Bolger holds Gilgamboa back for tilt at Festival
ENDA Bolger has decided to focus on Cheltenham with progressive hurdler Gilgamboa rather than run his recent Leopardstown winner in Saturday's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
The JP McManus-owned gelding was an impressive winner of the Boylesports Hurdle at Leopardstown 10 days ago, but connections feels this weekend's Grade Three handicap will come too soon.
Still eligible for novice hurdles, the imposing six-year-old is now likely to be prepared for a trip to Cheltenham where he holds entries in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.
"He's not running," Bolger explained, "Cheltenham is probably the next option for him – he's going to have a few entries and I'm not sure which race he'll go for at this stage."
This means that the Willie Mullins-trained Smashing is the sole Irish representative left in the 29-strong field and it remains to be seen if the improving five-year-old will be allowed take its chance.
Conditions at Newbury will play a big part in Paul Nicholls' plans to land the big prize. The ground is already very soft at the Berkshire course, with further rain on the horizon, and the trainer's reluctance to risk ante-post favourite Irving in such conditions has seen stablemate Irish Saint leap ahead of him in the sponsors' market.
Irving could then be steered back down the novice route towards Cheltenham with another of the Axom syndicate's horses, Far West, taking his place.
"I'd be very concerned if the ground got very testing at the weekend, so we'll have to see how it unfolds," Nicholls said of Irving, which is unbeaten in three starts since arriving from Germany. "We're keen to run, but he's not the biggest or most robust and he definitely wants decent ground.
"He'll get an entry in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham but I want to run him in the Supreme and if he doesn't run on Saturday, he could go for the Dovecote at Kempton instead.
"Far West was going to run in the National Spirit at Fontwell, but I left him in at the last minute in case I didn't run Irving as he's owned by the same people and it gives us options."
Irish Saint was a leading juvenile which won the Adonis at Kempton and finished third at Aintree last season.
After a slow start to the new campaign, he won a valuable handicap at Ascot by 11 lengths last month and gets into the Betfair with a 5lb penalty.
The jockey situation at Ditcheat is once again slightly up in the air in regard to the illustrious handicap.
Nicholls announced Noel Fehily would be aboard Irish Saint, after being in the plate at Ascot, and expects Nick Scholfield to continue his partnership with Irving, although part of his agreement when Scholfield signed as second jockey was to allow him to still ride the Jeremy Scott-trained Melodic Rendezvous, a live Champion Hurdle hope and current Newbury top-weight.
This leaves stable No 1 Daryl Jacob waiting to see where he is required.
Nicholls went on: "Daryl will have plenty of rides for me on Saturday. I think too much is being made of the jockey situation – you need a team of jockeys, as in the case of next weekend when we'll have big runners at Haydock, Wincanton and Ascot."
Champion trainer Nicky Henderson has a strong hand with Rolling Star, Gibb River, Snake Eyes and Vasco Du Ronceray. David Pipe's Greatwood Hurdle winner Dell' Arca and the Philip Hobbs-trained Cheltenian are other notable contenders in an open contest.
Cheltenian was out for almost two years with injury after winning the 2011 Champion Bumper, but looked as good as ever when getting off the mark over hurdles at Uttoxeter on New Year's Eve.
Of Nicholls' other likely Newbury runners, Calipto, winner of his only British start at the Hennessy meeting, is to reappear in the juvenile hurdle, and the trainer said he was "not ruling anything in or out" over a possible challenge at the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
Others to appear will be Black River, Sam Winner and As De Mee, which may head to Aintree if impressing in the Listed bumper.