The stars of the jump racing world have slowly been making their seasonal debuts over the past month or so and this weekend will bring out even more top names as we focus on the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton. The Elite Hurdle has always proven to be an excellent race for punters to watch and past winners of the 2m limited handicap race include Well Chief, Azertyuiop, Celestial Halo and Zarkandar among others which highlights the quality of the contest.
Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls has always targeted the Elite Hurdle as an early season race to win and he is likely to have leading claims once again this weekend. The Ditcheat handler has the exciting Irving engaged who many believe could well make up into a Champion Hurdle contender given his excellent form as a novice last winter.
The 6-year-old won four of his five races last season as a novice including two Grade 2 races to mark himself out as one to follow. He started the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham as one of the market leaders back in March only to flop on the day and only finish a very disappointing 9th place which did burst his bubble slightly. There is however no doubt that he should be given a second chance here though with that Supreme form looking rock solid so far this winter and connections still clearly believing he is a top class animal.
Irving is currently a best price 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle in March which feels about right at the moment but those odds could tumble if he produces a good performance on Saturday. It might not be a walk in the park for Irving though with one or two nice horses set to take him on, including a former Champion Hurdler.
Harry Fry has decided to send Rock On Ruby back over the smaller obstacles this season after an unsuccessful flirtation with chasing last term. He ran a stormer at Aintree to finish a very close second to the New One last time out which is class form although he does have to contend with top weight here because of that which might see him suffer against the younger Irving when push comes to shove.
Other horses to consider include Fox Norton who was 6th in the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree last season for Nick Williams and he could be a contender off of a fair weight. The same can be said of the Nicky Henderson trained Forgotten Voice who is getting loads of weight from Rock On Ruby in particular and has plenty of experience at this level which could see him trouble the places. All eyes will be on Irving though as the potential improver in the field and if he is to have any designs on a big Champion Hurdle run, he will need to win at Wincanton this Saturday.