Saint primed for Newbury prize
Irish Saint is fancied to give a good account of himself at Newbury on the Betfair Super Saturday raceday by trainer, Paul Nicholls.
An impressive winner on his most recent start at Ascot, the five-year-old bounced back from two disappointing efforts earlier in the season with a wide-margin victory in the Grade 2 Keltbray Holloway's Hurdle, but that improved showing came as little surprise to his trainer.
The seven-time champion said at his Dicheat stables: "Irish Saint was very slow to hand this year and was found to have injured his hind joint. But he travelled well on his first start [at Newbury] before he fell at the last.
"He got stuck in the middle at Ascot next like a lot of them but he still wasn't ready.
"But he relished the testing ground and hosed in [at Ascot]. The handicapper has raised him 12lb but he only has a 5lb penalty, so he's nicely in and you can see why he's favourite. He must have a leading chance", Nicholls added.
Irish Saint heads the betting with the sponsors Betfair at 6/1 with his stablemate, the unbeaten Irving, next at 7/1 after the five-day declaration stage in which there remain 29 possible runners.
Irving has won all three starts since being transferred from France, but his trainer issued words of caution for ante-post punters. "He's been schooling well and working nicely but I'm concerned about the ground, so we will have to see how it unfolds.
"We think he is well-handicapped but I'm loathe to run him if it's very testing. He likes decent ground and I want to look after him."
Newbury's clerk of the course Richard Osgood described the ground as "soft, heavy in places" and, although showers are expected throughout the week, fresh ground has been set aside on the course.
Far West, in the same ownership as Irving, has also been left in the prestigious Grade 3 contest worth £152,500 - but Nicholls will not run both.
The Betfair Denman Chase, could see Gold Cup fancy Al Ferof make the line-up having last ran in the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Nicholls believes the testing ground didn't suit his charge and he would rather send the grey straight to Cheltenham than give him a tough race on a heavy surface.
Tidal Bay is also a likely participant in the Denman Chase as connections seek to get another run in to him with the Grand National just eight weeks away and the yard could give another run to promising hurdler Calipto, who made a winning debut for his new handler at Newbury in November.