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Irving ready for First Mohican clash at Kempton

Saturday’s Dovecote Hurdle is very much Plan B for the Paul Nicholls-trained Irving. The unbeaten six-year-old had been earmarked for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but was taken out due to the heavy ground.

Nicholls believes Irving can win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham next month and didn’t want to jeopardise his chances with a tough race. The going is still pretty testing at Kempton and he has a small but select field to overcome.

The main danger looks likely to come from Alan King’s First Mohican, an exciting recruit from the flat running in the Ponsonby colours. The chestnut was trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil and won a decent handicap at York before being placed at Group 3 level in France.

He made a belated debut over hurdles at Doncaster recently and put up a pleasing performance to beat Huff And Puff by three-quarters of a length. He is also on course for the Supreme if he performs well on Saturday.

JP McManus is doubly represented in the race with Nicky Henderson’s Cup Final and the unraced Vaihau. Cup Final was favourite when beaten four lengths by Irving at Taunton in November but returned with a nasty cut to a hind leg.

Nick Williams runs Amore Alato who won at Wincanton and here at Kempton before finishing third to Lac Fontana at Cheltenham. Paul Nicholls also trains that winner so should have a pretty good idea where he stands in relation to Irving.

Germany Calling has been placed in all three starts for Charlie Longsdon and also found Lac Fontana too good when second to that horse in October. He would need to step up considerably on that form to trouble the front two in the betting.

The field is completed by Dubai Prince, another decent flat recruit but extremely disappointing here on Boxing Day. The son of Shamardal is the highest rated of these on the flat but has not gone on since his impressive debut win at Leicester.