6/4 favourite Irving won the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle to give tearful trainer Paul Nicholls his 100th Grade 1 winner at Newcastle today.
The mount of jockey Paul Schofield knuckled down well, taking the lead at the last flight before before being driven out to win the prestigious two-mile event by just under two lengths from Aurore D’Estruval with Arctic Fire in third.
With only six runners going to post, it didn’t appear to be a particularly strong line up but with Willie Mullins ultra consistent hurdler unable to strike a blow in third place, Irving put himself forward as a genuine Champion Hurdle prospect. Bookies reacted by quoting as low as 16/1 afterwards and leaving Ladbrokes to stand out at 25/1.
Nicholls wiped away genuine tears to say the six-year-old will probably go for the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton where the gelding could meet The New One, impressive winner of the Betfair Price Rush Hurdle at Haydock last week.
“We’ll have a much clearer idea as to where he stands if he takes on The New One there. In fact, if the bookies were to go 1/3 TNO, 3/1 Irving, I might well be tempted by the latter,” said the Ditcheat handler.
Irving had connections and racegoers on tenterhooks after lying for 15 minutes after a fall at Wincanton earlier this month. The son of Singspiel looked primed to score when coming down at the last but after lots of schooling, Nicholls let him take his chance after the Fighting Fifth field opened up when one or two leading contenders opted for the Haydock race.
It was Irvings first Grade 1 win after previously registering a couple of Grade 2 victories and Nicholls’ 100th winner at the highest level. Nicholls is best known for his chasing successes with See More Business, Denman and Kauto Star who won a total of four Cheltenham Gold Cups and with help from Silviniaco Conti, amassed eight King George VI victories.