long lay-off," said McManus' racing manager Frank Berry.
"He ran OK in a little race the last day, but it's a big step up for him. You never know and we are hoping for the best."
Prompter has been a useful performer on the Flat but has won just two of his 31 career starts, one of which was over hurdles back in October 2012 at Bangor.
"It's frustrating he doesn't win too often. We hope they go a good gallop and he might be able to sneak into it," said Berry.