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Nicholls leaning towards Irish Saint in Betfair Hurdle

Twenty-nine horses have been declared for Saturday’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Boylesports Hurdle winner Gilgamboa joined Flaxen Flare and Quick Jack among the notable absentees.

Paul Nicholls currently trains the first two in the betting with long-time ante-post favourite Irving and runaway Ascot winner Irish Saint. Although this race has been on the agenda for Supreme Novices’ hope Irving for some time, Nicholls has warned punters that he may not run if the going is heavy.

Irish Saint left his early season form well behind when romping through the mud to win by 11 lengths at Ascot and gets in here with just a 5lb penalty. The handicapper has raised him 12lbs so he is officially 7lbs well in here.

The going is currently soft, heavy in places but rain is expected to continue in most areas throughout the week. If Irving does not run, Far West may take his place in the field in the same ownership.

David Pipe also has options but the market suggests that Dell’ Arca is expected to be his leading hope. The Greatwood winner was still in contention when unseating his rider in the Ladbroke. Pipe has also left in Swing Bowler who has not raced for the best part of a year.

If Alan King’s Montbazon lines up, he will be attempting to overcome an absence of almost two years. He was fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on his last start but injury has kept him on the side-lines ever since.

King could also be represented by Newbury winner Vendor while Nicky Henderson has four declared including Ladbroke disappointment Rolling Star. Champion Hurdle outsider Melodic Rendezvous is the top weight with 11st 12lb while Irish hopes rest with Smashing, trained by Willie Mullins.

Former Cheltenham bumper winner Cheltenian is among the market leaders after winning a minor race with ease at Uttoxeter. A big gamble on Brian Ellison’s Totalize in the Ladbroke went astray but he ran much better when second at Cheltenham last weekend.